Gender and Race in the Cerrado: workshop analyses how capitalism, the patriarchy and racism provide structure for the political situation in Brazil

Capitalism, racism and the patriarchy are intimately connected pillars that support one another’s existence.  Social inequalities persist because women and black populations have been systematically excluded.  There is therefore no anti-capitalist struggle disconnected from racial and gender issues, since they are functional to the system of accumulating wealth in detriment to others.

These were some of the premises put forward by Michela Calaça, from the Peasant Women’s Movement (Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas: MMC), in debates held during the workshop ‘Gender and Race in the Cerrado’, run by CESE in partnership with HEKS-Eper, from 26 to 28 April.  Michela talked about how these three elements comprise the system that structures our daily lives, and are even more evident in current times.

She traced Brazil’s history, demonstrating how this relationship has lasted for centuries.  “To understand the current situation of inequality, it is essential to understand colonization, since it was during this period that black men and women were enslaved, indigenous territories were attacked so that another– white and European – population could accumulate wealth – gold, spices, wood,” she declared.

She pointed out that the logic of the patriarchy was brought to our region by colonialists. “Basically men came to invade our territory, attacking indigenous and black women, not only for work, but also raping them to increase the number of this ‘working’ population,” she reported.

Michela reminded the group that the enslaved black population spent more than 300 years constructing Brazil’s wealth, without receiving any kind of recompense, and described the lack of reparations at the time of abolition to highlight another cruel and racist feature of this chapter of Brazilian history: even after the end of slavery, those who got jobs were other white people, also brought from Europe and under different conditions.

According to Michela, MMC activist, it was at this point that the urban peripheries grew, since this was when the loss of territories began. “The attacks on quilombos, the expulsion and murder of indigenous peoples.  The best-paid jobs went to white men.  And there we can see how important it was to steal the territories. Because the main means of production is land.  So the people were expelled from their territories, pushing them to places where there was no guarantee of survival and then exploiting them through their salaries.”

Hence the importance of reparations. “One of the main points is the demarcation of land, land reform so that we can really progress. But other points such as quotas, at university, in public examinations, and access to contextualized education are all essential – we should be in no doubt about this. Because much of the wealth of this country was produced through the exploitation of black people, without any reparations at all,” she emphasized.


Sharing between the groups

For the first two days of the workshop, the participants were divided into groups. Certain questions guided the group debates, such as: How do we perceive gender inequalities in the family and in the community, in the lives of men and women?  How does racism occur in the territories and affect the lives of the black and indigenous populations? How is capitalism expressed in the territories and how does it specifically affect the lives of: women; men; the black and indigenous populations?

Celiane Terena, member of the Terena Council, noted that indigenous peoples learn to deal with racism early on. “We suffer this everywhere we go, because, we, indigenous peoples, are seen as people who don’t have much to contribute to society.  But we have so much to contribute, in relation to knowledge, the preservation of nature. When I started law school, I experienced this a lot.  They didn’t want to see us occupying these spaces.”


Holdry Oliveira, from the National Commission for the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas: CONAQ), stressed that occupying different power arenas, including those for decision-making and negotiation, is essential. “We have to work so that people in our environment can occupy the places that were taken from us.  For example, in politics.  We are not heterosexual, white men.  We are black women, we are cis and trans, and occupying arenas that have excluded us means resisting this oppression,” she concluded.

Rosana Fernandes, CESE Training and Projects Advisor, noted how important it is to reflect on gender and race issues within the organizations. “We, the non-White, indigenous and black populations, are the main victims of institutional, environmental and land racism, and listening to the organizations means accessing strategies of confrontation, resistance and struggle.”