Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 39 Nos. 3

Campaigning for the Right to Legal and Safe Abortion in Brazil

Published on 1 July 2008

Tensions ran high during the plenary session on the last day of the Second Conference for Public Policies for Women (II CNPM), held in August 2007 at the Brasilia Convention Center. More than 2,800 delegates, representing the nearly 300,000 women that participated in local and state preparatory conferences around the country, waited for the vote on the proposal for the legalisation of abortion to come up.

Earlier in the day, word had gone around that anti-abortion groups, present in the conference room, were planning to obstruct the voting process. And it could certainly happen as heated confrontations between anti- and pro-abortion supporters had already taken place on the opening night of the Conference, even as Brazil’s President Luis Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva made his address.

As the vote drew nearer, pro-abortion mini-rallies filled the conference hall. A large banner with the slogan for the Campaign for Safe Abortion – ‘Women decide, Society respects the decision, the State ensures its execution’ – was carried around by activists of the Feminist Network for Sexual Rights and Reproductive Rights, enveloping the hall, while other groups and coalitions, with similar signs and banners, shouted pro-abortion jingles under the enthusiastic applause of the majority of participants. Finally, when hundreds of delegates raised their credential cards in support of abortion rights as the vote was finally called, it became clear that another battle had been won on the way towards the legalisation of abortion in Brazil.

This important stride came about, to a large extent, as a result of the efforts of the Jornadas Brasileiras pelo Direito ao Aborto Legal e Seguro (Brazilian Journeys for Legal and Safe Abortion), a coalition of 52 feminist organisations, 18 national networks and hundreds of individual women across the country. Jornadas was formed to advance women’s struggles for reproductive rights, setting in its track a political process that has widened the range of partners and supporters. It was the first time that feminists in Brazil had engaged in such a proactive campaign to legalise abortion.

Drawing on the experience accumulated over more than 30 years of activism by contemporary feminist and women’s movements in Brazil in the fight for the legalisation of abortion, and with the goal to ‘win hearts and minds’, Jornadas plans its interventions both within as well as outside of the feminist movements in Brazil and Latin America. It has adopted the principle of collective definition of political strategies and decision-making, incorporating the contributions of old and new partners through a constant process of dialogue. In this manner, it has promoted greater synergy within the feminist and women’s movements. Jornadas has sought to construct a shared view of the issues at hand, and of possible ways forward. This has served to formulate a strategic plan that can articulate and catalyse all the different actions of the networks and organisations in the coalition in support of the overall aims.

These combined efforts have paid off. Indeed, Jornadas has propelled the campaign for the legalisation of abortion in Brazil onto a higher stage, bringing this important issue to the foreground of national debate. In what follows, we look into Jornadas’ strategies in these campaigns, as well as at the recent backlash that their recognised successes have provoked.

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This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.3 (2008) Campaigning for the Right to Legal and Safe Abortion in Brazil

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Soares, G. and Sardenberg, C. (2008) Campaigning for the Right to Legal and Safe Abortion in Brazil. IDS Bulletin 39(3): 55-61

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Gilberta Soares
Cecilia Sardenberg

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published by
Institute of Development Studies


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