According to a research made by the nongovernmental organization Action Aid in 2016, approximately 86% of Brazilian women have already experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. A study made by Institute of Applied Economic Research in 2013 showed that a woman in Brazil is raped every 11 minutes, though the number is likely to be higher because so few of them report the crimes. A survey of the nongovernmental organization Think Olga revealed that 99.6% out of the 7700 women interviewed during research have already been harassed at some point in their lives. The document also reveals that about 98% suffered harassment in the street and 64% in public transport. According to the survey, 81% of women change their routine for fear of harassment. This includes a simple change of clothes to the choice of another path in the streets.
Having those facts in mind, today I decided to talk about a problem that personally I find very important and extremely intriguing, especially given that in the country where I live almost every woman needs to face it on a daily basis but it is very hard for people to raise discussions about it: Gender Inequality and Sexual Harassment, both of them which have always been very serious problems with numerous historical causes and social consequences. Every single day, thousands of women suffer from gender inequality, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment and the only choice that most of them have is to remain silent because of all of the judgments related to the act of becoming open about those problems.
To provide some context, although the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 gave equal legal rights to both women and men, discrimination is still prevalent as patriarchal traditions influenced the local customs, traditions, and culture of Brazil. Additionally, the high sexual harassment rate in Brazil was partially caused by the incomplete law system when related to the punishments of sexual harassment. Brazil’s policies were really antiquated when dealing with sexual harassment because it did not have a specific law related to this problem until 2001 so the punishments for sexual harassment would vary depending on a diversity of circumstances around it. Nowadays, inside of its civil laws, law No. 10.224, of May 15, 2001, introduced in the Brazilian Penal Code, in the Chapter of Crimes against Sexual Freedom, the offense of sexual harassment and article 216-A highlights that to “Embarrass someone with the purpose of gaining advantage or sexual favor, prevailing the agent of his status as superior or inherent inherent in the exercise of employment, position or function. Penalty – detention, from 1 (one) to 2 (two) years.”
Nonetheless, although this new law could be considered a great advancement to decrease sexual harassment, the patriarchy past of the country still leaves vestiges in our society. In Brazil, we have a lot of influence of what it is called “rape culture”, which is a term created in the United States but it has been used a lot in our country to point out subtle or explicit sexual behaviors that contribute to silent or relativize sexual violence. This term started to gain a lot of importance in Brazil after a 16 years old girl got raped by 33 men in Rio de Janeiro and what happened was that instead of people blaming the aggressors, they started to research about the victims past and expose her on social media, with a lot of comments saying that she was actually “asking for it”.
This event caused a lot of social mobilization through social media and then it also spread into protests that happened all over Brazil to fight against this rape culture and provide support for the girl in the case of the collective rape that I commented above.
Through all of this background, it is notable how we are starting to win the battle against sexual harassment and gender inequality in Brazil, but this is still not enough. We have a long path in front of us if we want to end this problem and it is past time for people to stand up and fight for a better future for Brazilian women. I am writing this message not only for women but for men as well. Gender equality is beneficial for everyone, and we deserve to be treated as equal. Therefore, to achieve this goal, we need to break the silence. We need to raise our voices and fight for our rights, even though it may be a really difficult decision to make.
I know it can be scary sometimes, but if you were sexually harassed or if you saw someone being sexually harassed in some situation, please talk to a colleague, a friend or an authority that can help you report the situation. Also, if someone reaches you trying to talk about a situation like this, do not invalidate what the person has been through and try to be as supportive as you can. Being silent about this kind of situation will contribute to keeping this problem strong in our society, so it is important for us to break this cycle if we want to change that. Silence kills, so we need to break it together if we want to fight against this problem.
Be brave, talk to someone, reach for help, you are not alone and this is not your fault.