IHRFG recently held a Learning Visit in Rio de Janeiro exploring the changing dynamics of human rights and global philanthropy in emerging economies. Following the trip, we will share reflections from participants. Click here to read more lessons and join the conversation!
Contributed by Mukami Marete, Director of Operations, UHAI – The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (EASHRI) –
I have always wanted to go to South America due to its history in social activism and was very excited about visiting Rio. The learning visit gave me an opportunity to see Rio from various different perspectives. From my hotel window, I could see two contrasting views. One was of the beautiful beach and a line of five-star hotels. The other was of a Favela (unplanned settlement) on the hills. Lucia Nader, the Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights Brazil, gave a description of Brazil being a “Giant with feet of clay, a Giant that woke up in a bad mood”. These contradictions set the pace for the visit.
From the presentations by various organizations based in Brazil, the issues on inequality and challenges in wealth distribution, access to resources and respect for human rights were very similar to the Eastern Africa region where I come from. There is also the “confused” measure of a country’s development, whereby growth in a country’s GDP is taken as the main measure of development at the expense of other indicators such as the human rights and social justice record. Funding for human rights and social justice in Brazil and emerging powers continues to reduce with the assumption that there are resources from within the country to support this work. Brazil remains as one of the most unequal countries in the world despite being an emerging power.
From the World Cup preparations and other city developments, it was clear the problems occasioned by public/private partnerships which most of our Governments are pushing. We visited Morro da Providencia, the first favela to be named as such in Brazil. In preparation for the World Cup, there has been eviction of families who have been in this favela for years to pave way for the construction of a cable line. This was done without the consultation of the locals and is proving to be a “white elephant,” in the words of one of the residents. There are also threats occasioned by gentrification of poor neighborhoods, which makes the cost of living too high for the original inhabitants. But the strength of local organizing and people power to push back against this social-economic oppression was evident throughout Brazil. The habitants of Providencia have been able to hold their municipal government accountable in provision of sanitation and compensating people who have been displaced. We also visited an organization called Catalytic Communities (CatComm) that works with favelas for sustainable community development, communication, and demand for human rights and social-economic justice.
My other takeaway was the role of the Feminist movement in Brazil in influencing change. Brazil has a progressive citizen constitution. But even with the country having a female president, men are still the majority in Congress and therefore make the laws. A similarity I noted with Kenya is the backtracking of constitutional rights through special amendments to a progressive constitution. Our countries are looking to the emerging powers, such as China and Russia, as well as other BRICS countries for support without the added responsibility of human rights and social justice. Across board, there are also increased restrictions on funding to civil society organizations from external funding sources. This, in essence, means that human rights funders have to be creative in how they continue to fund civil society organizations.
Finally, I really liked the breakaway discussion on safety, security and well-being of human rights defenders. Funders have to understand that various contexts have different security needs and, therefore, funding strategies need to vary beyond simply providing asylum. There is a need to support spaces and time for the well-being of activists.