Brazil’s “Graffiti girls” using Street Art in the fight against Domestic Violence
Rio de Janeiro Artist, Panmela Castro and her ‘Graffiti Girls’ use Street art as an instrument for change and to raise awareness and educate people about the ongoing abuse, intimidation and violence against women and girls across Brazil.
Brazil is undoubtable one of the most beautiful, vibrant and exciting countries in the world. With an amazingly diverse culture, epic vistas, and welcoming locals which shone out from our TV screens over the Olympic and Paralympic games. However, one hidden aspect of this bright, life affirming society you probably won’t read about in any travel guides is that of the spectre of domestic violence still endemic in many aspects of Brazilian life.
Domestic violence against woman has long been issue in the country stemming in part from the entrenched misogynistic views still held by some. There have been a number of laws passed in recent years to both protect women and punish the perpetrators. However, a recent globally documented and sickening case of a gang rape of a 16 year old girl and the social commentary which ensued (seemingly blaming the victim) shows that there is still a long way to go to change the attitudes and perceptions of, at least, some areas of its society. In fact, recently, the embattled President Dilma Rousseff herself stated that; ‘on average 15 women are killed each day for ‘being women’.
The Maria de Penha law (include wiki link here) which came into being in 2006 was game changing in it’s mandate to punish those guilty of abuse and defend their victims. Before the Maria de Penha law, domestic abuse was seen as a trivial minor offence that was rarely enforced. When it was, the punishments were mockingly lenient - "common punishments for domestic violence crimes included donation of food baskets to charity or payments of fines," according to a study published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review and referenced in Kaelyn Fordes article for Refinery29.co.uk
Maria herself was left paralyzed after being severally beaten by her husband in 1983 and it took over 2 decades of tireless campaigning to have the law instated. In this time tens of thousands of women in Brazil are thought to have been killed in their homes at the hands of their partners.
The Law did work, but only for those who knew about it which was primarily the middle classes and the elite.
At about this point, a graffiti artists called Panmela Castro started to make waves across Rio, especially in the Favelas were there was little knowledge of the new law there to protect women from the appalling abuse many thought they just had to endure.
Panmela herself was a victim of domestic violence in her early 20s and experienced first hand the apathy in which the authorities treated such crimes. Her husband was never bought to justice and Panmela began to use her medium as a tool to help educate and inspire other women across Brazil to break free of oppression and instil a sense of empowerment with messages such as “luto como mulher” (“fight like a woman”) and “eu decido” (“I decide”). Abby Baur – Borgan magazine article.
Panmela founded an urban network for female artists to combat this gender inequality through public art called Rede Nami, which also runs workshops teaching women and girls about domestic violence as well as graffiti art.
In August 2008, a project by French Artists and activist JR continued this momentum and did so on an enormous scale. The Project called ‘Women are Heroes’, Involved sticking giant photos of Women’s eyes and faces on the side of many walls within the favelas, all looking down on the city below.
The project was a global one, and although not directly linked to the work Panmela had started, the timing, helped further highlight the issue on a wider, more international stage. In JRs own words, the project, which he also took to many other countries across the world, was to “pay tribute to [all women] who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism” (http://www.jr-art.net/projects/women-are-heroes-brazil).
Panmela and Rede Nami continue to use Art to battle for social change and protect women through education and knowledge of the Maria de Penha law. It is clear, however, from the response to the horrific recent rape crime, and the amendments to abortion laws currently being debated by brazils parliament, the time were Artist’s like her can decommission their spray cans and stop fighting for gender equality are still some time away.