‘We want recognition of our uniqueness’: Interview with Criola NGO in Brazil

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Oxfam recently attended the 13th international AWID Forum, a unique space for women’s rights organization and feminist movements to come together. We took this opportunity to speak with the many organizations that we work with who further women’s rights and gender justice. Below is an interview between Oxfam Brazil and one of their partners, activist Jurema Werneck, who speaks on the struggles black women face in their country.

Jurema Werneck speaking to Oxfam Brazil.

Jurema Werneck speaking to Oxfam Brazil. Credit: Oxfam

Head of the Criola NGO in Rio de Janeiro, Jurema Werneck is now one of the leading national and international experts in combating racism issues, gender equality and the empowerment black women. She is also a member of the international committee planning of the AWID Forum (Association for Women ‘s Rights and Development) and one of the leads of the planning committee of the Black Feminist Forum, both held last week in Bahia, Brazil. In an interview with Oxfam Brasil, she talks about the priorities and challenges for the feminism nowadays, on the influence of black women in the political context, and the importance of the renewal promoted by the activism of young black women.

Oxfam Brasil:

Do you realize that there is a significant growth in the participation and influence of black women in international coordination for women’s rights?

Jurema Werneck: Absolutely. The completion of the AWID Forum in Brazil implies that recognition. We received all the support from AWID to hold this forum, and this is a recognition of this struggle, and the growth of the articulation among black women, international and also nationally. AWID happens in Brazil shortly after the March of the Black Women, which was an event that had a global impact. Much of what is happening here is a recognition of this struggle and this history.

Oxfam Brasil:  The final declaration of the black feminists forum points to which priorities?

Jurema Werneck:  The letter is a call to the forum and the global women’s movement as a whole. The first point is tackling racism and violence against black women, which is important for any country where black women reside. This is related to the recognition of leadership, of solutions “nothing about us without us”, of articulation, and of expansion of dialogue. The Black Feminisms Forum also made a call for a specific message about the situation in Brazil. The democratic setbacks of Brazil’s situation implies losses for the whole society, but very emphatically we affirm that the black women will pay a higher price. So we also claimed the engagement of the international movement in the struggle for democracy in Brazil and in Latin American region, where black and indigenous women will pay dearly for democratic setbacks.

Oxfam Brasil:  How is the political context in which we are in Brazil seen by women in other countries? What are their concerns or how do they identify?

Jurema Werneck:  The Forum taking place here, at this very moment in time, opens a large window to the whole world to know what is happening in Brazil. Women commented that the information sharing of from other countries is limited, so they did not understand very well what is  happening here. Now they are here, they are receiving information from us, and are now better informed, and are also beginning to think about ways of engagement. This is very important. On the other hand, for us Brazilians, this also an opportunity to exit our bubble, because what is happening here in Brazil has happened before in other regions, and we did not get involved with the emphasis that we should. Honduras and Paraguay have gone through this and we did not move as much as we should. Now, we understand that it is important to continue moving with the regional and international coordination, because no country is free, no woman is free of what we are about to face. The situation has helped us to become closer to Egypt, the United States, Canada, United Kingdom. There are different possibilities of dialogue that have emerged and are continually emerging here, because we realize that the world was never  a safe place for women. And the world is small enough for this experience to be a common one – the bad experience, but also the experience of new articulations that we should make in order to keep fighting and facing what is coming up against us.

Oxfam Brasil:  What is the role of young people in the forum? What are the concerns and new issues raised? Have you learned something from them in this space?

Jurema Werneck:  I’ve learnt from them, but not enough. In addition to learning from a different way of doing politics, which is very different from my generation, we’ve learnt from them the possibility to transcend. When I was a young activist, we were very dependent on the older generation. Now the degree of autonomy that these young activists have is not comparable. They handle much better and more effective tools, not only on the internet but also its channels, its transmission, the ability to be operative in the fight. The contents, its principles are very close to ours. What youth, with their  identity and uniqueness, claims is more or less what black women of all ages claim, it is to be recognized and empowered in our uniqueness. But they bring a statement on the effectiveness of that identity and the operationalization of the agenda of this identity, that strengthens all of us. They are here and are part of us. When I was young, young people spoke after the older ones. Here, each panel has a young woman. They talk, they handle the tools, they speak for themselves and talk to the world without the mediation of elders or other organizations. That’s good for everybody.

This post was originally posted in Portuguese on the Oxfam Brazil website