Brazil Learning Visit / IHRFG Events

Learning Visit Reflection: The Paradox of the BRICS

IHRFG recently held a Learning Visit in Rio de Janeiro exploring the changing dynamics of human rights and global philanthropy in emerging economies. Over the coming weeks, we will share reflections from participants. Click here to read more lessons and join the conversation!

Contributed by Shalini Nataraj, Director of Advocacy and Partnerships, Global Fund for Women –

Brazil Image 2The 3-day Learning Visit to Brazil offered a substantive opportunity to learn about the political formulations of the BRICS – as a new space for human rights struggle to focus on. The paradox of rising economic growth coupled with persistent human rights violations -often the result of the growth model that emphasizes large infrastructure projects that results in mass displacements of marginalized communities and the rise of violence as economic disparity widens and the state resorts to force to quell dissent – presents a complex landscape demanding new approaches for philanthropy. We learned about the deepening relationship between China and Russia, the two BRICS countries that are non-democratic, and the deeply troubling rise of new forms of oppression of civil society actors. It was discouraging to see the data highlighting the fact that Afro-Brazilians and women were still excluded from the development agenda. What was illuminating was that the narrative about Brazil found strong parallels with India, Sri Lanka, South Africa or Turkey. Having representatives from a range of countries experiencing the same conditions was interesting as it brought out clearly the fact that the model of growth and development was flawed, and new models and paradigms need to be constructed.

This was an interesting time to be in Brazil as it prepares for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Civil society was using this opportunity to press the state for demands related to socio-economic rights and justice. There were strikes happening all over the country and the potential for violence is high. All emerging economies see hosting these mega-events as prestigious, regardless of the cost to the lives of their own citizens, sometimes literally.

It was also interesting to learn about how the left had to develop new strategies to deal with the Workers’ Party coming to power. Continuing to press for a rights-based agenda with “one of their own” had first stymied the left and the progressives, who then had to regroup to continue the fights. There was first the expectation of quick and radical solutions, and the disenchantment when those did not materialize, the practice across the BRICS countries of the criminalization of social movements and rising militarization to quell dissent (we learned of the military police and tanks deployed in the favelas as part of the “pacification” initiative). In the face of all this the resilience of the people, the music and culture and art of Brazil comes through and one hopes for the best for its people. The visits to local organizations and the Providencia favela offered a window into the resistance of the people to the forces that would take away their way of life and their hopes for their own futures.

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