Recent Resources for Feminists
Afghanistan: Women want peace but not at the cost of reinstating the Taliban Print E-mail
 January 28, 2019, Page A1

Afghan Women Fear Peace With Taliban May Mean War on Them

Afghan women lining up to vote in a parliamentary election in Herat Province in October. (Hoshang Hashimi/Agence France-Presse ­ Getty Images)

By Rod Nordland, Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed

KABUL, Afghanistan ­ When Rahima Jami heard that the Americans and the Taliban were close to a peace deal, she thought about her feet.

Ms. Jami is now a lawmaker in the Afghan Parliament, but back in 1996, when Taliban insurgents took power, she was a headmistress ­ until she was forced out of her job and told she could leave her home only in an ankle-length burqa.

One hot day at the market, her feet were showing, so the religious police beat them with a horse whip until she could barely stand.

Horror stories at the hands of enforcers from the Taliban's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are a staple for any educated Afghan woman over age 25 or so. Now those women have a new horror story: the possibility that American troops will leave Afghanistan as part of a peace deal with the Taliban.

Six days of talks ended Saturday with a promise they would soon resume, bringing the parties closer to a deal than at any time in the 17 years since the Taliban were ousted from power. The mere possibility of concrete progress on peace inspired a wave of enthusiasm and hope among many Afghans on all sides that four decades of nearly continuous war could actually end.

Among many women, though, the hopes raised by a possible end to the fighting are mixed with an undeniable feeling of dread.

"We don't want a peace that will make the situation worse for women's rights compared to now," Robina Hamdard, head of the legal department for the Afghan Women's Network, said. The organization is a foreign-funded coalition of prominent women's organizations.

No one needs to sell Afghan women on the need to bring an end to the bloodshed. They have buried far too many husbands and sons and brothers. But they fear that a peace that empowers the Taliban may herald a new war on women, and they want negotiators not to forget them.

"Afghan women want peace too," Ms. Jami said. "But not at any cost."

When she thinks of that time she was beaten, she said, "I remember it and I actually feel faint."

And like many women, Ms. Jami is convinced that any peace deal that gives the Taliban a share of power will come at the expense of freedom for Afghan women. "Come that time, they will complete their incomplete dreams and they will be crueler than in the past," Ms. Jami said.

 Afghan women praying at a shrine where s female islamic scholar was beaten to death in 2015. (Lynsey Addario for The New York Times)

Compounding that concern is a fear among women that they have been sidelined in the peace process, and that when Afghans finally sit down at a peace table together, there will be no women present.

"We don't want to be the victims of the peace process with the Taliban," said Laila Haidari, a businesswoman who also works with drug addicts.

Ms. Haidari's work would not have been allowed under the Taliban regime, when she lived in exile in Iran. "But the Afghan government totally ignores Afghan women on the peace process," she said.

Shukria Paykan, another woman member of Parliament, recalls spending the Taliban years "forced to be inside a dark cage when out of our houses ­ I mean the burqa."

Ms. Paykan was forced from her university professorship and her daughter's school was closed, like all girls' schools under the Taliban. She opened a clandestine school at home, pretending to teach girls the Quran and dressmaking, among the only subjects allowed for them. The only women allowed to work then were doctors, and even they had to have a close male relative as a chaperone at work.

Ms. Paykan, who is from Kundiz, said she felt shut out of the Afghan peace process.

"I have been an M.P. twice and a university professor, but no one has ever asked me about peace talks with the Taliban, or even told me that my rights will be secure," she said. "We have had 40 years of war and everybody is tired of fighting, but that peace should not be at the price of losing our rights and freedom as women."

It is still early days in this stage of the peace process, and last week's talks in Doha, Qatar, did not include any Afghan government officials, men or women.

American officials hope to persuade the Taliban at a later stage to sit down with Afghan officials, which they have so far refused to do, and issues like the Constitution, which guarantees women's rights, would be on the table then.

Some women in government expressed satisfaction that talks had at least begun.

"Women need to raise their voices so they are not forgotten," said Habiba Sarabi, the deputy of the High Peace Council in Kabul, and one of 15 women on the 75-member council, which is appointed by the government. "Without women it will be a broken peace. But we are optimistic about the peace talks."

Saira Sharif, an Afghan poet and politician from Khost, said that previous efforts at talks between the government and the Taliban had excluded women.

"The Afghan government has assured women many times that women's rights will not be affected negatively after a peace deal with the Taliban," she said, "but women were not involved in the previous talks with the Taliban, and we need a place in future ones. We came a long way to achieve the rights we have now, just to lose them after a peace deal."

Members of the women's soccer team training in Kabul in 2016.(Adam Ferguson for The New York Times)

Everyone involved in peace negotiations agrees that the war could end only with a power-sharing deal. That might mean sharing government ministries or territory around the country, or some combination of the two. It might even mean Taliban officials standing for national office ­ and possibly winning.

"We want the Taliban to accept women's rights and publish a statement where they guarantee women's rights," said Ms. Paykan. So far, though, no one is even talking about that, she said.

Her drug rehabilitation center was closed down, too, amid unfounded accusations that it was a front for prostitution. "It is a democratic government, but still women face many problems in this country," Ms. Haidari said.

Qadria Azarnoosh is a Hazara dancer, whose traditional art has been suppressed by cultural conservatives in recent years ­ or as she puts it, by "Taliban mentality people who are not Taliban members."

Last week she and a group of female friends staged a public performance of the colorful dance, knowing many of their parents would disapprove and possibly confine them to their homes afterward. That same day came news of the peace talks in Doha

Video: Afghan female traditional dancers in Kabul last week. (Credit 1TV with permission)

"When we heard that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan in 18 months, we girls were asking each other, ‘Now what will become of us?'" Ms. Azarnoosh said. "People already think we are bad girls for dancing. What will happen to us if the Taliban become part of the government?"

Follow Rod Nordland, Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed on Twitter: @rodnordland, @FatmaFaizi and @fahimabed

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar.
UK: In absence of political will to ban, cruel practice of Breast Ironing girl's chests continues Print E-mail

 Saturday January 26, 2019

Revealed: 'dozens' of girls subjected to breast-ironing in UK

Perpetrators consider it a traditional measure to stop unwanted male attention

By Inna Lazareva

: A stone used for breast-ironing is placed on a fire. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

An African practice of "ironing" a girl's chest with a hot stone to delay breast formation is spreading in the UK, with anecdotal evidence of dozens of recent cases, a Guardian investigation has established.

Community workers in London, Yorkshire, Essex and the West Midlands have told the Guardian of cases in which pre-teen girls from the diaspora of several African countries are subjected to the painful, abusive and ultimately futile practice.

Margaret Nyuydzewira, head of the diaspora group the Came Women and Girls Development Organisation (Cawogido), estimated that at least 1,000 women and girls in the UK had been subjected to the intervention. There has been no systematic study or formal data collection exercise.

: Margaret Nyuydzewira, who herself was subjected to the practice of breast-ironing as a young woman. (Inna Lazareva)

Another community activist, who did not wish to be named, said she was aware of 15-20 recent cases in Croydon alone.

"It's usually done in the UK, not abroad like female genital mutilation (FGM)," she said, describing a practice whereby mothers, aunties or grandmothers use a hot stone to massage across the breast repeatedly in order to "break the tissue" and slow its growth.

"Sometimes they do it once a week, or once every two weeks, depending on how it comes back," she added.

The perpetrators, usually mothers, consider it a traditional measure which protects girls from unwanted male attention, sexual harassment and rape. Medical experts and victims regard it as child abuse which could lead to physical and psychological scars, infections, inability to breastfeed, deformities and breast cancer.

The United Nations describes it as one of five global under-reported crimes relating to gender-based violence.

One woman living in the suburbs of an English city told the Guardian how she went about ironing her daughter's chest at the first sign of puberty.

"I took the stone, I warmed it, and then I started massaging [my daughter's chest]," she said. "And the stone was a little bit hot. When I started massaging, she said: ‘Mummy, it's hot!'" The child developed bruising and the mother was eventually questioned by police, before being released with a caution.

British-Somali anti-FGM campaigner and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein said she has spoken to five women in her north London clinic who had been victims of breast-ironing.

"They were all British women, all British citizens," Hussein said. One of the women said she became flat-chested as a result of the practice, said Hussein. "She kept saying: ‘I have a boy's chest.' But no one has ever questioned her about it. No one had physically checked her. This was in north London, just down the road," said Hussein.

"I was a nurse in the UK for over 10 years and watched the numbers grow," said Jennifer Miraj, who worked in hospitals in Essex, Glasgow, Birmingham and London until 2015. Miraj said she came across confirmed cases of breast-ironing in approximately 15 adults and eight girls.

"I took care of a young 10-year-old girl who had an infection, which had been going on for a few years from ironing," she said, describing a case from Broomfield hospital in Essex.

Mary Claire, a church minister in Wolverhampton, said she had spoken to four victims in Leeds, originally from west Africa. "You could see the marks," she said.

Police say they have fielded no allegations about breast-ironing in the UK, but suspect it is happening.

"If I knew it was happening, I would do something about it," said the Insp Allen Davis from the Met police.

"Prosecutions are really important," he added. "People have to recognise these practices for what they are -child abuse."

A recent London borough of Brent mental health report mentioned that voluntary sector organisations working across the African diaspora felt that breast-ironing was "an emerging issue" which "was not receiving enough attention".

"It is surprising to me that the police and other authorities are not allocating even the resources clearly needed to deal with this horrific phenomenon," said Alex Carlile, one of UK's leading QCs, who is a former deputy high court judge and a member of the House of Lords.

"Surely it's high time for the police and prosecuting authorities to address and tackle the issue in a robust manner, sensitive to the personal issues that arise for young victims and their communities."

"It's not only an issue of funding, it is also an issue of political will to tackle something that historically has been accepted as a cultural practice," said Conservative MP Maria Miller, who also chairs the women's and equalities select committee in parliament.

"I think public service providers have to start being more honest and realistic about some of the things they are encountering, and to have the support to challenge what are abusive and barbaric practices, particularly aimed against children," she added.

The government has said it is "absolutely committed" to stamping out the practice. But activists and social workers say that little has been done thus far.

"Nothing came out of this -nothing!" said campaigner Geraldine Yenwo of Cawogido. "We talk about early marriage and violence against women and girls but no one ever mentions breast-ironing," she added.

Nyuydzewira, who was herself subjected to the abuse as a girl, said British authorities were not taking the problem seriously, and have not prosecuted those doing breast-ironing on their children on grounds of it being seen as a "cultural practice".

"The British people are so polite in the sense that when they see something like that, they think of cultural sensitivities," she said. "But if it's a cultural practice that is harming children ... any harm that is done to a little girl, whether in public or in secrecy, that person should be held accountable."
 Saturday January 26, 2019

Breast-ironing: ‘the whole community needs an education'

Practice that aims to slow girls' physical development is both ineffective and dangerous, say doctors

By Inna Lazareva

: Doctors say the practice of breast-ironing does little to delay physical development. (Inna Lazareva)

In a quiet suburban house on the outskirts of a city in northern England, Maureen* -a mother of two in her late 30s -sits cradling a large dark stone in the palm of her hand.

She had just been using it to crush spices for a family meal. But a few years ago, she was using it for a very different purpose.

She heated the stone and then pressed against the chest of her eight-year-old daughter. She stopped only when her daughter cried out in pain and the heat from the stone had left a bruise on the child's body.

"When they [police] asked me why I did it, I said to them: it's a tradition," Maureen explains, recalling her interrogation as bewildered social workers googled "breast-ironing" on the internet.

The practice is aimed at slowing physical maturity in girls to spare them the unwanted attention and predation of young men while they are still minors. But doctors say it does little to delay breast development, and threatens all kinds of physical and psychological harm.

The intervention is not confined to this city. A Guardian investigation heard anecdotal evidence of dozens of cases in London, Leeds, Essex and Wolverhampton.

Yet British authorities, social workers and some NGOs appear to be unaware or in denial that the practice exists in the UK and are not taking a proactive approach to find or even keep track of the cases.

Police say the obvious problem is that children are unlikely to report their parents, and few other people will ever get to know it is going on

: A parent in Cameroon heats a stone to iron the breasts of her daughters. (Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images)

"What we wouldn't expect is a victim to necessarily walk into a police station and report what is happening to them," says Allen Davis, the Metropolitan police's lead on illegal culture practice. "If people were to tell us where it's happening, when, to whom and by whom -then we will do something about it."

"Like FGM, cultural practices that harm children or adults are complex issues to solve," says Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley. "However, we must do all we can to educate communities against the practices and seek to prosecute perpetrators and protect victims."

Maureen says that having had her own breast ironed when she was a child in Cameroon, she became convinced this would help her protect her own daughter from harm, especially when she noticed her beginning to develop.

"The area where we were living -it wasn't a good area," she says, describing youth gangs walking the streets, fighting and peddling cannabis. "I couldn't let her play outside.

"When you saw her, you couldn't see the baby in her -you just saw a teenager. So for me it was really a nightmare."

Maureen called her mother in Cameroon, who guided her through the process.

"Some women say that they do [it] because these girls ... are prone to rape," says Mary*, a local community activist in south London.

"We have chat groups most weeks and women have talked about breast-ironing," says Karyne Tazi, the executive director of the Women & Families Resource Centre in Wolverhampton, who works to educate women on the risks of the practice.

"You're thinking about it like a vaccine: ‘It's painful but it helps,'" says Tazi, adding that the practice has serious physical, psychological and overall health effects that many people are simply not aware about.

Jennifer Miraj, a nurse, recalls seeing dozens of cases of women and girls who had been breast-ironed while she worked in hospitals around the UK.

She says she saw "women who couldn't breastfeed and had long-term issues with cysts and infections from the milk ducts not being able to express the little milk they were producing".

She says many women had "painful red infections and no opportunity to bond [with the baby] by breastfeeding", and that it was common for women who had been breast-ironed to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cathy Aba Fouda, who was subjected to breast-ironing in Cameroon, where the practice is thought to originate, also says that there have been cases of women who had been breast-ironed developing breast cancer.

"We lost a young woman only last month who had been breast-ironed as a girl and died from breast cancer, aged just 24," says Fouda. "I don't know why no one has done a study on the link between the two."

Psychological problems are also very common following breast-ironing and can last for years, according to Fouda. "When I had a baby, all the trauma came flooding back," she says, explaining that whenever the child reached for her chest, she felt panic like someone was about to hurt her.

Yet some UK-based community activists appear to be unaware of the risks.

"I haven't seen any research which said that breast-ironing is bad," says Mary, adding that some women say it improves the mother-daughter bond. "Up to now I haven't heard that it's related to cancer."

"The only thing is that the nipple sort of goes into inverse, and it makes it very difficult if you have to breastfeed."

"FGM, breast-ironing - it fundamentally comes back to the control over women's bodies," says the anti-FGM activist Leyla Hussein, who also provides therapy to breast-ironing survivors.

"The whole community needs an education," says Mary Stella in Wolverhampton. "Because we are coming from a background where we think it's OK."

Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for north-west England, says that introducing a specific law against breast-ironing could help, citing a similar experience with the criminalisation of forced marriage. "Sometimes you need to change a law to send out a message," he says.

But others believe this would spell disaster and would push the practice even further underground. "Look at FGM: from 1985 till now they are still looking for somebody to prosecute -is that not ridiculous?" says Mary.

"Going around in a sympathetic way saying: ‘Do you know anyone undergoing this?' so that they can latch on to that child like a tonne of bricks -that's not support, is it?"

Tazi says interventions need to be subtle. "More organisations need to have the resources and opportunities to get these communities to talk. Because if they don't talk, it will always be an underground crime ... But the more people talk about it, the more we'll find solutions.

"When we first started, you hold a chat group on breast-ironing and labia pulling and no one would turn up. But they've seen us: we're there, we're constant, we try to work with them around it, not criminalise them. And they're now more open to talking," says Tazi.

In Maureen's case, her daughter was held by social services for 10 days before being released back to her family. Maureen faced no criminal charges, only a police caution.

"A social worker would come around once a week for one or two months, that's all. After then, they just dropped the case," she says. Maureen moved her daughter to another school.

"If I knew the laws of this country, I should've kept my daughter at home for three days [instead of sending her to school]," she says, slapping her hands together in frustration.

"Until that bruise just went away. They [would] never have known."

* Name changed

Asia: Bride shortage in China & India fuels the trafficking of women & girls in an expanding market Print E-mail

 Friday January 25 2019

Asia's Expanding Illicit Market: Brides

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The "bride shortage" in India and China has triggered trafficking as women are lured under false pretences and sold as brides. Pictured here are the rites of a Hindu marriage ceremony.

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2019 (IPS) - Paradoxically, the world's most populated countries are facing a population crisis: a woman shortage. And it's women who are paying a brutal price for it.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the natural sex ratio at birth is approximately 105 boys to every 100 girls.

However, decades of gender discrimination, which favoured having boys over girls, has left India and China with 80 million more men than women.
"When women lack equal rights and patriarchy is deeply engrained, it is no surprise that parents choose to not to have daughters," said Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Senior Researcher in the Women's Rights Division Heather Barr.

Now that there is a shortage of women doesn't mean that women become more treasured or valued, she noted. Instead, there are very harmful consequences.

"[Women have] become a commodity which is in demand, so in demand that people will use violence to acquire it," Barr told IPS.

"The stories we heard were really unbelievably shocking even after having spent many, many years on human rights issues," she added.

The "bride shortage" has triggered trafficking as women are lured under false pretences and sold as brides.

Bordering China is Myanmar's Kachin and northern Shan states which has seen iterations of conflicts over the last decade.

HRW found that traffickers often prey on women and girls in those regions, offering jobs in and transport to China. The women are then sold for 3,000 to 13,000 dollars to Chinese families struggling to find a bride for their sons.

Once purchased, women and girls are often locked in room and raped so that they can quickly provide a baby for the family.

Often times, women and girls are even sold by people they know ­sometimes even by family members.

"The idea that there is a situation, a set of social pressures, a sense of lawlessness that is so extreme that it is causing people to sell their own relatives…it is shocking," Barr said.

In India, bride trafficking has become common in the northern states such as Haryana which has only 830 girls to every 1,000 boys.
In a study, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found in over 10,000 households, over 9,000 married women in Haryana were brought from other States.

Most of those women came from poor villages in Assam, West Bengal, and  Bihar where their families, desperate for money, struck deals with traffickers. There are also cases of girls being resold to other people after living a married life for a few years.

According to the 2016 National Crimes Records Bureau, almost 34,000 were kidnapped or abducted for the purpose of marriage across India, half of whom were under the age of 18.

While the immediate consequences for women are clear, there may also be long-term consequences of the distorted sex ratio.

"Part of the reason that we should be worrying about it is that we simply don't know what the long-term consequences of this are. We don't know how this might change societies, but this is something that is going to have an effect through generations," Barr told IPS, highlighting the need for action including better prevention efforts and law enforcement on trafficking and violence against women.

But at the end of the day, governments must do more to address the root cause of the imbalance/­gender discrimination.

Though sex-selective abortion is illegal in India, it is still a widespread practice in the country. In fact, approximately five to seven million sex-selective abortions are estimated to be carried out in the South Asian country every year.

China's now two-child policy may also continue to pose a threat to women and girls, as well as the future stability of the country's population.

"The most fundamental problem is gender inequality and most fundamental solution to this is that you have to change the dynamics in society that makes sons valued and daughters not valued," Barr concluded.

Global: Human trafficking more horrific than ever, at 70 % women & girls the most vulnerable Print E-mail

 January 09 2019

Human Rights

Recorded Increase in Human Trafficking, Women and Girls Targeted

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

 Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. (Neeta Lal/IPS)

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 9 2019 (IPS) - Human trafficking is on the rise and it is more "horrific" than ever, a United Nations agency found.

In a new report examining patterns in human trafficking, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found that the global trend has increased steadily since 2010 around the world.

"Human trafficking has taken on horrific dimensions as armed groups and terrorists use it to spread fear and gain victims to offer as incentives to recruit new fighters," said UNODC's Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

Asia and the Americas saw the largest increase in identified victims but the report notes that this may also reflect an improved capacity to identify and report data on trafficking.

Women and girls are especially vulnerable, making up 70 percent of detected victims worldwide. While they are mainly adult women, girls are increasingly targeted by traffickers.

According to the 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, girls account for 23 percent of all trafficking victims, up from 21 percent in 2014 and 10 percent in 2004.

UNODC also highlighted that conflict has increased the vulnerability of such populations to trafficking as armed groups were found to use the practice to finance activities or increase troops.  

Activist and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad was among thousands of Yazidi women and girls who was abducted from her village and sold into sexual slavery by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, a tactic used in order to boost recruitment and reward soldiers.

Murad recently received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, dedicating it to survivors of sexual violence and genocide.

"Survivors deserve a safe and secure pathway home or safe passage elsewhere. We must support efforts to focus on humanity, and overcome political and cultural divisions. We must not only imagine a better future for women, children and persecuted minorities, we must work consistently to make it happen - prioritising humanity, not war," she said.

"The fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals," Murad added.

Sexual exploitation continues to be the main purpose for trafficking, account for almost 60 percent, while forced labor accounts for approximately 34 percent of all identified cases.

Three-quarters of all female victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation globally.

The report also found for the first time that the majority of trafficked victims are trafficked within their own countries of citizenship.

The share of identified domestic victims has more than doubled from 27 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2016.

This may be due to improved border controls at borders preventing cross-border trafficking as well as a greater awareness of the different forms of trafficking, the report notes.

However, convictions have only recently started to grow and in many countries, conviction rates still remain worryingly low.

In Europe, conviction rates have dropped from 988 traffickers convicted in 2011 to 742 people in 2016.

During that same time period, the number of detected victims increased from 4,248 to 4,429.

There also continue to be gaps in knowledge and information, particularly in certain parts of Africa, Middle East, and East Asia which still lack sufficient capacity to record and share data on human trafficking.

"This report shows that we need to step up technical assistance and strengthen cooperation, to support all countries to protect victims and bring criminals to justice, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," Fedotov said at the report's launch.

Adopted in 2015, the landmark SDGs include ambitious targets including the SDG target 16.2 which calls on member states to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.

SDG indicator 16.2.2 asks member states to measure the number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 population and disaggregated by sex, age, and form of exploitation, reflecting the importance of improving data recording, collection, and dissemination.

"The international community needs to…stop human trafficking in conflict situations and in all our societies where this terrible crime continues to operate in the shadows," Fedotov said.

"I urge the international community to heed Nadia [Murad]'s call for justice," he added.

Brazil: With Domestic Violence rife, Bolsonaro's relaxation of gun laws scares the life out of women Print E-mail

 Monday January 28, 2019

'We are afraid': Brazilian women recoil at Bolsonaro's relaxation of gun laws

A move allowing more people to own firearms is causing misgivings in a society where domestic violence is rife

By Jo Griffin@jogriffin2

 A pistol is fired during a practice session at the Calibre 12 gun club in Sao Goncalo. Women’s rights campaigners in Brazil are dismayed by Jair Bolsonaro’s loosening of gun laws. (Léo Corrêa/AP)

A pledge to make it easier for “good citizens” to buy guns for self-defence helped sweep Jair Bolsonaro to power. But there is alarm that the Brazilian president’s decree loosening firearms laws will make pervasive violence against women even worse – and more deadly.

“I believe this is a very negative measure that will lead more women to be threatened by violence,” said Maria da Penha, the women’s rights activist whose case changed Brazil’s domestic violence laws. “This decree should be reviewed.”

In a country plagued by public insecurity, Da Penha’s story is widely known. In May 1983, she was asleep at her home in Fortaleza when her husband shot her in the back, leaving her paralysed. When she returned from hospital four months later, he was still free – and attempted to murder her again, this time by electrocution in the shower. Her fight for justice eventually led to the Maria da Penha law, which set up specialised courts and police stations, and ushered in protective measures like restraining orders.
Women’s rights protesters stage a demonstration against Jair Bolsonaro during last year’s presidential campaign. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite this and other robust laws to protect women, domestic violence in Brazil is rampant. Allowing people with no criminal record to keep up to four guns at home will make such violence more murderous, say campaigners, who point out that half of all murders of women in 2016 involved a firearm. In 2017, 4,539 women were murdered, a rise of 6.1% on the year before, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Security. Rape also rose 8%, to 60,018.

Since the decree, domestic violence survivors have been using the hashtag #SeEleEstivesseArmado (“If he had been armed”) to express the belief that, had their attacker had access to a gun, they would be dead.

“My ex found it normal to pursue me 200km into a different state, invade my house, harass and threaten me,” says one. “That day, every time he reached in his rucksack, I thought he was going to grab a gun. If he had been armed, I would be dead.”

Another tweet reads: “For many of us who experienced an abusive relationship, that question that lingers in the mind is: what if he had come back with a weapon?”
“We live in a society colonised by fear,” says Debora Diniz, professor of anthropology at the University of Brasilia, explaining the appeal of Bolsonaro’s stance on gun ownership to women who voted for him in November and others who back the decree. “We are afraid of walking the streets and are looking for easy solutions.”

Diniz warned that, imported into a macho society like Brazil, a US-style political understanding that an individual has a right to protect their private property is problematic for women, who might be regarded as part of that property.

“A gun is an object of desire for men. Gender comes into the politics of weapons, for those who aspire to own them and those who use them to kill,” Diniz wrote in El Pais, arguing that weapons policy must be sensitive to a country’s gender norms. “Femicide is a word invented in Latin America. We are the region of the world where more women die at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, fathers and sons.

“If today there are cases where women survive attempted femicide, it is in large part because the instrument of violence was physical force or other instruments that are less lethal, like knives or ropes. In cases where guns are used, the chances of a woman surviving are much rarer.”

The gun policy debate goes to the heart of divisions in Brazil as the country adapts to a new president. While many revile Bolsonaro for his expressions of misogyny and homophobia, his toughness on crime resonates with women panicked by what has become a violent crime epidemic.
 São Paulo state deputy Leticia Aguiar. (Courtesy of Leticia Aguiar)

Pictured draped in a Brazilian flag, a revolver protruding from her jeans, São Paulo state deputy Leticia Aguiar is among high-profile supporters. She argues that women have been “the main victims” of a previous policy of civilian disarmament.

“An unprotected woman is an easy target for rape. A woman who is armed is prepared for daily life and, in my view, can even be considered more of a citizen in favour of social order,” says Aguiar, the self-described “adoptive daughter” of Bolsonaro.

That view is not echoed by the public defenders who have issued statements warning the decree will increase the risk of femicide. The public defender of São Paulo has formulated a protective measure that suspends the possession of weapons by anyone with a history of domestic and family violence, in accordance with the Maria da Penha law.

Some point out that laws making it easier to own a gun wouldn’t help poorer women to protect themselves, since they couldn’t afford to buy one anyway.

In communities where violence is already rife, the idea of introducing more weapons is widely seen as sheer madness. Women in such areas are disproportionately affected by gun violence, not just from drug trafficking gangs but also from military police during operations.

“Making it easier to get guns is really bad, because we are already living in a civil war,” says *Jenifer Rodriguez, who lives in a favela in Duque de Caxias near Rio de Janeiro. “This week I was awoken with a gun to my head because the police came into the favela and they had a key to open all our doors. It was terrible, they kept me there answering questions for two hours and confiscated my phone. These days I say that when I leave the house I don’t know if I am going to return home alive.”

Education is the weapon to protect women from violence, not guns, says Da Penha. “Only education from an early age can dismantle the culture of machismo and homophobia. We need to mobilise women against this mindset.”

*Name changed to protect identity

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