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‘We Are Resisting to Exist’: Indigenous Women in Brazil Are Fighting for Their Rights and Their Lives

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A Brazilian indigenous young woman marches along Paulista Avenue during the commemoration of the International Women’s Day in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In a country where women account for almost half of Brazil’s 900,000 native people, female indigenous leaders have now stepped boldly into the political spotlight. They are protesting the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and new policies that threaten indigenous rights guaranteed by the country’s 1988 constitution and recognized by international treaties.

During this year’s late-April annual gathering of indigenous groups in Brasilia, called the Free Land Encampment, indigenous women from a wide range of ethnic groups, with homes in the Amazon and elsewhere, criticized changes that Bolsonaro has made to longstanding policies, including the indigenous land demarcation process and the availability of health services.

On January 1st, the first day of his presidency, Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (MP 870), shifting decision-making power for indigenous reserve demarcations from Funai, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Ministry of Agriculture—seen by critics as a conflict of interest, as agricultural elites have long eyed indigenous lands for possible exploitation. The measure also moved Funai (previously housed with the Ministry of Justice) to the new Ministry of Human Rights, Family, and Women launched by Bolsonaro, a catchall institution that critics say will wield little real power.

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