Our bodies, ourselves
SOS Corpo is a rich organization – rich, that is, in experience and rich in contacts. This feminist institute for democracy, founded in 1981, has left its mark on a whole generation of women in Brazil and the whole of Latin America, disseminating feminist ideals, strategies, and insights. The women of SOS Corpo are active at the grassroots level themselves. They cooperate with many other organizations, develop models and strategies, put
pressure on the government to act, and take part in the international feminist debate.
Their work is based in Recife, in the impoverished northeast part of Brazil. SOS Corpo’s focus there is on improving healthcare: family planning, pregnancy, postnatal care for mothers and children, dealing with the menopause, and education campaigns on HIV/AIDS and cancer prevention. In the state of Pernambuco, their publications can be found even in the most remote towns and villages. SOS Corpo has such a good reputation that the organization also trains medical personnel on matters such as how best to communicate with women who are suffering domestic violence.
Above all, however, SOS Corpo offers consultancy and training for other women’s groups – whether neighborhood organizations, churches, or trade unions – so that they can go beyond relieving distress and start demanding rights. SOS Corpo uses a range of different resources to achieve that: seminars, long-term training courses, research studies, brochures, videos. Alongside the specialized qualification courses, they provide advice for organizations. And finally, SOS Corpo also campaigns for the public health services to take account of women and their specific needs. “Poor women now have better access to medical care than in the past,” says the sociologist Maria Betânia Avila. “But we have to be vigilant, or we risk losing everything we have achieved, for example due to privatization.”
As well as coordinating the work of SOS Corpo, Maria Betânia Avila is also an important theorist. Skillfully deconstructing the history of private life, she is able to convince her readers that their own philosophical, ideological, religious, and political traditions and positions are anything but self-evident. Every woman should be able to decide autonomously how and with whom she wants to live, based solely on respect for diversity and individual differences. That too is a way for commitment to grow.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation has been working with SOS Corpo since 2003. Today, the Pernambuco-based organization is an important partner in the efforts to promote dialogue between the different actors of civil society that are concerned with “biopolitics.” New technologies in this field affect women directly. “At the same time as the discussion on new reproductive technologies, an old and difficult debate in the women’s movement is coming to the fore again,” says Thomas Fatheuer, who heads the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s office in Brazil. “Are new technologies beneficial for the liberation of women, for example by freeing them from the great social pressure to bear children or by making it possible to have children without a male partner?”
Today many new questions are arising in the area of reproductive rights. Prenatal diagnostics is progressing fast, facing women and families with difficult decisions. Is there such a thing as a right to a “healthy child”? Or even: Is there a duty for a woman to do everything to avoid having a child with disabilities? In-vitro fertilization opens up new possibilities for bearing children, but also new possibilities for selecting them out. A market – illegal in Brazil – is emerging for egg cells and sperm, but sperm donors are selected according to particular criteria (social class, skin color). Is that a step toward a “liberal eugenics”? This and other questions of bio-politics are probed by the Heinrich Böll Foundation together with SOS Corpo. The women of Recife are again taking action on various levels: offering seminars on the topic of body and power, publications, and a nationwide workshop on biopower and reproductive technologies.
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This Article is published in Gender Politics Makes a Difference - Experiences of the Heinrich Böll Foundation across the world.
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