Were 20 million Afro-Brazilian women sterilized? With recent controversy in Kenya, we re-visit the sterilization controversy of the late 1980s in Brazil

Capa 2

Note from BW of Brazil: The focus of today’s post is of a controversial but of a very important nature that has made headlines around the world over the course of several years. As we will see, it is issue that black Brazilian women have had on their radar, debated and denounced as far back as the period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is an issue that we have wanted to introduce from the Brazilian perspective for some time and with a recent headline coming out of the African nation of Kenya, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to approach the topic. First, a brief citation of an article from mid November of last year taken from the Life Site News website:

“Two UN organizations accused by Kenya’s Catholic bishops and doctors of secretly attempting to sterilize more than 2.6 million Kenyan girls and women have condemned the “misinformation circulating in the media,” and categorically denied the claims. Meanwhile two pro-life organizations that have both claimed the World Health Organization was using the pregnancy hormone HCG to sterilize women in the developing world, have responded.


“Human Life International told LifeSiteNews it is compiling a dossier of academic reports to prove its extensive experimentation in this area. “We are stunned,” said Stephen Phelan, HLI’s director of mission communications, “to hear that WHO now claims ignorance of the existence of the vaccines that they produced, tested and promoted.”

“As for the Population Research Institute, its president Steven Mosher told LifeSiteNews that he intended to have a research team in Kenya within two weeks to test women who have received the vaccine, against those who have not, for HCG. “We will test their blood and their urine for Beta HCG,” Mosher said.

“UNICEF and the World Health Organization are the two UN agencies that have provided the Kenyan government with the anti-tetanus vaccine TT (for tetanus toxoid) for a campaign aimed at 2.6 million female Kenyans aged 14-49 and already administered to more than one million. This campaign, assert the bishops and Kenyan Catholic Doctors Association, is a secret scheme to sterilize the women to promote the UN’s long-term goal of reducing the population in the developing world. As long as these accusations were confined to Kenya, the two agencies ignored them, letting the Kenyan government defend the program. But after LifeSiteNews reported on the controversy in North America, the UN began to defend itself.”

Note from BW of Brazil: As one can gather from the material above, the issue of sterilization as a means of birth control or population control of certain segments of society is a serious issue and has been thoroughly debated in Brazil for a number of years. So serious in fact that when South African leader Nelson Mandela visited Brazil in 1991, a document was given to him making the claim that 20 million black Brazilian women had been sterilized. To lay this out in more detail, we cite the following report from SEJUP, the Serviço Brasileiro de Justiça e Paz, or Brazilian Service of Justice and Peace from November of 1994:

“The index of mass sterilization of women in Brazil is grave. Calculations of the Health Ministry estimate that 25 million Brazilian women have been sterilized. The index of sterilized women is greater in the poorest areas of the country (the northeast and central-west). 75.9 percent of the women in the state of Maranhão are sterilized. 71.9 percent in Goiás and 63.3 percent in Mato Grosso. The incidence of sterilization is higher in Afro-Brazilian women revealing a racist component to this procedure. The majority of the sterilizations are done immediately after a woman gives birth to a child. In a country where birth control methods are almost the most expensive in the world, sterilization has become the most common form of birth control in Brazil. Denouncements continue to be made that many firms demand a pregnancy test at the time of a job interview and even subsidize sterilization surgeries. Sterilization is prohibited by law and by the medical ethical code. We are not talking about sterilization curative or therapeutic that occurs in cases such as removal of a tumor but speaking of sterilization as a contraceptive method, voluntary, coerced or induced.


“Why are so many women being sterilized in Brazil? Why are youth and even adolescents being sterilized? There exists in the National Congress a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incidence of mass sterilization. The Kissinger Report, a secret document of the National Security Council (1974) reports on “The Implications of World-wide Population Growth on the Security and External Interests of the United States.” This document lists as a priority birth-rate control in 13 key countries in the Third World, but especially in Brazil. Extraordinary resources were allotted to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to implement the policy of birth-rate control.

“With a population of more than 150 million, Brazil demographically dominates the continent. Over the next 25 years, Brazil will have a major influence in Latin America and the world. In order to control population growth, the document concludes that sterilization of men and women is a simple, rapid and secure method. The implications of these policies have had far-reaching effects in Brazil.”

Note from BW of Brazil: Now before we move into more detail about these accusations and subsequent denouncements, we must first make it clear that while there is a clear documented motivation to believe in the existence and subsequent implementation of the scheme, all sides are not absolutely convinced that such a plan was actually carried out or that it had a racial element. For example, Megan Barolet-Fogarty (2007) writes:

“Brazil’s women‘s movement and black women in particular denounced sterilization as part of a deliberate international conspiracy, supported by national elites and medical interests, to control the growth of poor and non-White people (Goldani 2001:7). However, the accusation of racial motivation has been difficult to prove. A Parliamentary Inquiry Commission established in 1992 to investigate high sterilization rates came to vague conclusions. Other statistical data has shown little statistical difference in sterilization according to race (Dalsgaard 2004, Bérquo 1999).”

Note from BW of Brazil: In regards to statistical data, research and reports, it should always be up for debate the sources, interests and funding of any such information. If we look at the document referred to by SEJUP, the National Security Study Memorandum 200 of 1974, we note that of the targeted countries (India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil) none are  located in Europe but all have large black and/or brown populations and as such, there already exists a clear racial element in such a plan. International Family Planning Perspectives (1996) confirmed that Brazil has one of the highest rates of female sterilization in the world.  The report detailed that in 1996, 40% of women in unions used sterilization as a form of birth control and that it was responsible for more than half of all contraceptive use in Brazil. But the report doesn’t give us a complete analysis of all of the factors involved in the usage of this controversial procedure. There are a number of questions that need to be asked. Why do women choose sterilization? Do they always know all of the facts when they choose such a procedure? Why is sterilization being chosen if other less expensive, non-permanent forms of birth control are available? These are but a few of the questions that must be asked and Afro-Brazilian activists such Edna Roland, Fátima Oliveira, Sueli Carneiro and the Geledés Institute for Black Women are but a few of the voices that have been at the forefront of bringing this issue into public discussion.

Fátima Oliveira, Sueli Carneiro and Edna Roland
Fátima Oliveira, Sueli Carneiro and Edna Roland

The following is taken from Edna Roland’s research on the topic approaching how and when the subject became a principal concern among Afro-Brazilian women’s organizations.

In 1988 it became known the data about the use of contraceptives in Brazil, based on the PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios or National Household Survey), which showed the very high prevalence of female sterilization in the country.

Foreseeing the importance that the issue would acquire in the situation, the Programa de Saúde do Geledés (Geledés Health Program) was launched in 1991 with a debate about the A Esterilização de Mulheres no Brasil (Sterilization of Women in Brazil), and the simultaneous release of two books: Mulher Negra e Saúde (Black Women and Health), and Esterilização: Impunidade ou Regulamentação? (Sterilization: Impunity or Regulation?)

The political position taken by the then Health Program was the target of criticism as much within  Geledés itself, as in the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) and sectors of the Movimento Feminista (Feminist Movement). While sectors of the Movimento Negro considered sterilization an instrument of genocide of black people pure and simple, some sectors of the feminist movement accentuated in the discussion of sterilization aspects of rebellion and radical rejection of motherhood.

While sectors of the Movimento Negro considered sterilization bodily injury, criminalized by the Penal Code, more radical feminist sectors considered that no law should regulate the woman’s body, leaving only her decide.

The Geledés Health Program refused the political position that reached the height of declarations of black militants of which it was a political task of black women having children; it considered that such a view did not incorporate the discussion of the concept of reproductive rights, holding only to the demographic results of contraceptive practices. It considered sterilization a complex, multi-factorial phenomenon, requiring the formulation of public policies, the adequacy of health services, women’s education, media campaigns, etc. Also it considered that the conditions of poor black women, it expressed, much more the lack of freedom and lack of choice. Differently from sectors that wanted to liberate sterilization, the Health Program wanted to regulate it to curb abuses and encourage other contraceptive alternatives.

This political debate over sterilization, which was no consensus within the movement of black women, constituted perhaps a nascent debate about the possibilities of the Movimento de Mulheres Negras (Black Women’s Movement) to eventually produce its own vision in the field of reproductive health, differentiated from theoretical frameworks and policies as much from the Movimento Negro as the Movimento Feminista, developing what would come to be a black feminism in Brazil.

In 1990 the Conselho Estadual da Condição Feminina (State Council of the Condition of Women) decided to resume the debate on the standardization of sterilization and constituted a committee of representatives from different sectors relevant to the question. In a very careful work, the committee sought to develop clear and precise recommendations that could be incorporated into an eventual standardization project.

In March 1991 Deputado (Representative) Eduardo Jorge, having learned of a bill proposing the legalization of surgical sterilization, proposed holding a round table to discuss the issue in Congress. This roundtable resulted in the first version of the bill 209/91 subscribed by Deputados Eduardo Jorge, Bendita da Silva and others who would become the law governing family planning after six years proceedings in the National Congress. This first version was based on the proposal of the committee formed by the Council of the Feminine Condition of São Paulo, but already introducing some modifications, such as the minimum age to perform the sterilization, which was increased to 30 years of age, while the initial proposal was 25 years.

The presentation of the project caused much controversy among different sectors and for several reasons. Sectors of the Movimento Negro, especially in Rio de Janeiro, questioned Deputada Benedita da Silva, considering that sterilization constituted an instrument of genocide of black people. In order to face the political pressure she suffered, Deputada Benedita da Silva presented on November 20 (National Day of Black Consciousness) 1991, along with Senator Eduardo Suplicy, an application proposing the establishment of a Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito (CPMI or Joint Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry), to investigate the incidence of mass sterilization of women in Brazil. The CPMI was installed in April 1992 and had as one of its objectives to determine the existence of eugenic or racist policies and their implementation in reproductive health in the country. For two months 27 testimonies were collected, including 6 representatives of the women’s movement, with three being from the black women’s movement.

The representative of the CEAP (Centro de Articulação de Populações Marginalizadas), which had launched a national campaign against the mass sterilization of women, said that the campaign interpreted birth control as a contribution to the genocide of the black population in Brazil. It also expressed its agreement with the PAISM – Programa de Assistência Integral à Saúde da Mulher (Comprehensive Assistance Program for Women’s Health), noting that the concept of family planning concerned the right to free access to various forms of anti-contraception, but not only, understanding that the concept of planning family should not be limited to women’s health, but incorporate more complex actions, in terms of housing, day care, school, etc.

The representative of MNU (Movimento Negro Unificado) declared the existence of racial discrimination in relative actions for the sterilization of women in the country. As an example he cited the document of the Grupo de Assessoria e Participação (GAP or Participation Advisory Group) constituted in the Paulo Maluf (1) government with the objective of reducing the black population in Brazil and the advertising campaigns of the Centro de Pesquisa e Assistência em Reprodução Humana (Center for Research and Assistance in Human Reproduction), directed by the physician Elsimar Coutinho, that used racist advertisements to illustrate the need for birth control. He affirmed that in a racist country like Brazil, there is no possibility of policies that address the large populational contingents without these policies have differentiated and unequal effects among whites and blacks.

Note from BW of Brazil: Sueli Carneiro also explored the controversy surrounding then Governor Paulo Maluf administration’s stance on control of the non-white population. In the next two paragraphs we cite her work and afterward continue with Roland’s research.

In the government of Paulo Maluf, in São Paulo, where the GAP prepared the document “Sobre o Censo Demográfico de 1980 e suas curiosidades e preocupações” (On the Population Demographic of 1980 and its curiosities and concerns) was one of the most famous in this public debate. In it, the massive sterilization proposal of preta (black) and parda (brown) women with basis ihe following arguments was presented: “From 1970 to 1980, the branca (white) population declined from 61% to 55% and the parda population increased from 29% to 38%. While the branca population has practically already made itself conscious of the need for birth control (…), the preta and parda population elevates its expansion rates in 10 years, from 28% to 38%. As such, we will have 65 million brancos, 45 million pardos and 1 million pretos. Maintaining this trend, in 2000 the parda and preta population will be around 60%, therefore far superior to the branca; and, electorally, will be able give orders in Brazilian politics and dominate all key posts – unless we do as in Washington, the US capital, where, due to the fact that the black population being on the order of 63%, there are no elections.”

The document became public thanks to the denouncement made in the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo by the then deputy Luis Carlos Santos, of the PMDB-SP, on 08/05/1982. With this conception of utilization of sterilization as a birth control policy of blacks brought to light, it was internationally denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, following his visit to Brazil in 1995.

The Geledés representative declared it not being possible to address the issue of birth control without considering the consequences of this practice on the female body, considering it fundamental that the country’s population policy respect the basic and fundamental human right of women to determine their own life. She stressed that in order to understand the issue of mass sterilization of women in Brazil it is necessary to analyze the relations between rich and poor countries, in the measure that from the point of view of the Northern Hemisphere countries we are all black, Third World citizens, second class citizens… She emphasized the importance for policies that preserve the rights of Brazilian men and women to decide on their sexuality and their reproductive health.

The testimony of the three representatives of the Movimento Negro expressed the state of the discussions at that time (1992) about an extremely controversial issue. As one can see, the three statements incorporate a demographic concern with the effects of sterilization. Added to that, in varying degrees, the perspective of women’s rights.

Declaração de Itapecerica da Serra
Declaração de Itapecerica da Serra of Black Brazilian Women

In the preparation process for the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, a position that is perhaps the possibility of an autonomous political position of the Black Women’s Movement began to emerge, which was expressed in the Declaração de Itapecerica da Serra, a document that is a cornerstone of the Black Brazilian Women’s Movement.

This document, written by consensus by almost all political forces active in the movement, defines the position of this new political subject in relation to a number of issues. Black Brazilian women refused to patriarchal position of the neo-Malthusians who blame population growth on poverty, hunger and environmental imbalance, and identified the perverse income distribution and land concentration as those truly responsible for the situation of extreme poverty in the country. Black women maintained their critical position in relation to surgical sterilization, considering that the reflexes of the mass sterilization of black women in the country were felt in the percentage reduction of the black population compared to the previous decade. However, in this fundamental document, black women also stated that reproductive freedom is essential for discriminated ethnic groups, demanding from the state the necessary conditions for them to exercise their sexuality and their reproductive rights, controlling their own fertility. Besides demanding global public policies of employment, supply, health, sanitation, education and housing, which they consider as a prerequisite for the exercise of the ample citizenship rights, black women also demanded the implementation of the Programa de Assistência Integral à Saúde da Mulher (PAISM) as well as the implementation in the public health system prevention programs and treatment of high incidence diseases in the black population that have serious repercussions on reproductive health, such as hypertension, sickle cell anemia and myomatosis.

In addition to concerns about contraception, the Declaração de Itapecerica focuses quite a bit on AIDS, intravenous drugs, and the conditions of service during childbirth, a motive of concern both from the point of view of women, as well in regards to harm to the child. Great importance is also given to the democratization of epidemiological information, with the introduction of the color question in the health information systems, and the resources necessary to fund public health.

As to a mere drop in fertility, which is sometimes in the objectives of governments and international organizations, black Brazilian women contradistinguished the full right to life and happiness not only as individuals, but as members of a community of destiny itself.

It is symptomatic that the most important political document prepared by the Black Brazilian Women’s Movement legitimized by virtually all political forces of the movement, has been in the field of reproductive health and rights. The importance that this theme acquired within the movement can be assessed by analyzing the themes discussed by the black women’s groups in the country: of 13 groups surveyed, only one did not develop activities related to reproductive health.

In addition to the theoretical, political and educative conducted by the former team Geledés Health Program, and of the NEPO the research already cited, the existence of the Reproductive Health Programme of the Black Woman, the CEBRAP – Centro Brasileiro de Análise e Planejamento (Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning), responsible for the production of information on reproductive health of the black population must be added.

Other important factors were the relevance of the reproductive health issue in the feminist movement, thus constituting a pole of influence and the existence of funding sources both domestic and international, among which should be highlighted the MacArthur Foundation. In addition to financial support of the institutions, the Foundation’s Individual Scholarship Program played a key role in the emergence of new black leadership in the field of reproductive health, working informally as a true affirmative action program.

The available space does not allow us to analyze other important initiatives for the construction of the Reproductive Health of the Black Population field. We will just mention the pioneering introduction of the color question in the municipal information system of health of São Paulo, in the government of mayor Luisa Erundina, which allowed the ratification of the epidemiological importance of hypertension for black women of the city and the support of the National Control Program of STD/AIDS of the Ministry of Health to various educational projects of black organizations.

Finally, we can consider that the field of reproductive health of the black population legitimized itself in Brazil when, in 1995, the Zumbi March Against Racism document for Equality and Life incorporated in its program the effective implementation of comprehensive assistance program for women’s health and the formulation of a reproductive health program that includes the needs of black men. In the governmental field, the reproductive health of the black population was discussed at the round table held by the Ministry of Health and the Interministerial Working Group on the Health of the Black Population in 1996, which subsequently resulted in the development of PAF – Programa de Anemia Falciforme (Sickle Cell Anemia Program), that, with rare exceptions, unfortunately still remains on paper.

Navigating between the old (Thomas) Malthus and (Arthur de) Gobineau spectra updated by new and frightening powers produced by biotechnology, activists, researchers and practitioners are faced with the difficult task of producing knowledge that is an instrument for the promotion of dignity, equality and equity and not new ways and instruments of discrimination and marginalization of the black population.

Note from BW of Brazil: Continuing with scholarly investigation into the theme, in her 2007 research, Megan Barolet-Fogarty analyzed the works of not only Roland, but a number of experts on the topic. Below, we list some of Fogarty’s findings. One of the first questions that comes to mind would be why many women choose sterilization as a form of birth control. Fogarty found that:

For many women, ― a dramatic lack of information, education, services and alternatives in family planning led women to trust their reproductive decisions to doctors and medical technology (Goldani 2001:30). One of the common threads noted by anthropologist Anne Lise Dalsgaard in her examination of impoverished women choosing sterilization in the Northeast of Brazil was the ―discourse on individual responsibility and submission to medical authority that ran through the women‘s reproductive histories (Dalsgaard 2004:26). Women were influenced in their decision to be sterilized by the attitudes and opinions of medical doctors who often expressed thinly disguised class and racial prejudices.

Note: This next section addresses the issue of why other possible forms of birth control weren’t suggested or utilized by such a large contingent of women that sought methods of birth control.

With cultural factors restricting the use of condoms, and birth control pills highly irregular in quality, renowned for their side effects and highly impractical in some regions and neighborhoods, women seeking birth control are eventually steered towards sterilization. Bérquo (1999) writes, ― in the face of a near-total absence of public health services and a lack of contraceptive options, poor women, the majority of whom are black, turn to tubal ligation as a means of regulating their fertility (p. 207).

Note: As trust of medical professions and a feeling of personal responsibility have been indicated as reasons as to why women may have gone down the road of sterilization, we must still ask if medical professionals simply offered their opinions on the topic, if recommendations were strong or only offered as an optional choice or if the women were often made to feel that the procedure was a necessity.

Caetano (2001) does not, however, question whether these pressures and controls constitute coercion per say. Roland (1999), on the other hand, writes, ―”for sterilization to be abusive, it is not necessary to submit a woman to open coercion, all that is needed is subtle influence to sway her decision” (p. 203). Another Black feminist activist, Fátima Oliveira (2003), argues that sterilization can be classified in three categories: voluntary, compulsory, or induced. Sterilizations are induced when a woman is led to be sterilized for reasons that exercise direct or indirect pressure on her free will. Examples of these pressures include the discourse that poor women shouldn‘t have children, employer demands for sterilization, little knowledge of or difficulty in obtaining reversible contraceptive methods, the social pressures of motherhood (Oliveira 2003a). Carmen Barroso argues that, in the case of female sterilization in Brazil, ―coercion is institutionalized. It is not done against women‘s will. But their will has no choice (Christensen 1995:165)

Note: Although possible coercion into acceptance of sterilization would be controversial enough, then we have to deal with race and region factor in the politics behind mass sterilization. As we’ve highlighted in a number of posts on the blog, the Northeastern region of the country is where the largest concentration of non-whites live. Besides a huge contingent of Afro-Brazilians, the region also carries a very pejorative, racially-tinged image in the minds of (white) Brazilians who live outside of the region. As such:

Afro-Brazilian activists became particularly concerned with the issue of sterilization abuse when they realized that Sociedade de Civil Bem-Estar Familiar (BENFAM or Civil Society of Family Well-Being) was concentrating its activities in the Northeast Region, the area with the highest poverty and birth rates in Brazil, but also one that is 71% Afro-Brazilian. As a result of this decision, the ―Brazilian region with the greatest concentration of Blacks and poor experienced the greatest reduction in fertility rates (Roland 1999: 201). In the Northeast region in 1991, 62.9% of all women using contraception were sterilized. This showed a 15% increase in rates of sterilization within a five year period, and a drastic change from 1975 when the sterilization rate was 2.8%, the lowest of all regions in Brazil (Roland 1999). Elza Bérquo’s study of the 1986 PNAD survey also revealed a greater tendency for women in the North and Northeast regions to undergo sterilization as compared to women in the more developed Southeast, with birth control pills being the only readily available contraceptive alternative (Roland 1999).

Note: As we have documented on numerous occasions, past Brazilian elites didn’t hide its belief that a whiter Brazil would equal a better Brazil and moved to promote this desire through massive European immigration and the promotion of the process of embranquecimento, or whitening, by means of miscegenation, which they hoped would eventually lead to this whiteness. With this history and current rates of murder of the Afro-Brazilian population, we cannot reject the possibility of sterilization playing a factor in this open aspiration for the gradual disappearance of the black race from Brazil’s midst. Others saw more into this sterilization policy as well.

Federal deputy Benedita da Silva, along with other black activists, protested increased use of female sterilization. Da Silva compared the sterilization of Afro-Brazilian women to the massacres of Brazilian street children which had garnered international headlines by saying ―those that have an interest in killing poor black children in Brazil, also have an interest in not allowing these children to be born (Dalsgaard 2004:29) (2).

Note: While it may be true that numerous activists and organizations repudiated what they saw as a clear attempt at populational control along lines of race, historical aspirations and evidence of the enactment of procedures to move in that direction, conclusive findings have still been difficult to confirm.

Brazil‘s women’s movement and black women in particular denounced sterilization as part of a deliberate international conspiracy, supported by national elites and medical interests, to control the growth of poor and non-White people (Goldani 2001:7). However, the accusation of racial motivation has been difficult to prove. A Parliamentary Inquiry Commission established in 1992 to investigate high sterilization rates came to vague conclusions. Other statistical data has shown little statistical difference in sterilization according to race (Dalsgaard 2004, Bérquo 1999).

In the early 1990s, a debate developed between Black activists who saw sterilization as an attempt to reduce the Afro-Brazilian population and researchers who pointed to the lack of empirical evidence backing this claim. Roland elaborates:

Although researchers have presented data that show no difference in levels of sterilization for White and black women in different regions of the country, black activists have responded by questioning the methodologies of those researchers and arguing that regional differences point to a policy directed at the Northeast. [Roland 1999:202]

Note from BW of Brazil: So where does all of this leave us in terms of the accusations and the evidence? Is it simply a wild conspiracy theory that holds no merit or is it something that activists should continue to investigate until it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt? In my view, there shouldn’t be any doubt. We’ve seen certain forms of forced sterilizations in a number of countries over the past century including South Africa, Germany, China, Japan and India among others. We have also seen the promotion of birth control in the United States targeted at African-American communities that have resulted in 13 million abortions since 1973.

We have also documented a clear desire of Brazilian elites to whiten the country beginning late in the 19th century. Over the years we have seen countless hints that as this goals continues, officials will resort of all sorts of tricks to magically whiten the country, from burning slave documents and declaring the entire population white, to eliminating the term preto (black) from certain documents, to classifying persons who identify themselves as black (preto or negro) as brown (pardo).

Women stage mock funeral in São Paulo in demonstration in support of change in Brazil's abortion laws. Photo - Rahel Patrasso
Women stage mock funeral in São Paulo in demonstration in support of change in Brazil’s abortion laws. Photo – Rahel Patrasso

We should also not see as coincidence the fact that the aforementioned National Security Study Memorandum 200 document states that “no country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion” and the fact that legalization of abortion is one of the most hotly debated topics in Brazil today with a wide and diverse number of female activists advocating for the legalization of the procedure. Over the years, there have been numerous cases of women dying in attempts of having unsafe, clandestine abortions, which is a shameful and unfortunately all too common occurrence in Brazil. But at the same time, with what seems to be a clear agenda to lower the country’s non-white population and considering the vast number of abortions undergone by black women in the United State, is there also a possible unseen down side to legalizing abortion?

The debate rages on!

Source: Life Site News, Black Genocide, The Guardian, New Internationalist


1. Paulo Salim Maluf is a Brazilian politician with a career spanning over four decades and many functions, including those of State Governor of São Paulo, Mayor of the City of São Paulo, Congressman and Presidential candidate. Source

2. Some Brazilian politicians are open about their wishes to decrease the birth rates of the black and poor population. Consider, for example, the comments of former governor of Rio de Janeiro.


Berqúo, Elza 1999. “Sterilization and Race in São Paulo”. In Race in Contemporary Brazil. R. Reichmann, ed. Pp. 207-215. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Carneiro, Sueli 1999. “Black Women‘s Identity in Brazil”. In Race in Contemporary Brazil. R. Reichmann, ed. Pp. 217-228. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Carneiro, Sueli. Racismo, sexismo e desigualdade no Brasil. São Paulo: Selo Negro, 2011. “At risk of regret”. International Family Planning Perspectives 23 (1): 2. 1996. Remez, L. (1997). “More than half of all Brazilian contraceptive users rely on sterilization”. International Family Planning.

Caetano, Andre 2001. Fertility Transition and the Diffusion of Female Sterilization in Northeastern Brazil: The Roles of Medicine and Politics. XXIV General Population Conference, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Caldwell, Kia Lilly 2007a. Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship and the Politics of Identity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

—- 2007b “Mapping Gender, Race, and Health in Brazilian Citizenship Struggles”. Conference of the Latin American          Studies Association. Montréal, Canada.

Dalsgaard, Anne Line 2004. Matters of Life and Longing: Female Sterilization in Northeast Brazil. Copenhagen, Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen.

Goldani, Ana Maria 2001. “Rethinking Brazilian Fertility Decline”. XXIV General Population Conference, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population. Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Fogarty, Megan Barolet. The Female Sterilization Controversy: Framing Reproductive Rights at the Intersection of Race and Gender in Brazil. Master’s Thesis. University of Florida, 2007

Oliveira, Fátima 2003a. “Saúde da População Negra: Brasil Ano 2001”. Brasília, Brazil: Organização Pan-Americana da Saúde.

—–2003b “Políticas públicas, salud de la mujer negra y la agenda feminista”. Cudernos Mujer Salud: Red de Salud           de Las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe 8:60-68.

Roland, Edna. “Saúde reprodutiva da população negra no Brasil: um campo em construção”. In Arilha, Margareth and Maria Teresa Citeli. Políticas, Mercado, Ética. Editora 34, 1998.

Roland, Edna 1999. “The Soda Cracker Dilemma: Reproductive Rights and Racism in Brazil”. In Race in Contemporary Brazil. R. Reichmann, ed. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 2002 Saúde Reprodutiva da População Negra no Brasil: um Campo em Construção. Perspectivas: Em Saúde e Direitos Reprodutivos (Women’s Health Journal/ MacArthur Foundation) 3 (5):17-23.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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