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Party but don't touch: Rio works to make carnival safer for women

The "cidade maravilhosa," or wonderful city of Rio, on Friday officially inaugurated its emblematic festival, becoming the scene of countless street parties, the traditional "blocos" that can draw hundreds of thousands of people

Published: Feb 13, 2024 04:58:03 PM IST
Updated: Feb 13, 2024 05:02:48 PM IST

Party but don't touch: Rio works to make carnival safer for women Workers from Rio de Janeiro's City Hall promote a campaign for safer carnival for women during the parade of the street carnival group Loucura Suburbana. Image: Mauro Pimentel / AFP©

Avoid being alone in a crowd, opt for canned drinks over potentially drugged cocktails, scan a QR code to access emergency resources—as Rio enters carnival season, there has been a flood of advice on how women can stay safe.

The "cidade maravilhosa," or wonderful city of Rio, on Friday officially inaugurated its emblematic festival, becoming the scene of countless street parties, the traditional "blocos" that can draw hundreds of thousands of people.

But there is a dark underside to all the joyful dancing, partying and music: a surge in cases of sexual harassment and rape.

A recent survey by the Locomotiva Research Institute found that 73 percent of women in Brazil fear being sexually harassed during the public celebrations.

The January poll of 1,500 people found that 50 percent of women surveyed said they had suffered some form of aggression in previous carnivals.

The simple explanation: alcohol and machismo, Erica Paes, a women's safety specialist, told AFP.

"Men believe they have rights and power over the woman's body," said Paes, who is also a world champion in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

She created and coordinates the state government's Empoderadas (Empowered) program, which recently redoubled its efforts to inform women on how stay safe and—if they are the victim of violence —where to find help.

"Awareness today is women's best protection, so they know that they could be victims of violence and that they have someone to turn to for help," Paes said.

Also read: India Inc sees alarmingly high unresolved sexual harassment cases at workplace

Information is power

In December, Brazil approved the "No Is No" law, which established a mandatory protocol in entertainment spaces to protect victims of abuse, encourage complaints and preserve possible evidence.

The law was inspired by the "No Callem" ("We won't keep quiet") protocol in Spain's Catalan region, which made it possible to bring Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves to trial after he was accused of raping a woman in a Barcelona nightclub. He has denied the charges.

"Let's spread life-saving information and reinforce the idea that after someone says 'No,' it's harassment," Joyce Trindade of the Women's Secretariat in Rio prefecture said in a statement. Her group is responsible for the "Carnaval+Seguro" ("Carnival+Security") campaign.

This year there will be care stations in key locations for women who are attacked or feel endangered. And QR codes in four languages, with information on how to find help, are posted in many public places.

Empoderadas team members will also be  present on some buses, trams and subway cars, which can be extremely crowded during carnival.

One important rule they offer: If you're going to drink, be sure it is with a group of friends.

"Unfortunately, danger sometimes awaits," said Paes.

The Brazilian government has launched its own respect-women campaign.

In northern Rio, excitement is growing around the traditional Loucura Suburbana block party.

Among hundreds of partygoers are about 10 women, dressed in purple and glitter, who hand out stickers and fans bearing slogans like "Respect the Girls" and "No Means No."

For some, that is not enough.

"The campaigns still don't reflect the seriousness of the situation for women in carnival," Danielle Ribeiro, a 38-year-old bloco participant, told AFP.

"It's better than nothing, but it doesn't solve the problem," said Ribeiro, a historian. She said there need to be more places where women can report abuse, and tougher penalties for harassers.

Men "need to find another way of behaving at the carnival," she said.

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