How Brazilian Women Are Using Graffiti to End the Cycle of Domestic Violence

From street art to law reform, women across Brazil are taking a stand against gender-based violence.

In March 2015, Brazil became the 16th Latin American country with a Femicide Act. The law mandates harsher punishment when women die as a result of domestic violence, gender discrimination, or “contempt for” women. It was a response to the reported 15 Brazilian women who die each day as a result of domestic violence. Beyond advocating for harsher sentences, women across the country are working to prevent domestic violence, and offer support to survivors. 

Street art as activism

Episode three of A Woman’s Place brought Kassidy Brown and Allison Rapson to Brazil, where they met Panmela Castro, a street artist who uses graffiti to advocate for women’s rights.

A victim of domestic violence herself, Castro joined Brazil’s graffiti art scene to find a sense of power in her artistic expression. Unfortunately, she didn’t find a lot of other women.

“When she first got into graffiti, she was one of the only women, and she felt pressure to act all masculine,” said Rapson. The experience forced Castro to explore her own ideas about gender and how it’s related to power. If women could have that same experience together as a group, she thought, the result could be powerful.

A victim of domestic violence herself, Castro joined Brazil’s graffiti art scene to find a sense of power in her artistic expression.

That’s why she started Rede Nami, a nonprofit graffiti art group for women. Through her organization, Castro supports other women in their art as well as their personal lives and relationships. “She has a whole system where she teaches them all about their rights—she teaches them about what domestic violence is, what they can do to stop it, and how to spread awareness,” Rapson explained.

Participants also find power in the art itself. A lot of the members paint portraits, often of women in the organization. Brown and Rapson asked one participant in Rede Nami what it felt like to see a painting of herself on such a large scale. “She said, ‘I imagine it’s what it would be like when I finally get to see someone like myself on TV. I watch soap operas and I never get to see women on TV that look like me. But this is a chance to see myself represented in public,’” Brown said. “It’s awareness, it’s communication, and it’s representation.”

Fixing the legal system

While they were in Brazil, Brown and Rapson met Judge Adriana de Mela, founder of Project Violeta. The project aims to create a safe space for women by informing domestic violence victims of their rights and helping them navigate Brazil’s legal system.

“With her resource center for victims of domestic violence, she’s creating a safe space in the legal system for women to come in, be heard, have their choice validated, and move through Brazil’s very complicated legal system quickly,” Rapson said.

Brazil’s current system forces women who come forward as victims of domestic violence to wait three or four days before they can be seen by a judge. During this time, women often have no place to go other than back home to their abusive partners, where they often face violence or even murder for reporting the abuse. Project Violeta expedites the process and provides a safe place to stay along with mental health counseling.

Although different in many ways, both of these projects make one thing clear: Safe spaces for women, and by women, are key to confronting obstacles in the fight for equal rights.

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