Note from BW of Brazil: As the position of black women in Brazilian society has been a struggle of nearly five centuries against institutions of oppression, exclusion and discrimination, any victory of any black woman is cause for celebration. It is true of actresses who have carved out their place in a media where black women are generally portrayed as maids, or breaking ground as leaders in the the business world, a place they are not expected to frequent, or being named deans of federal universities. A few days ago, another black Brazilian woman entered the history books and will surely serve as yet another example of what people can do with determination and opportunity.
Ivone Caetano sworn in as Court of Appeals Judge in state of Rio de Janeiro
• Magistrate is the first black woman to hold the position in the state
by Francisco Alves Filho, Simone Candida and Gustavo Goulart
The first black woman to become a Court Judge of Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago, Ivone Ferreira Caetano, 69, titular of the 1st Branch of Infancy, Youth and the Elderly, now adds a new affix to her name: the first black woman appeals court judge of the state. On Monday, she took over the new role in a well attended ceremony. Even near retirement in September, when she turns 70, Ivone became chief judge with serenity and was widely applauded in the plenary of the Special Body of the Tribunal de Justiça, where, in the early afternoon, she was elected to the post after seven disputes in the past two years.
“It’s a common path for anyone entering the magistracy. I don’t find it common to give so much punctuation because of being a woman with different physical characteristics. I think it’s grave. A long ago this should have happened normally. This interest is that it’s undesirable, considering that my race for so many years has been sacrificed. Instead, I think it can be an example for those who are coming to see that they can also,” commented the magistrate before the inauguration.
The judge, who had a poor childhood and only managed to enter Magistrate school in 1994, at age 49, is the second black woman in Brazil to fill the position. It was only in 1988 that the Rio de Janeiro state court had its first black judge: Gilberto Fernandes. Even today, there are few. “You can count them with the fingers on two hands,” says Judge Ivone Caetano. Across the country, there is only one black woman who reached the position of appeals court judge. The daughter of a cowboy with a seamstress, Luizlinda Valois Santos was named in the northeastern state of Bahia in 2011.
One of the few studies on the profile of the Brazilian judiciary, conducted by researcher Romeu Ferreira Emygdio, of the IBGE, demonstrates that the judiciary of Brazil reflects the ethnic segregation that is repeated in several institutions. The study, with data from 1980 to 2000 reveals that 85.9% of robed judges declare themselves branca (white), with 14.1% non-white. Despite the 14 years of difference, the researcher warns that there are no major differences in the last 400 years of the history of Brazil.
There were 16 candidate judges for promotion by the criterion of worthiness for the position of Judge José Carlos de Figueiredo, who retired. According to a spokesperson of the Court, there were nine women running for office, including Ivone Caetano.
Fight against prejudice
The daughter of a laundress who raised 11 children alone, Ivone Caetano has a history of struggle for survival and against prejudice. She studied in a public school and some private schools and, at 18, was working as a typist for the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). To help the family, she worked three jobs at the same time. The opportunity to attend law school came at age 25, after marriage. Only with the help of her husband could she stop working and devote herself to her studies.
“The way I got there was very difficult. It was hard. Or not to be fought not be only a protruding nail or I stayed still. My life has always been like that since I was born,” she recalled. When speaking of prejudice, she doesn’t mince her words. “This decanted racial democracy does not exist,” she says. Since the time 20 years ago when was the first black woman to enter a competition for Judiciary in the state of Rio, she assesses that bias remains. She recognizes, however, that progress was made. “Blacks are starting to have self-esteem and like themselves,” she believes. “Consciousness of my people is growing.”
Ivone reveals that she’s been a victim of racism several times. She explains how she faced these situations by making an analogy with the attitude of soccer player Daniel Alves in response to bigoted fans. “Only I don’t say that I eat a banana and clean hands on my shorts because my area is not futebol,” she quips. “I don’t miss out on anything because of prejudice and I keep on doing what has to be done.” Besides the segregation she suffered due to skin color, Ivone faces the prejudices against the condition of being female. “Being black and female is very difficult in Brazil.”
Since 2004 she has been head of the 1st Branch of Infancy, Ivone Caetano has already served as a childhood judge in Belford Roxo, and São João de Meriti (both cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro). Considered a hardliner, she has made controversial decisions. She was the first magistrate to determine the compulsory hospitalization of crack users who were minors living on the streets. And, in 2012, she established the first compulsory hospitalization of an adult crack user in Rio: an eight month pregnant, 22-year old woman.
Some argue that this initiative limits the right to come and go. “Those who criticize it don’t offer solutions to this serious issue. Whoever has good financial conditions can hospitalize the child, send abroad for treatment. Can the poor stay on the street, handed over to drug trafficking?”
Ivone emphasizes that one needs to ensure quality medical care. “Teenagers should not be thrown into a deposit of people.”
Another debate that is often called upon to opine: the discussion of reducing criminal responsibility as a measure to combat crime. “For now, I’m still against it. In my opinion, these minors were given nothing; neither health, nor education or a decent home environment, so little can be demanded of them.”
Her performance earned admirers but also made enemies: There were 19 representations against her (attempts of punishment). None of them were accepted. “I don’t know if these initiatives were for legal disagreements or just for the goal of hammering the head of a protruding nail (laughs). They will never say that I am dishonest or act outside the law.” She is undeterred and stays focused. “I seek to do the best for the child and adolescent.”