CESE: 50 years populated by the dreams of women

This year, 8 March has a special meaning for us, because it has been 50 years since CESE’s foundation. In 1973, at the height of Brazil’s military dictatorship, the seeds were sown of a shared dream between the churches and the social movements, between communities and ecumenical cooperation agencies, between men and women profoundly committed to human rights, to democracy, to life in abundance for all.  We have reached 2023 through the power of this dream, which motivates CESE’s every gesture, dialogue, offer of support and action, after yet another gloomy period in our history, which has impacted on the form of hunger, on authoritarianism, violence and death.  We have got this far and now we’re going to help reconstruct and transform our country, by empowering grassroots movements, as set out in our mission.

Over these five decades, through sensitive eyes, attentive listening and with our feet on the ground it has been possible to construct relationships of true partnership with the social movements, respecting their plurality and autonomy.  It has been no different with the women’s movements. Since the beginning, we have recognized women as political subjects, based on concrete coexistence with neighbourhood associations, rural unions, mothers’ clubs, feminist collectives, ecclesial grassroots communities, youth groups from the city peripheries, the black movement, the landless movement, traditional communities, quilombos and indigenous communities.  Women have been present in all these spaces, organizing, welcoming, coordinating, pointing out contradictions, creating possibilities, constructing pathways for justice and equality.

Living alongside women in movement, CESE has learn to walk their path.  The rhythm of our footsteps changes according to the demands of each context, the way we walk has diversified, the language has become richer, the horizon has expanded.  We were at women’s side when the national women’s movements were born, when historically suppressed female sectors gained their rights – domestic workers and rural workers, for example; when women took up their places in power arenas within church structures.  We held our ground when women fought in the Constituent Assembly, in women’s rights councils, in women’s policy conferences.  We have fine-tuned our listening to understand the vast meaning of the “gender issue”, how it intertwines with class and race/ ethnicity, in a country constructed on brutal violence against indigenous peoples and black people.  We have marched in Brasilia with the Margaridas, with black women, with indigenous women.

Living alongside women in movement has also challenged us to more profoundly reflect on our vision of the world and on our practices within CESE, in the churches and in the ecumenical movement as a whole. This has involved dialogue with feminist theologies, elaborating Institutional Policies for Gender and Racial Equity, defining targets to apply funds to projects for women, running joint campaigns with women’s organizations to combat violence and fundamentalisms. 

These are some of the important steps we have been able to take, urged on by the women’s movement.

On the celebration of its 50th anniversary, CESE is renewing its commitment to stand alongside women or, to put it another way, inspired by the black Bahian female composer Sued Nunes: for CESE to continue to be peopled by the dreams of women, because we know we are one, but we are not alone*

*A reference to the song “Povoada” by Sued Nunes