SDG16+ Champions of Change
Champions of Change is an initiative started by the Pathfinders to highlight advocates who have made an impact in their communities and helped to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG16+). It provides an opportunity to feature individuals, businesses, and organizations doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.
Valdecir Nascimento is the executive coordinator of ODARA — Instituto da Mulher Negra (Black Women’s Institute) in Salvador, Brazil. She also coordinates the Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste do Brasil (Black Women’s Network for the Northeast of Brazil) and was one of the organizers of the Marcha de Mulheres Negras, which took place in 2015. She has been a prominent women’s rights advocate in Brazil for over 40 years.
We spoke with Valdecir Nascimento to learn more about her work and what drives her:
What ignited your pursuit for more peaceful, just and inclusive societies?
The goal of my work is to advocate for the rights of Black communities and against racism, violence, and oppression directed towards them, particularly towards Black girls and women. I have to overcome a series of obstacles in my work, including racism linked with sexism, religious extremism, state-sanctioned violence in vulnerable communities, the growing powers of narco-traffickers and paramilitary groups, the violence against human rights advocates, and the lack of access to justice.
To achieve a peaceful, just, and inclusive world, what does success look like to you? And what are the key factors in achieving this vision?
For me, success means guaranteeing the human rights of Black women and communities, ending all forms of oppression, guaranteeing the rights of traditional communities, preserving and protecting forests and rivers, attaining food security for all, achieving equity in places of power and decision-making roles, achieving an equitable distribution of wealth, and ending all wars. To achieve this, we first need to understand that in Brazil, the majority of the population lives in a state of exclusion due to their ethnic/racial characteristics, so we will only be able to advocate for equality when we start to consider racism as a structural condition of unequal relations in Brazil.
How does your work contribute to the SDG16+ goals?
My work contributes to the institutional strengthening of Black girls and women’s organizations and collectives, in all their diversity, to ensure that everyone has access to human rights and that no women are left behind.
Change can only come with the organization and fight of Black women. Their participation is crucial to build a safe and equitable society for Black girls and women in all their diversity. To that end, we offer opportunities for them to advance their political education and activism, including classes on human rights and racial relations, and classes on social media and communication tools. We also incentivize the creation of counter-hegemonic narratives on Black women, their communication and their lives, and the creation of community networks and local sustainable development plans. Finally, we offer classes on the elaboration of projects and strategies for fundraising and we help small non-institutionalized groups obtain resources.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? Are there any lessons learned from the pandemic that you hope to apply in future work?
Combined with the changes from an in-person to a virtual setting, COVID-19 brought new demands as a consequence of the political, financial, and nutritional crises that directly affected the day-to-day work of my organization. Some of the consequences of these crises were the criminalization and persecution of civil society organizations, institutional instability, the deterioration of the vulnerability of women and girls, and the rise in domestic and police violence.
What advice do you have for those seeking to make a difference for a more peaceful, just and inclusive world?
The first step is to establish a dialogue between civil society, experts, and policy makers, with the goal of weighing options and defining priorities. The next step is to follow up, monitor, and evaluate the implementation of these policies until their completion, and diversify their implementation when possible. The creation of working groups to follow up on these actions is also crucial, as is the development of a sense of empathy and political consciousness that ensures that the protection of human rights is not a favor, but a duty.