Friday, November 26, 2010

Two women, two abolitions?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The rise of women in many countries in the world to the status of heads of state and government is remarkable. It reveals a mutation of consciousness that is taking place within humanity. Starting this transformation was one of the main merits of feminist thought, which is now more than a century old. Women began to see with their own eyes and not with the eyes of men. They found their identity, difference and relationship of reciprocity rather than subordination to men. They produced perhaps the most consistent and radical critique of a culture marked by patriarchy and androcentricism.

Patriarchy refers to a form of social organization centered on power, exerted by dominant men, and subordinating and relativizing everyone else. Androcentrism is characterized by establishing as a model for all, the forms of thought and action characteristic of man. They are the sun, and others, such as women or other cultures, their satellites and mere aides.

Patriarchy and androcentrism underlie the major institutions of modern society with the tensions and conflicts they cause. They are responsible for the emergence of the state, laws, bureaucracy, the division of labor, the prevailing type of science and technology, armies and war. Third World feminists have also seen, beyond cultural domination, the social domination of women, made poor and oppressed by those in power. Ecofeminism denounced the destruction of the Earth carried out by a kind of masculine and masculinizing technoscience, already perceived by the philosopher of science Gaston Bachelard, since the relationship is not one of dialogue and respect, but of domination and exploitation to the point of exhaustion.

Women helped us see that human reality is not made only of reason, efficiency, competition, materialism, concentration of power and exteriority. In it, there is affection, generosity, caring, cooperation, interiority, power as service and spirituality. These values are common to all human beings, but women most clearly live them out. Being a woman is a way of being in the world, feeling love differently, relating body and mind, grasping totalities, thinking not only with the head but with the whole being and seeing the parts as belonging to a Whole. All this enabled the human experience to be more complete and inclusive and opened a path to overcoming the battle of the sexes.

Today, due to the crisis that is ravaging the earth and the biosphere, endangering the future of human destiny, these values become urgent, because in them is the primary key to overcoming it.

This is the context in which I see the presence of women at the forefront of governments, in this case, Dilma Rousseff as president. The dimension of the soul brought within the relationship of command, can bring more humanity and sensitivity to issues related to life, especially of the most vulnerable.

In our history we had a woman, considered the Redemptress: Princess Isabel (1846-1921). Replacing her father, Don Pedro II, who was on a trip to Europe, in a rather feminine gesture she proclaimed the Free Womb Law on September 28, 1871. The sons and daughters of slaves would no longer be slaves. She financed their freedom with her money, protected the fugitives and plotted schemes of escape for them. During another absence of her father, on May 13, 1888, she made the parliament pass the Gold Law abolishing slavery. To one of her critics, who shouted "Your Highness freed a race but lost the throne," she replied, "If I had a thousand thrones, a thousand thrones I would give to free the slaves in Brazil." She wanted to compensate former slaves with the Mauá Bank resources. She advocated land reform and political suffrage for women. It was the first abolition.

It is now up to president Dilma to carry out the second abolition, advocated years ago by Senator Cristovam Buarque, in a famous book of the same title: the abolition of poverty and misery. She has made "ending poverty" the first priority of her government. This is definitely possible. So far, it's only a promise. If she perform this feat, which would be truly messianic, she could be the second Redemptress.

As citizens it is important to support and claim the promise and keep it from turning into a bad dream. We can be condemned by the powerful, but we can not defraud the poor and oppressed.

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