#ToThePoint: They turned off a light, but a flame was ignited by Carina Vance

11/04/2018 - Carina Vance

On March 14th the Councilor of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro, Marielle Franco, was assassinated. A black woman, from a favela, lesbian, mother, activist and politician. At the time of her murder, she served as President of the Commission for the Defense of Women of the Municipality and rapporteur of the Oversight Commission to the military intervention that is currently taking place in the city. Marielle exercised her right and fulfilled her duty to denounce what she identified as aggressions and violations of the rights of the population she represented. She stood out for her frontality, her clarity and eloquence and her commitment to processes of social participation which kept her close to those for whom she fought.

As a woman, Marielle represented a minority in the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro. The Chamber is currently made up of 6 women (11.8%) and 45 men, a percentage of women that reflects that of Councils across Brazil, which lies in 13.5%. In Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the average is 28.8%, with Bolivia being the country with the highest percentage of women in councils, with 51.1%. According to UN data, worldwide in 2013, only 14.2% of the States had Presidencies held by women and in the case of Parliaments, women held only 20.9% of the positions. Reviewing other statistics of participation of women in positions designated by general elections at the level of Councils and Town Halls, as well as in ministerial positions, there are evidences of even wider gaps. If these obvious gender inequalities in the occupation of positions of political decision are added to the inequalities that exist due to socio-economic, ethnic-racial, territorial, life cycle, sexual orientation and gender identity, migratory status and disability conditions, it comes to a point of not being able to talk about percentages, but instead of having to identify specific names, because there are so few people.

Although the investigation of Marielle Franco’s murder hasn’t come to a result yet, it is clear that the mode of her murder was intended to send a message. It was not only intended to silence her voice, it was intended to silence dissent by instilling fear in the populations she defended. Marielle, like other activists, politicians and social organizations, permanently denounced the living conditions of millions, pointing to social structures that aim to maintain power in the hands of a few while maintaining many others in conditions of extreme precariousness. She denounced structural violence, exclusion, discrimination and abuse of power. The clamor for justice for the death of Marielle is permeated by the clamor for justice for the causes that she defended. The demand to know the truth behind her murder is also a demand that seeks to shed more light on the issues that were her banner of struggle and that remain in the shadows due to lack of media coverage and an abetting silence in our societies.

Only 6 days before her murder we celebrated International Women’s Day. Only 6 days before we demanded equal rights, including women´s right to political participation. It is clear that threats, acts of intimidation and violence against people for expressing their opinion and defending their rights are attacks against social participation, freedom and, finally, democracy. From ISAGS we condemn the acts that seek to silence voices.

We deem broad social participation and deep democracy as indispensable requirements to reach our regional goal of achieving universal health systems.

Social participation has been promoted by UNASUR, while it was acknowledged that it is essential to making our societies more inclusive and equitable. For the construction of public policies based on the real needs and aspirations of communities, it is necessary that they are represented and can have influence. It is also essential that this participation is not limited to merely validating what has already been decided, that the processes of social participation do not require having to coincide with the ideas of those who hold decision-making power. We cannot settle comfortably for processes in which we only hear the echo of our own ideas and postures.

An atrocious murder extinguished the light that was Marielle Franco, but the indignation that this caused and the people´s thirst for justice ignited a flame that spreads throughout the world. We join it with greater conviction and greater commitment, in defense of democracy and with the certainty that integration is the way to achieve the regional well-being that we aspire to.

Read the other articles of Health to the South – April issue