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Strengthening the response to violence against women and girls in Brazil

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Terry Roopnaraine

Areas of expertise

Piauí is one of the Brazilian states with the highest levels of violence against women and girls (VAWG), according to federal government data. The state faces one of the highest rates of femicides in Brazil: a study by Piauí’s Núcleo de Feminicídio da Polícia Civil shows that from March 2015, when the Femicide Law came into effect, to August 2016, 84 women were killed in the state. Piauí also suffers high rates of sexual violence: according to data recorded by Samvis (a state government agency which assists women victims of sexual violence), 40 rapes are registered per month in the state. The Piauí police commissioner notes that some 20 daily cases of violence against women are dealt with in Teresina’s specialised police stations per day.

We were contracted by the World Bank to strengthen the response of the Piauí state government to the alarming VAWG problem. The central pillar of the project is based around bringing the highly successful SASA! anti-VAWG toolkit to Piauí. This toolkit, developed in Uganda by the NGO Raising Voices, is designed to combat violence against women by challenging the social norms which embed, legitimise, and reproduce the problem. Oriented around community-level activism, SASA! is a highly participatory methodology which recognises the importance of engaging men and young people as part of an overall community mobilisation strategy designed to strengthen prevention of VAWG.

Challenges

It was clear from the outset of the consultation that the technical capacity of VAWG sector stakeholders in Piauí is very high, offering excellent knowledge and understanding of VAWG in the cultural and institutional context of Piauí. Other key learnings from both observation and consultation activities included the fact that the official VAWG approach in Piauí is extremely response-focused: in other words, it is designed to address violence against women in cases where it has already occurred, by providing medical and psycho-social support services, counselling, safe spaces and shelters, while raising awareness of the Maria da Penha Law (Brazil’s national flagship VAWG legislation) and its application.

Because of the strong focus on response rather than prevention, there is very little engagement of men, who at the response level are already perpetrators, rather than potential participants in a project designed to promote positive changes in social norms at the community level. The team also noted that there was minimal knowledge and effort to identify, interrogate, and change the norms which entrench, drive, and reproduce VAWG. It is also important to report that approaches to engaging women in the outreach and awareness-raising sessions were lecture-based in presentation style, with minimal use of participatory methods.

Our approach

The project kicked off with a review of different VAWG approaches; meanwhile, in Brazil, our local team members carried out an initial mapping of stakeholders working on VAWG in Piauí. With these tasks completed, we carried out an in-depth stakeholder consultation, aimed at increasing our understanding of the political, social, and cultural context in which we would be implementing the project. We needed to understand what approaches were being used in the fight against VAWG in Piauí, and learn about local stakeholders, needs, and capacities.

Guided by findings from the Piauí stakeholder consultation, the process of adapting the SASA! toolkit was designed to bring together three related adaptation streams:

  • Linguistic: the original SASA! toolkit is produced in English. Any materials to be used in the Brazilian toolkit would need translation into Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Cultural: it goes without saying that the rural east Africa cultural context differs immensely from either the urban context of Teresina (the state capital) or the more rural context of Cocal de Telha (the smaller community selected for piloting the toolkit). Rendering a toolkit with local meaning and resonance would require careful attention to the images, terms, semantics, and symbols relevant to each context.
  • Political-institutional: while, as noted, the current approach to the VAWG problem in Piauí is highly response-driven, it is also important to register the existing, high degree of knowledge about VAWG, the strong technical capacity of local activists, and the developed institutional structure. These features combine to offer an important opportunity in terms of delivery and implementation capacity, but also imply a somewhat different delivery model in the case of Piauí, in which sub-national government stakeholders and institutions will play a central role in implementing the methodology in communities. 

External consultants worked extensively with us. Roberta Gregoli led much of the adaptation work, while Nara Menezes coordinated the training sessions.

Outcomes

It was decided that the Piauí toolkit would be based on the SASA! principles of community mobilisation, a participatory approach, and change in social norms around VAWG, but that it would need to be substantially adapted from the original. The decision was therefore taken to rename the kit, while acknowledging SASA! as the original source for the methodological orientation and the majority of the prescribed activities. The name chosen by the team was AGORA! Usando Nosso Poder pelo Fim da Violência Contra as Mulheres. In English, this means NOW! Using Our Power to End Violence Against Women.

The primary adaptation work, resulting in a working draft toolkit, finished in June. Our team then carried two pilot trainings of trainers among activists and implementers in Teresina and Cocal de Telha. These were extremely well-received, and implementation will start later in 2018.