Take Five: “When I realized that working with human rights could make a difference in women’s and entire communities’ lives, my law degree started to make sense”Dandara Rudsan is a black and trans activist from Altamira, in the Brazilian state of Pará. She is a lawyer that has dedicated her life to protecting the traditional communities in the Amazon and their territories. She is part of the organization Formation Center of Black People from Transamazônica and Xingu, supported by the project Connecting Women, Defending Rights, a UN Women Brazil initiative, funded by the European Union.
What motivated you to become a human rights activist?
It all started when, at 17, I got a scholarship to a law school in another state. When I finished college and returned to my city, Altamira, the government was expropriating families in order to build the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. My parents were one of those families. With my law degree, I realized that I had nothing else to do but fight for my family's rights. Today I am an expert in dialogues and conflict mediation, and I don't see myself living anywhere else or doing anything else.
What does it mean to defend human rights in the Brazilian Amazon, specially being a black and trans woman?
In the Amazon, defending human rights means fighting for the survival of people and the rainforest every day, but there is no hierarchy between agendas: we must break discriminatory patterns that place certain people under certain categories.
For example, people are used to associating trans women with the agenda for the fight for their right to change their names. The problem is that if we don't think it's also possible for trans women to defend the Amazon and speak up on behalf of other causes, we become easy targets and are more susceptible to falling victims of crimes against us.
This is probably the thirteenth year in a row that Brazil is the country that has the greatest number of murders of trans gender people in the world. Imagine if the trans women from my community were counted among them. Breaking these discriminatory patterns is a matter of survival.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work and activism?
The pandemic only aggravated a crisis that already existed in my territory: unemployment, pressures among the population and difficulties in accessing health care. That is why we had to strengthen and adapt our mechanisms to defend human rights, especially our communication skills and strategies, so we could continue our activism despite the social distance. At the Formation Center of Black People from Transamazônica and Xingu, for example, we inaugurated a communication and digital activism lab.
Focusing on communication made us understand that thinking in innovative terms also means considering prior ways of doing things. All the materials we produce in a digital format, we also adapt and print, because there are still many communities that don’t have access to the internet.
How has the EU funded-project “Connecting Women, Defending Rights” supported your organization during COVID-19?
In addition to supporting the communication branch of our organization, we will use the resources to focus on the post-pandemic context, training women to listen and advise other women whose rights have been violated. They will be capable of helping others regarding violations of labor rights, promoting access to social security and health care, and helping women who suffer gender-based violence and domestic violence.
Why is it important to fund women-lead and grassroots organizations in the Amazon region?
Supporting these organizations translates into financing ways of eliminating oppression. To finance social movements in the Amazon is to finance the survival of these communities, these people, and the rainforest. It is to finance the survival of the most vulnerable Brazilian population.