Sometimes it takes a while to understand what it means to be a woman and how society can influence a woman’s identity. Regina, a sixty-one year old social worker, college professor and member of the NGO Catholics for Free Choice, grew up without exposure to most of the limits imposed on women by society.
“My mother was always an autonomous and tough woman. The independence to carry out dreams on my own, without relying on others, has always been something quite significant (in my life). Before my father died, he was sick for four years and bedridden. My mother took care finances and housework. She practically exerted the two functions of a traditional family. The impression I had of women was not so different from (that of) men.”
Regina began to question the attitudes of colleagues in relation to gender when she was twenty-seven years old. It all started when she realized that certain tasks were assigned to certain people.
“I started working in a center of popular education. I and another woman coordinated the courses, and we began to realize that we took care of the practical part of the courses and the logistics and that we doing the dirty work. However, the main coordinators of the space were men. (There were cases) that we women worked together in the same space with the men, but we didn’t have the same power of decision. We couldn’t participate in external events and presentations.”
When she realized that there was sexism in their everyday interactions, she found it necessary to seek knowledge and study in order to truly understand her situation.
“I got my master’s in gender relations in NGOs. It was interesting, because the direction of the NGO itself (which dealt with gender issues) proposed my pursuit of a master’s degree. It helped me to understand (my situation) and to understand situations related to gender relations.”
Evolving as a feminist is a rich process, but never easy. “In theory we have a feminist mentality, but in practice it is more complicated (to balance family with work and identity) than you think. It was quite complicated. We can’t we devote all our attention to something and ignore the other (obligations).”
Her work at the non-profit is directly linked to gender and religion. Yes, you can have faith and support the rights of women. “We work on religious sexuality issues. Western Christian religions, especially Catholicism, tend to view sexuality as something bad, something related to sin, and condemn the use of condoms and the practice of abortion, regardless of the circumstances. Today, we work trying to challenge this (perspective).”
Soon after Dilma was impeached, the NGO focused on political issues, and Regina was afraid that the number of women in politics would decrease. In the 2016 municipal elections in São Paulo, there was an increase in the number of women, but the long-term impacts on the political participation of women still need to be evaluated. After participating in the event Online Virada Feminista in September (a twenty-four hour online campaign to raise awareness about the right to access abortion) the non-profit is currently preparing for the 16 Days of Activism to Stop Violence Against Women, which happens in November.
Regina doesn’t believe that she meets the expectations of society for a woman, “I’m not a feminine woman, I don’t take care of myself. I don’t do my nails. I don’t wear make-up, I’m fat. And all this absolutely violates the standards set by society of how an ordinary woman should be.” However, she sees her life as a success, and that’s what really matters. “My life, in general, is a success. We are relatively financially stable. I know people of different religions. (She published her doctoral thesis with good results). Absolutely everything (accomplished and learned), I consider a success.“