By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – This year, women are launching an anti-harassment campaign during Brazil’s famous Carnival. They are using street parties as a forum to speak out against sexual harassment and assaults.

Brazilian women hold an all-female block party. Image Courtesy of Silvia Izquierdo.

Sexual assaults have been especially problematic during the five-day long festival in Brazil. The Secretariat of Policies for Women reported that last year, the number of sexual assault complaints during Carnival increased by 90% compared to the number in 2016.  The secretariat explained this jump as the result of government campaigns to stop this type of violence. Victims are instructed to report crimes to a number which will register their complaint.

In total, the feminist group Think Olga reports that 99.6% of women in Brazil have been catcalled. Another private group on public security reports that one woman in South America is raped every 11 minutes, but only 10% report their assaults. One 29-year-old artist commented on the issue saying, “Some men have this feeling that they can do whatever to your body, it’s time for women to take advantage of this moment to push back.”

Thousands of women have responded during the Carnival celebrations. They organize block parties of all-female musicians, shirts, necklaces and crowns. They use messages such as “my breasts, my rules” and promote campaigns that report and crackdown on harassment. One woman, Debora Thome, organized a block party in 2015 called “Mulheres Rodadas,” or “Women Who Get Around.” She has been vocal in the movement and sees Carnival as a good opportunity to fight harassment because it forces the question of respect amid scantily dressed partygoers. She says, “A woman can be naked in the street and nobody should be allowed to touch her.”

Since then, several other feminist-themed block parties have been formed for the festival. One recent party included hundreds of women dressed up as animals they said they had been called on the streets. Costumes included animals such as cows, piranhas, hens, and cobras.  One of the few dozen men at the party, Anderson Semme, said, “Men’s role is to recognize we were wrong for a long time and now do the right thing.”

The campaign has picked up the slogan of “No Means No.” Hundreds of women are planning to get the words temporarily tattooed for their Carnival costumes. While the campaign encourages the support of men, it stresses that it is something created by women and for women. The founders’ goal is to create a sense of security for women who want to attend block parties. Aisha Jacob, who was assaulted during Carnival last year, has been heavily involved in the campaign.  She says the tattoos are a symbol of solidarity and support for women. “If they need to ask for help, they know who they can reach out to. They know they’re not alone.”

During last year’s Carnival, Brazil’s military police received 2,154 calls about violence against women. That figure means that one woman was assaulted every few minutes. Security officials and several non-governmental groups have begun their own campaigns against harassment.

For more information, please see:

NY Times – Rio Carnival Kicks Off With Samba, Blocos and Not to #MeToo – 10 February 2018

The Guardian – Brazilians turn to carnival as an escape from crime and corruption – 10 February 2018

Herald Tribune – No Means No: Women Say Enough to Sexual Harassment at Brazil’s Carnival – 10 February 2018

Los Angeles Times – Women in Brazil launch ‘No Means No’ anti-harassment Campaign during Carnival – 9 February 2018

Washington Post – Women at Brazil Carnival push back against harassment – 7 February 2018

Author: Emily Green