This International Women’s Day, as we applaud the political, economic, cultural, and social advancements of half the population, there is much to celebrate in the Americas.
In the past decade, there has been a striking increase in political and economic participation of women. Promisingly, government and NGO agendas alike are increasingly prioritizing gender equity as a cross-cutting, pressing issue, and slowly, collaboration is leading to progress. In Bolivia, approximately half of the legislative body is female. Paraguay recently passed Act 5777, providing protection against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), outlawing femicide, and providing services to survivors of sexual violence. Originating in Argentina, the #NiUnaMenos movement against sexual harassment and assault has made great headway across several countries, and has been followed by the US-rooted #MeToo movement.
This is not to say that women do not struggle every day to feel safe, be heard, be recognized for their contributions, and be valued in government and society. Indeed, experts maintain that the global gender gap will close in 79 years for Latin America and the Caribbean and 168 in North America.
Despite this, change makers are pushing forward, inspiring us to join them in their pursuits or to honor their legacies. Without further ado, here are some of the many she-roes that have confronted challenges to advance the status of women in the Western hemisphere.
While the clashes between white supremacist groups and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12th and August 13th 2017 prove that racism is still a widespread phenomenon in America that haunts racial minorities, it becomes more and more evident that our task as a society to uproot this evil and pull minorities from its grips is not complete. Truth be told, racism in both forms, extrinsic as well as intrinsic, affects minorities of all ethnicities and colors in the United States. Today, educational institutions all across the United States use racism and unfavorably impact the educational performance of black students. Courthouses and law-enforcement agencies are led by well-known white supremacists who rule out in favor of plaintiffs. Black men are unfairly suspected during police encounters, black inmates outnumber white inmates by incomprehensible proportions, and black professionals in the government and corporate world face subtle instances of prejudiced behavior due to their skin color and heritage. All of these examples suggest that racism is a social problem that acts as an obstacle to the socioeconomic development of the African American community.
The creation of order through military suppression—what critical theorist Mark Neocleous calls, “war as peace [and] peace as pacification”—is designed to provide security for bourgeois social order. Pacification in Rio de Janeiro can thus be viewed as a militaristic, politically-crafted response to social insecurity felt by Rio’s upper classes, magnified by forthcoming mega event preparations that occurred from 2008 to 2016. Nonetheless, social inequality and public insecurity have long inhibited the effective governance of Rio de Janeiro. Following Brazil’s belated abolition of slavery in 1888, informal housing settlements—known as favelas—began to form. These communities, which now accommodate about a quarter of Rio’s population, have endured a history of state abandonment and marginalization of the poor. This, coupled with the consequences of being the territorial domain of armed criminal groups, has led to nearly complete disenfranchisement of more than 1.5 million favela residents. In 2008, to curb notoriously high levels of violence and to rebrand the city for its bid to host upcoming mega events, Rio de Janeiro launched the “Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora” (UPP) program. This program aimed to increase security in the favelas by reinstating state control, and to finally integrate their residents into the formal city. Although the UPP program initially decreased homicide rates, its success has been dismantled by increasing frequency of police perpetrated violence, the persistence of drug trafficking and unmet promises of social benefits, thus facilitating the UPP’s post-Olympic fall.
During the week of July 17, Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot visited Washington D.C. to discuss Brazil’s current fight against corruption. While in Washington D.C., Janot gave two presentations, one at the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute titled “The Role of Plea Bargains in the Fight Against Corruption,” and a second at the Atlantic Council titled “Lessons from Brazil: Crisis, Corruption, and Cooperation.” At these events, Janot highlighted the evolution of Brazil’s judicial system to where it is today – convicting high-level officials of corruption, both nationally and internationally with transnational cooperation. The following case study of Brazil’s judicial system takes information from these two events, as well as from past presentations of Brazilian judicial officials hosted by the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute.
The Evolution of Brazil’s Judicial System
Brazil’s judicial system has evolved from a system that only persecuted black people, poor people, and prostitutes to one determined to conquer the “white-collar” corruption that plagues Brazilian politics. Historically, high-society citizens were immune to the judiciary, but now the system has changed to include investigations into more influential people, specifically high-ranking government officials. The basic structure of Brazil’s judiciary was first established by the 1988 Constitution, which created a high court for federal legislation – the Superior Court of Justice, or TSJ. In addition, the constitution modified the Public Prosecutor’s Office to be an autonomous institution meant to preside over criminal proceedings.
The dysfunctionality of the Mexican educational system has been disproportionately widening the general wealth gap in the country, negatively impacting not only the lives of poorer individuals and families, but the progress of the country as a whole. Education is the fundamental base of any functional democratic society. There is overwhelming evidence proving that social conditions across the board are improved when the residents of any given community are better educated. For example, reports suggest that better education leads to higher voter turnout rates, lower levels of poverty and homelessness, and overall, higher standards of health and wellness due to a general awareness as well as access to well-rounded health care. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that with greater education, crime rates of all kinds are reduced, consequentially decreasing incarceration and marginalization rates.
Harvard University professor Ronald Ferguson, addressing the education gap, says that “we look at inequality in access to particular careers, inequality in income and wealth, inequality in the nature of political participation. All those things are mitigated by equalizing the skills that education produces. Not only the academic skills, but the dispositions, the frames of minds, the consciousness, the diligence, the sense of agency.” Simply put, the more educated a society is on average, the better it performs overall. Latin America, as the region with the highest levels of inequality in the world, is rapidly falling further behind other regions in education quality as well. More specifically, Mexico has the highest education inequality rate in the region, which as a consequence is producing broader inequality in wealth and presenting its leadership with a series of developmental obstacles of utmost complexity.