JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, the story of a group of Brazilian street artists using the spotlight of the biggest sporting event in the globe to highlight a problem close to home.Special correspondent Sophia Kruz Of Detroit Public Television has our report.
SOPHIA KRUZ: In Brazil, the start of the 2014 World Cup was cause for celebration, but amidst the partying was also protests, with many Brazilians speaking out against the $11 billion their country has spent on the games, $11 billion, they say, that could have been spent building desperately need schools and hospitals, instead of football stadiums.
But the protests in Brazil haven’t all been violent and one of the peaceful weapons in use is public art.
Anthropologist Thaddeus Blanchette explains.
THADDEUS BLANCHETTE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro: These are weapons that people who have no formal political power can employ and they have been things like samba, music, humor, and graffiti fits right in there.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Graffiti is used as a powerful tool for political protests in urban areas around the world, by in Rio de Janeiro, it’s much more than that. Here, street art is woven into the fabric of the urban landscape.
It’s bold in scale, often stretching entire city blocks, and every inch is legal thanks to a federal law decriminalizing street art in 2009, which has been great for graffiti artists like Bruno Bogossian.
BRUNO “B.R.” BARRETO BOGOSSIAN, Graffiti Artist: They don’t call the cops to harass you because they like, you know? They are probably going to offer you water or coffee or ask you if you need some like paint to finish your wall. It’s incredible. We’re lucky.
SOPHIA KRUZ: This widespread public support has led some graffiti artists to become advocates for social change and as the spotlight shines on Brazil this month, 78 graffiti artists have packed up their spray cans and traveled across the country to Rio for the first day of the World Cup.
But these artists aren’t here to protest the games. They have come to fill a kilometer-long city block with murals, all protesting domestic violence.
Have you ever done any paintings for domestic violence or women’s rights before?
BRUNO “B.R.” BARRETO BOGOSSIAN: No, never. It’s the first time. And I think it’s going to be cool. I’m really proud. And, yes, it’s a different experience.
SOPHIA KRUZ: These graffiti artists may not look like typical women’s rights activists, and on most days they’re not, but today they have been brought together by street artist and activist Panmela Castro.
PANMELA CASTRO, Founder & Graffiti Artist, Rede Nami: Graffiti is special because, when you do art in your room, in your home, in your career, it’s just for you and sometimes you will make a show, exhibition, so more people see. But when you do it in the street, you are communicating with everybody.
This old too, around 2009, I think.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Panmela is recognized as one of the best graffiti artists in Brazil, but her work stretches beyond the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Her paintings can be seen around the world in places like Berlin, Paris, as well as the United States, in New York and even in Madison, Wisconsin.
For Panmela, using graffiti to promote women’s rights is personal. That’s because her first husband who she married at age 21 began abusing her shortly after they moved in together.
PANMELA CASTRO: When I moved in, everything changes, because he felt that he was — had the power and he started being aggressive. And what happens, at the end of the week, he beats me.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Panmela is not alone. One out of every three women internationally will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime.
And in Brazil, the numbers are staggering.
WOMAN (through interpreter): A woman is beaten every five minutes. And once every two hours, she is killed for being a woman. We have been painting here since 9:00 this morning. And in that time, four women have died in Brazil.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Panmela survived the beating by her ex-husband, but the injustice she suffered didn’t end there.
PANMELA CASTRO: We went to the police station, but, at that time, we don’t have a law against domestic violence, and nothing happened. He never went to the court. Nothing happened.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Panmela’s former husband was never prosecuted because up until a few years ago, there was no comprehensive law regarding domestic violence on the books in Brazil, and for researchers studying gender-based violence, like Marcos Nascimento, the lack of education reflected a broader cultural problem.
MARCOS NASCIMENTO, Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights, State University of Rio de Janeiro: The society didn’t consider violence against women as a serious issue. It’s a private one, and most of the perpetrators of violence were not judged, were not condemned.
SOPHIA KRUZ: In 2006, Brazil’s first law on domestic violence, called the Maria da Penha law, was passed, protecting women from the types of injustices suffered by Panmela.
PANMELA CASTRO: I saw that it was really possible. And this is why I decided to contribute with my community promoting the law and helping out the women. And the tool that I had to do it was graffiti.
SOPHIA KRUZ: Panmela has dedicated her life to raising awareness about the law, founding an organization in 2008 called Rede Nami, Panmela and her all-female team host graffiti workshops and schools throughout Rio de Janeiro. Their aim is to prevent domestic violence by working with high schoolers, the girls and the boys.
MARCOS NASCIMENTO: Domestic violence is not an issue for women, it is not an issue for men, is not an issue for health sector or justice factor, but it’s an issue for all of us. So we have to do this together, if you want to figure out a future with no violence.
PANMELA CASTRO: When I was a victim of domestic violence, I didn’t see myself as a victim. For me, that thing was common in the life of women. We had to accept. In this process, I learned that the things can be different. The woman can be free, can think in other ways that people, that society say that we have to be.
SOPHIA KRUZ: The event was a victory for Panmela and for women’s rights.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How the arts can help address the issues of women’s rights around the world is the subject of an upcoming documentary by Sophia Kruz. You can find a link to that project, Creating for Change, on our Web site.