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Brazil: Recreational harassment | Opinion

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A march to defend women's rights in São Paulo in 2019.
A march to defend women’s rights in São Paulo in 2019.Cris Faga

The video traveled back and forth between Brazil and Egypt in less than 24 hours. The images were posted by a white Brazilian male, camera in hand as he filmed a young Egyptian woman selling papyrus products. While the woman described the merchandise to him, the man chatted away to her in Portuguese. The woman was smiling, as polite people do during intercultural, linguistic exchanges when they want the person who is attempting to communicate with them to feel at ease. She didn’t know it, but the anonymous Brazilian was sexually harassing her. Instead of asking questions about the papyrus, he was making obscene remarks about sex and the male organ: “You all like it nice and hard, right?” “Long is nice too, right?” he says on the recording, while he and another Brazilian man laugh. A case of recreational harassment.

Why “recreational harassment” and not just harassment? With recreational harassment, it is harder to identify the violence perpetrated against the victim, because when someone watches or shares the images, their amusement actually makes them complicit with the violence. Recreational harassment occurs when a woman is harassed as part of a project of domination implemented through other men’s laughter. It is not liberating laughter (ridendo castigat mores, a Latin phrase meaning that one corrects customs by laughing at them), but laughter grounded in stereotypes and regimes of domination. Here is how José Adilson Moreira has defined “recreational racism”: cultural politics grounded in discriminatory practices against racial minorities in the guise of oppressive laughter, which naturalize racial hostility and which the law rarely recognizes as illegal. Engaging in dialogue with Moreira, Carla Akotirene has written about the inseparability of recreational racism and sexism in situations where meme humor is a weapon used to ridicule Black women for various purposes, sometimes to stereotype manifestations of the bodily disempowerment wrought by poverty, like missing teeth, or at other times in an effort to control the non-submissive voices of Black female intellectuals by labeling them “divas” or “angry Black women.” The anonymous Egyptian victim was someone who fit an Islamophobic stereotype: a young Muslim woman wearing a veil.

The Egyptian police identified the physician, who is now being investigated for the crime of sexual harassment

The episode might be interpreted as an isolated incident involving a Latin American macho abroad. But it is not isolated. In 2014, this same Brazilian released another video of himself, this time harassing an Australian woman by asking her to repeat sexual phrases in Portuguese. There is a pattern to this harassment; people who feel superior employ mockery as a power tactic to humiliate people marked by gender or sexuality, race or religion. Hidden behind the obscene comments on the recent video are cultural and gender stereotypes about Egyptian women. The arrogance of this mockery draws from a sense of ethnic and gender superiority on the part of a white patriarchy that, at home or abroad, acts with the certainty that its naturalized privileges guarantee impunity. The Brazilian apparently found nothing embarrassing about what he had done, so he posted the images to his Instagram account, which has nearly one million followers.

This anonymous man roaming the streets of Luxor is a well-known figure in Brazil. He is a medical doctor, a coach specialized in fitness techniques, and a supporter of President Bolsonaro who, more than a year into the pandemic, continues using jargon with a pseudo-scientific veneer to defend treatments of no proven scientific value, like hydroxychloroquine. Yet it would be better to describe him beyond his nationality, as a representative-without-borders of the racist patriarchy that harasses women. When confronted about the scene, the man set his Instagram account to private and justified his actions by saying: “I’m like that. I’m a real jokester.” Brazilian feminists copied the video, translated it, and sent it to women’s groups in Egypt, like the online platform Speak Up, a “feminist initiative to support victims of violence.” This was followed by an immediate online mobilization, with hashtags circulating in both countries and in three languages, Arabic, English, and Portuguese: “expel the Brazilian harasser from Egypt,” “investigate the Brazilian harasser” and “we don’t want harassers in our country.”

The Egyptian police identified the physician, who is now being investigated for the crime of sexual harassment; punishment ranges from a monetary fine to between six months and three years in prison. It was feminists who identified the incident as an instance of sexual harassment – not Instagram, which allowed the images to be posted to the doctor’s account. Only after many young Brazilian and Egyptian feminists reacted and expressed their solidarity did the social media platform determine that the video breached its Community Guidelines, which prohibit “hate speech, bullying and abuse.” The doctor’s apology to the victim tells us what women are up against: “Since I saw what a smiley person you are and how you were joking along with us, I just ended up joking around.” No, victims don’t laugh; recreational mockery is only for the aggressor.

Debora Diniz is a Brazilian anthropologist and researcher at Brown University.

Giselle Carino is an Argentine political scientist and IPPF/WHR director.



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Russia to lose Swift access, pipeline if it invades Ukraine

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“Work is already underway for … disconnection of Russia from the Swift banking system, sanctions on the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 [to Germany],” if it invades Ukraine, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said in The Guardian Tuesday. “If [Russian president] Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” US national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told Reuters.

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Can artistic freedom survive in Sudan? The writing’s on the wall… | Global development

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In the new dawn of a heady post-revolutionary era, Suzannah Mirghani returned in 2019 to the country of her birth for the first time in years. Her mission was to shoot a short film on Sudanese soil. It proved unexpectedly straightforward.

“When the revolution happened, there was this exuberance,” she says, from her Qatari home. “When we came to make our film, we were given the green light. We were told: ‘Anything you want’.

“Nobody harassed us. Nobody told us what to do. Nobody asked us for the script. I call this time in the history of Sudan ‘the honeymoon’,” says Mirghani.

Sudanese director Suzannah Mirghani at this year’s Tribeca film festival in New York.
The Sudanese director Suzannah Mirghani at this year’s Tribeca film festival in New York. Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty

More than two and a half years after the toppling of the longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, Mirghani fears the honeymoon is over, at least for her. The turmoil into which Sudan has again been plunged means she feels unable to return safely.

On 31 October, as her film, Al-Sit, won the latest of many awards, Mirghani had to give an acceptance speech that was anything but celebratory.

Six days before, the military had seized power in a coup, detaining the civilian prime minister and bringing the country’s fragile transition to democracy to an abrupt halt.

In a video address from Qatar to the Africa in Motion film festival in Scotland, Mirghani said “the only reason” she and her crew had been able to make Al-Sit was the active encouragement given by the civilian-military partnership government. “Now,” she added, “we’re in very serious danger of going back to the bad old days of military rule and stifling creative expression.”

Since the coup, a lot has happened: huge pro-democracy protests thronged through Khartoum and other cities, with at least 40 demonstrators killed.

After almost a month, the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was released as part of a deal struck with the coup leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

A still from a film, with a young girl talking to her grandmother as they sit next to a lamp at night
A still from Mirghani’s film, Al-Sit, about a young girl’s arranged marriage in Sudan. Photograph: Courtesy FilmFreeway

But the protesters, who want the military out of politics for good, are not convinced, and even less so as security forces fire teargas into the crowds that continue to gather despite Hamdok’s return. With the creative gains made after the revolution now hanging in the balance, Sudanese artists feel they have to speak out.

“We artists will be the first to be targeted if the military government continues in power,” writes Aamira*, a painter, in an email from Khartoum. “We are demonstrating in the streets, facing guns, unarmed. There is nothing to fear any more.”

In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Hamdok defended his decision to strike a deal with the military, saying it was essential to stop the bloodshed and “preserve the achievements of the last few years”.

It may not have been uppermost in his mind, but one of those achievements was the flowering of an artistic community that had long been harassed, censored and forced into the shadows. Assil Diab, a street artist, says: “I painted Omar al-Bashir as the [face of] coronavirus in a stadium in Bahri during the daytime, which would have been just impossible; my whole family could have been killed two years ago.”

Street artist Assil Diab’s depiction of former dictator Omar al-Bashir as the face of coronavirus on a stadium wall in Bahri, Khartoum.
The street artist Assil Diab’s depiction of the former dictator Omar al-Bashir as the face of coronavirus on a stadium wall in Bahri, Khartoum. Photograph: Assil Diab

Feeling compelled to return amid the revolutionary fervour, Diab returned to Sudan in 2019 and made her name painting the faces of the revolution’s “martyrs” on the outside of their families’ homes, with a getaway car close by in case the notorious paramilitary Rapid Support Forces saw her.

For Mirghani, the “absolute elation” of the revolution yielded creative results. Al-Sit is the beautifully observed story of a Sudanese village girl whose parents want her to marry the sharp-suited son of a wealthy cotton trader in Qatar. “To finally be able to express yourself, to say what you had wanted to say to these people for 30 years: it’s amazing.

“My film is about women’s rights. It’s social commentary on arranged marriage. I don’t think we could have said that a few years ago,” says Mirghani.

The “honeymoon” was not without its challenges. The dictator was gone, but social and religious conservatism – and a reluctance to champion the arts – remained. Artistic freedom was patchy: in 2020, the renowned film-maker Hajooj Kuka and several others were detained during a theatre workshop.

Asim*, a documentary film-maker in Khartoum, says that, although in the capital the “direct censorship” of the Bashir era has eased, the rest of Sudan is not as relaxed. “It’s partially freedom and partially censorship,” he says. “It is a battle about 10% won.”

Khalid Albaih, a political cartoonist based in Qatar, returned after the revolution to launch the Sudan Artist Fund (SAF), to provide budding creatives with money and mentors, and with an ambitious plan to create a public art and design library. He says: “I thought: this is it. All doors were open and this is what we were going to do.

a cartoon of a protester draped in Sudan's flag painting a red line through a street sign showing a U-turn
The political cartoonist Khalid Albaih makes his point about the recent coup attempt. Photograph: Khalid Albaih

“I took all my papers, and for the first time in 10 years I’m in Sudan walking around, not scared of any police, or secret police, or anything. I went to every business owner in Sudan and everyone that can donate money to these causes. And I got nothing but rejection – for a library and for an artists’ fund.”

Finally, Albaih secured $7,000 (£5,300) from CultuRunners, a cultural exchange organisation, and the SAF awarded its first grant of $500 in October – just before the coup. “It was incredible because the internet cut out [after the coup leaders imposed a nationwide online blackout] so the artist didn’t even know he had won. We had to call him. It took two or three weeks to send the money to him,” says Albaih.

The cartoonist knows there will not be any more funding for a while. “Now everything is rocky. No one knows how things will go. It’s going to be really hard for artists and these kinds of initiatives to move forward.

Women walk past a hoarding with graffiti of silhouetted protesters
Women walk past graffiti reading in Arabic: ‘Freedom, peace, justice and civilian’ in the Burri district of Khartoum in 2019. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

The coup, says Diab, left the creative community feeling “disappointed and just broken down … because we finally thought we were free and then this happened.” She intends to apply for political asylum in the US, where she is studying, feeling she “can be of better use to Sudan” from overseas.

Those in the thick of it cannot afford to give up hope. Asim was at a protest in Khartoum against the post-coup deal last week and was “teargassed the entire afternoon” amid chants of “no partnership, no negotiation, no legitimacy”. He is realistic about future challenges but knows that people have made up their minds.

“I feel like there is a grip on power and it will not end today; it will not end tomorrow. Whether those power-hungry authoritarians will roll with democratic transition and allow people to express their freedoms, allow journalists and film-makers to operate or not, that is something that is still [up in] the air, because you never know with the ever-changing dynamic of power in this country,” he says.

The momentum towards democracy is undeniable, he says. “I believe that is possible and I believe there is hope. The people will not stop asking for what they really want. [Will] that future come tomorrow? The day after? In two years? In five? We never know. But it seems like the consensus is that people agree it has to happen.”

*Names have been changed to protect their identity

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EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries

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EU diplomats have provisionally agreed to blacklist three Russian nationals and one entity, the ‘Wagner Group’ mercenary outfit, on grounds of human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East, diplomatic sources said. The decision will be formalised by foreign ministers next Monday. The move comes amid Wagner’s increasing presence in Mali, threatening French interests in the region. Europe earlier sanctioned a Russian oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said to fund Wagner.

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