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Women In Tech may need to Flee Brazil

A Look at How Brazil’s Politics Could Negatively Affect its Women In Tech

Members of the “Theatre strike against censorship” protest in Rio de Janeiro, in February 1968. By GONÇAVES (CPDOCJB)

In September 2018, 2,4 million women united with a single purpose in Brazil. With no push from the media, no involvement from parties or unions, this was a completely organic and unforeseen movement. It startled both presidential campaign managers and social media specialists alike.

What is that phenomenon?

In little over one week, the Facebook group “Women against Bolsonaro” surmounted 2,4 million participants. All women. From all political views.

Bolsonaro is a far-right presidential candidate. He runs on the very justified rage against corruption and the status quo. He is the author of controversial statements, such as

“blacks aren’t even fit to breed”, “I won’t rape you because you don’t deserve it, being so ugly”, “being gay is caused by lack of beating”, “the problem with the dictatorship is that they tortured instead of killing”

and the like. He’s a self-declared fan of torturers and has already spoken of overthrowing our democracy as soon as he was elected. He’s the front-runner, and has been rising in the polls after being stabbed during his campaign.

Brazil is a very sexist, violent country, with a history of a right-winged dictatorship that persecuted, tortured or killed an estimated 200 000 citizens over 20 years, including several innocent adults and children. In general, the country abhors feminism, and considers any feminist to be — pardon the language, but it’s real — an unshaved, unloved, problem-causing shrew. The murder rate for women is higher in Brazil than in Syria. Being a feminist in Brazil is an act of defiance.

Women who speak out are risking their safety.

Tech emigration

In the last couple of years, the economic and social degradation has driven a rise in migration to other countries. This is especially true for citizens who have higher education and desirable working skills — including tech.

We already suffer from a deep gap in women’s participation in the tech market. The few that endure are now leaving the country.

An election unlike most

In this election, there are proposals arising to change the support given by Brazilian law to women. If the far-right candidate is elected, his stances involve us losing the right to an abortion in any scenario (today it is allowed in case of rape and life-threatening risk), the right to maternal paid leave, and equal pay. He says he has no business fighting for equal pay, and he would not pay the same to man and women. Equally appalling proposals affect policies that support LGBTQ+ and people of color.

So, on August 30th, a Resistance formed. When the group reached 1 million participants in 4 days they started to receive threats and have been hacked several times. They hacked an admin’s mobile phone, transferring the number to another simcard. They hack the Facebook account and proceed to change the name of the group to “Women for Bolsonaro” and invited an army of supporters to expose all personal information of the women in the group.

Some media outlets came to the group’s aid, but in a patronizing way. When reporting it they said that

“these hackers are taking advantage of women who are not tech savvy”.

The white hat

Outside of the federal police (hacking is a crime) and Facebook itself the group has not reached out for external help. Facebook has given the group extensive support in returning the group to its admins. Albeit frustrating, I am not entirely sure this is the wrong approach.

I believe these women are fighting for their right to exist. They wear the white hat. I am sure there are women inside the group who could strike back. However, fighting violence with violence never turns out well, especially for the victim.

What can we, as savvy women in tech, and our allies can do to protect this group of wonderful women from attack so they can continue their fight to keep Bolsonaro from taking power and giving the women in tech in Brazil no other choice but to flee the country?

Since the group’s creation, we see an increasing number of women feeling confident in voicing their concerns. Both local and international artists have spoken out in support of the group using the hashtags #EleNão #NotHim. Even Bill Clinton warned Brazilians against voting through hate. But this is not enough. To reach the minds most affected by hatred, we need to appeal to the numbers and make the message crystal clear: this is not a difference in opinion. This is not a conflict of political views. This is a matter of humanity. We need everybody to take a stand.

AMPLIFY THEIR VOICES. SHARE THEIR MESSAGE. OFFER SUPPORT.

Share #EleNão #NotHim, validate these women’s rights, make sure they are heard. Help shining light on the dangers posed by this decision.

Our very lives may depend on this.