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CESE conducts round table dialogue and interview with Magali Cunha to discuss fundamentalisms and the threat to human rights

On 29/10, CESE’s institutional board, executive team and partner organizations welcomed Magali Cunha, journalist and doctor of Communication Sciences, to debate “Fundamentalisms in Latin America and the attack on Human Rights”.  During the discussion, Magali warned that this profoundly conservative ideology not only threatens democratic life, but also limits the fundamental rights of minorities.

Magali Cunha is the author of a recent publication, launched in October: “Fundamentalismos, crise da democracia e ameaça aos direitos humanos na América do Sul: tendências e desafios para a ação” (Fundamentalisms, the crisis in democracy and the threat to human rights in South America: trends and challenges for action).  In order to shed light on this debate, CESE’s Communication Department conducted an special interview with her.

 

The growth of fundamentalism is an alliance between religious groups and the conservative policy of restricting rights.  Special interview with Magali Cunha.

Researcher and author of the book “Fundamentalismos, crise da democracia e ameaça aos direitos humanos na América do Sul: tendências e desafios para a ação” talks about the advance of fundamentalisms in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

Fundamentalisms, the crisis in democracy and the threat to human rights in South America: trends and challenges for action

 

In an e-book with 62 illustrated pages, journalist and doctor of Communication Sciences Magali Cunha talks about the growth of a religious fundamentalist ideal, its interference in daily life and its organized political forces in Latin American countries.

The book “Fundamentalismos, crise da democracia e ameaça aos direitos humanos na América do Sul: tendências e desafios para a ação is an initiative of the ACT Alliance South America Ecumenical Forum (Fórum Ecumênico ACT Aliança Sulamericano: FESUR).  The project was born out of the concerns of churches and faith-based organizations (FBOs), articulated through the ACT Alliance, about the changes observed on the continent, evaluated as reflections of different expressions of fundamentalism,” as the author explains in its introduction.

 

 

The publication was launched on 14/10 on the website of Koinonia – Presença Ecumênica e Serviços (Koinonia Ecumencial Presence and Services) and is available free of charge in Portuguese, Spanish and English: click here to access.

The research was structured around an observation of fundamentalisms over the last two decades and applies various methodologies: interviews with specialists, focus groups, group dialogue with activists and bibliographical research.  In conversation with CESE, Magali Cunha explained the pattern this worldview has assumed in Brazilian, Argentinian, Colombian and Peruvian societies, and how this phenomenon has worked to weaken democracy and violate rights.

 

Magali do Nascimento Cunha has a doctorate in Communication Sciences from the University of São Paulo (Universidade de São Paulo: USP), a master’s in Social Memory from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro ­(Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro: UNIRIO) and graduated in Social Communication and Journalism from the Fluminense Federal University (Universidade Federal Fluminense: UFF).  She is a Central Committee Member of the World Council of Churches and Coordinator of the Group of Research, Communication and Religion at the Brazilian Society for Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication (Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação: INTERCOM).  She also writes articles for the news magazine Carta Capital.  Her published works include Mídia, Religião e Cultura: percepções e tendências em perspectiva global  (Media, Religion and Culture: perceptions and trends from a global perspective) (Curitiba: Prismas, 2016) and Religião no noticiário: marcas de um imaginário exclusivista no jornalismo brasileiro (Religion in the news: marks of an exclusivist imagination in Brazilian journalism (E-Compós, Brasília, v. 19, p. 1-21, 2016).

 

Read the interview in full:

CESE: What were the converging points for fundamentalism in the countries you studied? What most caught your attention?

Magali Cunha:  In terms of the points that converged in the countries I studied – Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, I found six common elements:

  • Intense Reactionary Expansion: a reaction to gains in the field of public policies, particularly of rights in relation to women, the LGBTI population, traditional communities and workers. We see this convergence in reaction to the agenda of rights that have been won. This may not be something we want to see, but advances have been made since the 2000s, since the end of dictatorships on the continent and the redemocratization experienced in these countries;
  • Gender as a common element on the agenda of sexual and reproductive rights. The reaction to this issue is very common, one of the most intense and strongest;
  • The Religious Groups present in these reactions are based on religious fundamentalism, even those who do not have religious links rely on religion;
  • Pro-Family Agendas are also highly present and closely linked to proposals to restrict public policy to the economy. So, this reduction in public policies, in the State’s concern for health, education, employment and retirement, is closely related to these agendas and an argument is made about caring for people – that this takes place within the home, in the family.  This removes the role of providing rights from the State;
  • The Neoliberal Model is reconstructed, reordered. On several fronts the pandemic has demonstrated the weakness of this model.  But it has been reconstituted, with all its fragilities, in order to sustain and maintain the proposal of withdrawing rights.  There is an ideology of entrepreneurship, the advance of mining companies into indigenous and quilombola lands, and others;
  • Another common element is the Pandemic Crisis and the demand for the State to have a more active role in caring for its population.

2 – How does this phenomenon, which comes from an extremely conservative perspective, affect women?

Magali Cunha:  This extremely conservative phenomenon most particularly affects the lives of women in relation to two elements.  In the first place in this reaction. And also in seeking reversals to sexual and reproductive rights, to the hard won rights of women obtained during the redemocratization period.  In the case of Brazil, all the legislation that favoured rights to health, reproductive health, such as monitoring by hospitals especially designed to treat women in the public system.  The issue of rape, its classification as a heinous crime and its consequences, such as pregnancy, women won the right not to have this child, not to continue with this pregnancy because it came about through violence, to have the right to abort and to do this through Unified Health Service (Sistema Único de Saúde: SUS).  Other gains, such as the 2006 Maria da Penha Law (which refers to Domestic and Family Violence), which punished and defined these crimes.  And later on, the Crime of Femicide was also recognized in legislation. What we have is a reaction to this progress with Draft Laws, from the Catholic and Evangelical religious caucus, for these rights to be reversed and disallowed. 

 “So, it most particularly affects women because of the fundamentalist agenda that defends the place of women as submissive to men and within the home, caring for the family and for their children, focused on marriage.  So we can see very serious reversals with the advance of fundamentalism.

This is now principally taking place with the Bolsonaro government and the so-called Ministry for “Women, Family and Human Rights”, which promotes these reversals by cutting funding to public health policies, with cuts to rights related to reproduction, principally those regarding abortion.

So, it most particularly affects women because of the fundamentalist agenda that defends the place of women as submissive to men and within the home, caring for the family and for their children, focused on marriage.  So we can see very serious reversals with the advance of fundamentalism.

CESE: In the assessment of many analysts, the growth of fundamentalism has taken place because of the advance of progressive agendas, such as feminism and human rights.  Do you agree with this analysis?

Magali Cunha: Yes, the advance of fundamentalism has taken place because of gains made by progressive agendas in the 90s and 2000s.  And in Brazil, essentially in the 2000s, with the Lula and Dilma governments, in a series of high points for the issues of both women and negritude, the rights of the black population, the rights of traditional indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, which, in fact, are the fulfilment of what was laid down in the Citizenship Constitution, following the Military Dictatorship.

These agendas enjoyed some success during the redemocratization process, but during the Sarney government and that of Itamar Franco – who replaced Collor – progress was slow, they gained ground during the Social Democracy administration of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira: PSDB), but it was during the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores: PT) administrations that essential progress took place.

“The growth of fundamentalism occurs through an alliance between religious groups and the conservative policy of restricting rights, which takes place through religious and political fundamentalist bias”

And we can see that it acts as a kind of brake on progressive agendas, with the impeachment – in fact the coup – during Dilma Rousseff’s democratic government.  The aim was to prevent continuity for the political projects that governments from the left were carrying out, which, to some extent, had opened up with the PSDB, and then with social inclusion projects on very varied fronts.  This is also seen in the education agenda, for example, in the rights of workers and others.  The growth of fundamentalism occurs through an alliance between religious groups and the conservative policy of restricting rights, which takes place through this religious and political fundamentalist bias.

CESE: In the book’s chapter about “Possible response strategies” you set out recommendations about how to confront fundamentalism, including the need for self-criticism in a number of groups and social sectors.  Do you think the progressive churches are ready for this self-criticism?

Magali Cunha: In terms of response strategy and the need for self- criticism, the progressive churches are not yet open to it.  They need to redraw their pathways, to reconstruct this trajectory, and this is very clear in the research, in what we heard from experts, human rights activists, including people from the church, who were very clear about the need to review pathways.

And particularly looking at the 80s, which was when the dictatorship was brought down here in Brazil, when military repression came to an end and there was the whole restoration of the democratic project.  What the 80s represents in terms of reestablishment, of creating awareness, in the critical reading of the role of the churches, this memory needs to be looked at in order to retrace the pathway.  Not copying what was done at that time, obviously this is a different context, another reality.  But, to inspire, to demonstrate that this progressive field can confront fundamentalisms, just as it confronted dictatorships in the past.

We need to recreate this critical awareness, to look within, to identify the gaps that exist and the fundamentalisms that are present within the churches themselves.  I think this is the most difficult part, but one which demands immediate action in terms of the reformulation of educational and communication processes, of alliances with sectors of Brazilian society that are moving in the same direction.  This was a highlight of the possible response strategies we set out.

 

 

 

 

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