"My Body Is Not A Game": Brazilian Women Speak Out Against Domestic Violence

Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Mour
It is as widespread as popular sport. From rural provinces to dense slums and big cities, violence against women and girls is pervasive in Brazil. According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, in São Paulo alone, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds. But while the world celebrates the Olympics, in domestic violence, there are no winners — only brave survivors who are raising their voices in an effort to put a stop to the Brazil's underreported epidemic.
The violence extends beyond abuse to femicide. It's estimated that in Brazil, 15 women are killed each day simply for being women, according to figures cited by President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil ranks fourth in the world in terms of the number of child marriages, which often mean young girls face abuse at the hands of an older spouse. This abuse takes place both behind closed doors and in public places.

For decades, women's rights activists have fought to address it. But the problem was once again brought to the fore this spring, when a video of a 16-year-old girl being sexually assaulted by several men was published on social media. The brutal attack laid bare the reality that thousands of women and girls face every day.

But those girls and women are raising their voices and taking advantage of the spotlight of the 2016 Rio Games to push for real change.

Ahead, women and men from the northeastern city of São Luís, Maranhão, share their experiences with violence and their hopes for the future with Plan International and Refinery29.

Angela Singh is a press officer for
by Plan International, a nonprofit organization working to end child poverty. The photos and captions in this essay were provided by Plan International. The women in this story asked that their last names be omitted for their safety.
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
Every year, thousands of women and girls across Brazil suffer violence simply because of their gender. Much of this violence stems from the culture of machismo, sexism which is deeply ingrained in many Brazilian communities.
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
For 18-year-old Larice, home is a dangerous, dusty community located near a prison. The teenager said drugs and violence are both prevalent in her community, but she still makes the trek to school each day.

"Girls are more vulnerable in my community. You can’t walk alone or you might get attacked, like my sister did," she said. "The only place I feel safe is at school and at home."
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
Charlienne, 17, lives with her husband and baby in São Luís.

For 17 years, Charlienne said she witnessed her father assault her mother, Raimunda, on a daily basis. It deeply affected her as a child.

When Charlienne found out that she was pregnant, she said that her father demanded that she have an abortion. But her mother backed her decision to keep her baby.

"My mother and I have always been close, but I was surprised by her support. I know she had a lot of fights with my father about it. She told me it would be better for my boyfriend and I to take care of the child together and she encouraged us to move in together. Three months later, I was married and I went to live with my new husband," she said.

Now that she is a mother herself, Charlienne said she is determined to have an equal relationship with her husband.

"If my husband was to beat me, I would go to my mother’s house and report him to the police," the 17-year-old said. "Violence against women should not be tolerated."
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
Charlienne's mother, Raimunda, said she endured an abusive relationship with her husband, suffering frequent bouts of violence. They have now separated, although she said the abuse has continued, because her ex-husband refuses to leave her alone.

"It’s been 17 years of hell. When we were together, he was so violent. He was always aggressive. He didn’t know how to talk, he only knew how to beat and punch me. Once, I woke up to find a gun against my head," Raimunda said. "Here in São Luís, this situation is very common. Most women in my community are beaten by men, but they keep quiet, because their husbands are too violent. It’s not only me."
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
Girlene, 30, said she was physically assaulted by her father, raped by her stepfather, and left to live on the streets at 13. Now, she's raising her voice to help other women tell their stories.

"For me, I wish I hadn’t held my secret for so long. I felt like I was the one to blame. Now, I’ve realized I’m not guilty. The survivor is never guilty. How can you be guilty when a sick person thinks they can rob you of your childhood?" Girlene said.

"To all the girls and women who have suffered like I have, please, speak up! Don’t let anyone get away with it. Talk to someone you trust, who believes in you — and someone you know can make a difference," she added.
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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
A larger group of girls from São Luís are now following in Girlene and Charlienne’s footsteps and speaking out.

"Violence against girls and women needs to stop. Every day, we face prejudice and we are excluded from society. It’s about time we had our turn and our voices were heard," said Maria Fernanda, 18. (center)

As part of the Brazil’s Girls Leadership Project, the girls have discussed what local and federal lawmakers can do to end gender-based violence and keep women safe.

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Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Natalia Moura.
And it's not just girls that are pushing for positive change in São Luís and beyond. A group of boys from Brazil’s Goals for Peace Project are speaking out, too.

"I want to make women realize they don’t deserve to be beaten," said Taniel, 18. (right) "Together, we can fight for girls’ rights. It inspires me when I see girls standing up for themselves and calling for gender equality. Girls deserve to have a voice and it makes me want to fight for girls’ rights, too."