Seventy-four new bills that threaten women and LGBT+’s rights have been submitted to the Brazilian parliament since 2019. These are only the ones considered highly relevant by the Brazilian feminist magazine Azmina, which monitors parliament’s activity concerning women’s rights through the Elas no Congresso (Women in the Parliament) project. These bills could negatively impact the rights of 109 million women and around 18 million LGBT+ people living in Brazil.
Twenty-two of the bills are concerned with the sexual and reproductive health of women and abortion by revoking or amending positive and modern existing laws to giving legitimate rights to embryos.
Twenty bills are concerned with femicide, domestic violence, and sexual abuse and rape. Some among them are trying to change the Maria da Penha Law – ground-breaking legislation on domestic violence introduced in 2006 after a women’s rights activist was left paraplegic by her violent husband.
Eleven bills attack LGBT+’s rights or are intended to block LGBT people from advancing their rights.
Fifty-nine out of the total seventy- four were submitted by MPs affiliated to political parties aligned to the president of the Republic, Jair Bolsonaro. Twenty-three were proposed by PSL, the party most closely affiliated with Bolsonaro, according to the news website Congresso em Foco, which has a ranking on MPs’ performances.
Religious fundamentalism, hatred, and fear
PSOL MP Fernanda Melchionna, a vice-leader of opposition in The Chamber of Deputies (the Brazilian equivalent to The House of Commons), sees an increase in attempts to prevent new or get rid of existing women and LGBT+’s rights since 2019. She says “they have had the power over the state in their hands, at national, regional and local levels, and they have used all the tools they can for disseminating misinformation and advancing their agenda.”
“There is a huge flood of such projects, including hundreds of amendments to Maria da Penha Law, and their only result, if fully approved, will be to strengthen violence”, the Worker’s Party MP Luizianne Lins says.
According to the Worker’s Party MP Erika Kokai, vice-president of the Committee on Human Rights and Minorities of The Chamber of Deputies, “there is a strengthening of brutal attacks against women and LGBT+, black and indigenous people, those who have long fought for the rights on their bodies”.
“As sexist, misogynist, racist and LGBT-phobic as this misgovernment is, it attacks mainly women, black people, LGBT+ people and the poor”, MP Lins agrees.
“They are on the prowl for the removal of all the rights they can get”, MP Kokai states. She assigns those threats to a “religious fundamentalism which aims to break the secular state and assure entitlement for some to the detriment of others, deconstructing what we conquered with much struggle”.
MP Kokay relates that there is a political climate of hatred and fear. “From their obscure narratives, they want to weaken democracy. It is a precise expression of the president’s will, since his administration is hijacking the state, even ruining institutions that were historically built for protecting public policies and people’s rights, and those actions resonate in the parliament”, she says.
MP Lins regrets that “MPs have insisted on controlling women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and, it must be said, they are men but unfortunately also women who ignore women’s rights when they present projects that, in addition to being retrograde, will put women and children’s life in risk”.
“It is unfortunate, but proposals like these have advanced in the Parliament”, MP Lins regrets. “Women have fought hard throughout history to guarantee our rights and advance towards a freer, fairer and more democratic society; but it is impressive how in a short time the current president and his allies have managed to contribute to the increase of violence and the eradication of life”, she says outraged.
MP Melchionna agrees that the advance of conservative agendas and the Administration’s neglect of public policies are promoting setbacks”. She mentions the increase of femicide in Brazil since 2019 because of the dismantling of public policies to combat violence against women. “Bolsonaro Administration has not invested the funds that should be allocated to combat violence against women and the LGBTQ+ population,” she reports.
Attacks are subtle and relentless
In an article published recently, Azmina magazine point to the bills that propose subtle regressive changes on existing legislation, such as substitutions of phrases, which do not call attention or outrage from the public. They are even not noticed.
There are terms that “have been systematically removed from legislation propositions, in a silent attack on issues related to gender identity and women’s right to choose,” the article states. “Transphobia and attacks on women’s right to choose motivate those congressmen who advocate the exclusion of terms like ‘gender’ in such bills,” they warns.
The magazine predicates that the attack on women’s rights is central to the current Administration politics. “We have been closely monitoring the parliament for over a year and we know that what happens there is aligned with the Bolsonaro Administration when it comes to attacking and restricting our rights.”
MP Melchionna notes that two of these types of bills have been changed recently. One refers to embryos as fully developed individuals, and the other proposes changes in school education prohibiting the use of a gender-neutral language.
According to Dr Luciana Panke, professor at the Federal University of Parana (UFPR) and author of the book Campanhas Eleitorais para Mulheres (Editora UFPR, 2016), which means Electoral Campaigns for Women, there has been censorship on these terms by certain political parties’ members.
“There is a culture of misinformation that has promoted the construction and deconstruction of narratives. Some terms have become taboo, like gender and feminism, and have been misrepresented”, Dr Panke explains. “The members of some conservative and religious fundamentalist political parties follow this misinformation and repeat a condemning narrative of those terms, they even do not know what feminist movements and women’s demands are”, she points out. “There are even conservative congresswomen who were able to receive votes thanks to these movements but are not aware of their history.”
According to Dr Panke, people who adhere to these conservative ideas have a very stereotyped view of the family model, they feel threatened and want to restrict others’ life to match their own beliefs, even questioning projects of education for children and adolescents. “This is a political fight that seeks to limit these inclusive terms in the legal sphere and then strike everyday life, and thus recriminates individual’s actions using the repressive power of the state, imposing restrictions on diversity”, Dr Panke points out. “This exposes weaknesses in democracy, shows a lack of interest in the participation and inclusion of women and LGBT+, as well as black and indigenous people, as we have seen”.
Resistance is happening
“Despite all of that, we have resisted”, MP Kokay tells. “LGBT+’s rights have not advanced in the Parliament, but they have done in the Court, and we have been able to obstruct bills like the ones that propose sexuality conversion therapy, and the creation of a statute for the unborn child and another one for the family”, she reports.
“MPs from the opposing parties are hand in hand with social, women and feminist’s movements fighting to stop these projects, and I believe that, through resisting for life, for women and the love for others, we will manage to avoid these kinds of setbacks”, MP Lins commits.
MP Melchionna believes that the people’s outrage can help to publicise those bills and expose “absurd attempts”. She mentions famous artists’ support on a polemic about the free distribution of tampons, which embarrassed the president. “Opposition in the parliament is working hard to deploy existing structures against those bills, but we need public mobilisation,” she begs.
MP Lins warns that these kinds of issues always come more intensely during election campaigns “to confuse the population and divide women, making mistaken religious appeals”.
“Those bills are attempts by the Bolsonaro’s supporters in the Parliament and aim to appease the most conservative voters”, MP Kokai says.
Elections are also an opportunity for change. “We need more diversity in the parliament”, Dr. Panke says.
The fight will be even harder in Brazil in 2022 since the country will have its general elections.