On Thursday afternoon, Jair Bolsonaro’s future Chief of Staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, announced the latest appointment to Brazil’s incoming cabinet. Damares Alves will be put in charge of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, becoming only the second female minister in the new government. Mr. Lorenzoni also announced that Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, will become a part of Ms. Alves’ ministry.
In her first public declaration after the appointment, Ms. Alves vehemently backed equal pay for women, promising to knock on the doors of companies where men earn more than women for the same work. Jair Bolsonaro was roundly criticized during the election campaigns for statements he made in relation to the equal pay question, suggesting that Ms. Alves’ appointment (and her choice of words) were carefully selected in an attempt to assuage these fears.
In the past, however, some of the new Human Rights Minister’s statements have been less than progressive. In an interview earlier this year, Damares Alves stated that women “are born to be mothers” and that she is “worried” about the reduction in the number of housewives in Brazil. “Women are away from home so much today, and that concerns me.” She also believes discussions about gender are “death, the death of identity.”
She is fiercely anti-abortion, stating yesterday that there is “no need for the current abortion legislation to change” and that her ministry will not deal with the topic: “here we are concerned with protecting life, and not death.”
Damares Alves is a lawyer and evangelical pastor, and most recently she has worked as an aide to outgoing Senator Magno Malta.
Mr. Malta, who was close to Jair Bolsonaro during his election campaign and led a prayer on national television after the president-elect’s victory, had expected to be offered a ministry himself, after having lost reelection to the Senate in October. The move to appoint one of his aides as the Minister of Human Rights has been seen as an act of betrayal against the outspoken Senator.
Indigenous affairs moved to Human Rights
The other impactful announcement made by Onyx Lorenzoni yesterday was that Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, will be transferred from the Ministry of Justice and made part of Human Rights, under Damares Alves’ watch.
The news worried many indigenous rights groups, who had already lobbied the future government to maintain FUNAI as part of the justice ministry. They are afraid that indigenous communities will be left unprotected and that programs of demarcating traditional indigenous land—which have stalled since former president Dilma Rousseff was ousted in 2016—will be nixed.
The new Human Rights Minister has a background in indigenous rights, having co-founded evangelical NGO Atini, which is devoted to fighting for the rights and welfare of indigenous children.
Atini has been in hot water in the past, however, and was prosecuted in 2016 for causing mental distress to indigenous communities after a documentary produced by the organization was adjudged to include fake scenes of infanticide.
The video, entitled “Hakani – Voice for Life,” depicted a sequence of indigenous tribes burying children alive. Atini later admitted that the scenes were staged for dramatic effect. Federal courts ordered the video be taken down.