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Women comment on the main advances and challenges within churches and terreiros in 2021

Moema Miranda

Churches and terreiros are central spaces of socialization for many women since childhood and have become the cradles of important social movements. “Here in Brazil, the base ecclesial communities were almost a womb of movements for the affirmation of women's rights”, comments Moema Miranda, representative of the Catholic Church as a member of the Secular Francisca Order.

The strong and historic presence of women in the social bases of faith communities has gained new meaning in times of consecutive setbacks, in Brazil and in other countries. “This is an apocalyptic moment, in which we must focus on small communities and resistance so as not to lose everything that has advanced”, suggests Moema.

Mother Beth of Oxum

An example is the attempts to erase the production of knowledge by traditional peoples and communities of African origin. Mãe Beth de Oxum, Ialorixá of Ilê Axé Oxum Karê, an Afro-indigenous terreiro from Umbigada, protests: “we won, but we lost from the moment the extreme right took power and tore up all the documents, annals , books, booklets and elaborate plans”.

“The advances were to occupy places such as the National Commission of Cultural Points (CNPdC), the National Council for Cultural Policy (CNPC), the Secretariat for Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality (Seppir), as well as the networks of women from terreiros and of axé. […] It was extremely important for women to have appropriated this place of public policy decision”, recognizes the ialorixá.

In fact, one of the main advances cited by them in relation to women's struggle was the occupation of institutional spaces, such as councils, commissions and secretariats. Because these bodies often not only build public policies, but also establish goals and monitoring systems within the structure of the State, and have a direct impact on the preservation and protection of cultures and religions.

Isabel Felix

“Another example of progress in women’s protagonism was the active participation of nineteen Brazilian women in the Amazon Synod in 2019 in Rome, a space that until then was mostly reserved for men”, emphasizes Isabel Félix, pedagogue, doctor in Sciences of Religion and member of the nucleus of religious advocacy of the Catholics for the Right to Decide movement.

The engagement of Catholic women in social movements has broadened their religious interpretation and strengthened their critical awareness of their place in society and in churches. “Women who manage to advance further in their protagonism and subvert the coloniality of ecclesial power are those who […] are also nourished by theological and biblical reflections in feminist perspectives”, says the pedagogue.

Another topic that does not go unnoticed is violence against women and gender. In a statement published last year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) acknowledged: “Issues related to human sexual behavior and gender relations within the family are taboo in many churches and church communities, preventing them from being a place insurance and protection for women victims of or threatened by sexual and gender-based violence”.

Magali Cunha

Researcher in Communication and Religions and professor Magali Cunha echoed the WCC statement in full in recent article for Carta Capital, stating that it is “an important statement about the Christian dimension of justice that must be done to women and a call to confront sexual and gender violence”.

However, the intersections between women's struggles and religions are stronger than they appear. “In fact, there is no church without women. We are in a dispute for the recognition that this role of presence, of support, of church gestation, is recognized in institutionality”, says the Franciscan Moema Miranda.

Machismo is still an obstacle that manifests itself structurally. “In the case of the Catholic Church, the hierarchy is very marked by the preponderance of celibate men, popes, bishops, priests, that is, markedly male. We are experiencing a demonstration of the saturation of this hegemonic and patriarchal model. The Earth can't take it anymore”, laments Moema.

When analyzing the proportion of transformations, Isabel Félix shares little hope. “There are no abrupt qualitative changes. There are small changes that mix with the achievements of socio-political rights also present in other spheres of society, between advances and setbacks”.

Mãe Beth de Oxum goes further: “the traditional peoples, quilombolas, caiçaras and riverside people have nothing to celebrate. I see an extremely worrying scenario, I see Brazil on a precipice without size”.

By Julia Boardman

*Photos from personal collections

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