Marielle Franco. Photo: PSOL
marielle franco rio de janeiro city councilor murdered

Marielle Franco. Photo: PSOL

Born and raised at the Maré Favela Complex in Rio de Janeiro, Rio’s city councilor Marielle Franco had led a life dedicated to minorities and women’s agendas. “I’m a black woman, a mother, and a product of the Maré favela,” her official website declared.

Franco was born on June 27, 1979, and studied sociology at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University thanks to a full scholarship, and later finished her master’s degree in public administration from the Fluminense Federal University. She was a fervent supporter of Flamengo, and a committed funkeira – that is, a dancer of funk brasileiro, a rhythm associated with Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral communities.

She started working at 11 to pay for her education, and was an educator at a daycare center. At 19, she was the best-ranked student in a college admission exam – and had a daughter, Luyara (the name of an indigenous goddess). Today, her daughter is 19 years old, and is a freshman at Rio’s State University.

Franco’s life as a human rights militant began in 2000, after a friend was killed by a stray bullet. She was part of the so-called “intellectuals from the favela,” a group of students from peripheral areas who managed to gain admission to the city’s top universities. “I’m a black woman, a mother, and a product of the Maré favela,” her official website declared.

Unlike many left-wing politicians, Marielle Franco wasn’t part of student militancy. Instead, she worked two jobs in addition to her studies. Still, she was a volunteer for Marcelo Freixo’s campaign for State Congress in 2006. Freixo is a state legislator famous for his struggles against Rio’s armed militias. “She was a natural leader, a woman with a lot of initiative,” says Vinicius George, another volunteer at Freixo’s campaign.

Freixo later took Franco under his wing, naming her his cabinet assistant and, later, coordinator of the State Congress’s Human Rights Committee. Her work there led her to a master’s degree in public administration, in which she analyzed the impacts of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP) in favela life.

Her thesis, titled “UPP: Reducing the favela to three letters,” argued that police units located within the communities created a penal state aimed at controlling and repressing poor populations.

In 2016, she became a reluctant candidate for city council. Expecting no less than 6,000 votes, she was the choice of 46,502 voters, trailing behind only four other candidates. “I was proud of this great electoral result, which I think is a response to what we are being prived of – debates around women’s issues, black issues, and favela’s issues,” she said at the time.

During her 13 months in office, she sponsored 13 bills – including one against sexual harassment in public transportation. Other proposals included treatment for women who had legal abortions, and night shifts at daycare centers for women with multiple jobs.

Franco’s murder is more than appalling. It reveals the extent to which Brazilian democracy has become divided, and we are more fragile than we might have thought. Our country kills a black youth every 21 minutes, a woman every two hours, an LGBTQ person every day, and a human rights defender every five.

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BY The Brazilian Report

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