The striking strength of Passarinho's women

Friday, December 9, 2016 - 12:46

On the weekend of 25th to 27th November I joined a group of 30 women in Passarinho community in the outskirt of Recife city, Northeast of Brazil, for the 16 days of action to end violence against women.

It was obvious their strength and leadership in the community. They got together to do a flash light march claiming for better services and more rights. They walked for about one hour with candles and flashlights in their hands denouncing the areas of darkness where they feel more vulnerable to assaults and violence.

The total absence of light and the presence of tall and dense bushes in both sides of the streets in same parts of the way are scary. At some point I decided to stop and take some pictures of an area like this. Once I realized I was left behind I rushed to find my fellow women as scared as I was. Just picture yourself having to walk in this area every night coming back after a tiring day of work or study and having no 29 women waiting for walking with you? Terribly scaring!

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Robberies are constant here because there is no police patrolling”, Evandra Dantas told me. She is one of women residents in Passarinho who organized the stunt.

Apart from the better public lighting, women from Passarinho want the city managers to broaden their access to day care centers for the children. The closest day center for children is located in the neighbor city Olinda. The residents say there is 150 children aged 0 to 3 years old living in Passarinho. With no public day care centers available the poor women have to pay for other people to look after their children when they go to work.

The deficit of day care centers in Brazil is alarming. According to data from the Watch of the National Plan for Education (Observatório do Plano Nacional da Educação*) until 2013 only 27.9% of the children were enrolled in day care centers. The lack of this service harms especially poor women once many of them have to stop working or studying for not having where to leave their kids safely.

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During the flashlight march in Passarinho, the women also distributed leaflets inviting the other residents to take part in the Occupy Passarinho stunt that would take place on the next day (Saturday) in the local main square.

Saturday has just begun and it appears to me that these women´s energy have multiplied! Since 9am the residents organized in collectives of women could be seen decorating stalls with arts and crafts, cloths, books and food, and starting many workshops of zine and stencil, urban agriculture, recycling, storytelling, etc. Wherever one´s look there was a woman leading an activity.

Along the day many residents from Passarinho and from other areas of Recife were arriving as well as representatives of social movements and activist groups. Occupy Passarinho is a politic and cultural stunt based on Occupy Estelita, the latter becoming famous nationally for the claiming for the right to the city.

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The first Occupy Passarinho took place in October 2015 to claim for the improvement of public services and to defend the right of 5 thousand families that live in an area equivalent to 33 soccer fields to remain living there. The families are under the threat of eviction due to a repossession suit. After one year some improvements were achieved in the public services and there have been some meetings with city managers. The objectives of the Occupy however have not changed.

The policy asks of the Occupy Passarinho 2016 claims for a series of services to make the area safer such as the cleaning up the Passarinho River; sanitation; environmental education and points for selective garbage collectors; support for women´s experiences with urban agriculture; proper areas for sports and leisure; more and equipped schools and health centers; improvements in transportation; more police patrolling; and income generation for the residents.

Particularly, the Occupy Passarinho claimed for the right to housing with the conclusion of the land tenure process in the area that was almost evicted in 2014 if were not for the women´s mobilization that gained local and national visibility in the media.

In our Safe Cities Campaign we use to say that a safe city for women is a safe city for everybody. Taking by the policy asks of Passarinho what the women residents taught us these days is that a city led by women´s mobilization is more just, inclusive and safe for all.