Human rights defenders from York: Valdênia Paulino Lanfranchi

January 24, 2015

On 16 February 2015, the York Press carried a feature story by Stephen Lewis about 5 human rights defenders in the temporary shelter programme at York University. The aim of the placements is to give those fighting for human rights around the world a breather, as well as the chance to forge contacts with other human rights workers and organisations around the world.
 

Valdênia grew up in the slums – or favelas – of Sao Paolo, Brazil’s biggest city. Home for her mother, father, three brothers, two sisters and herself was a small house with a tin roof. Her mother took in sewing. Her father worked in a factory until, in his mid-40s, he became ill. Because of poverty, many children end up on the streets, where they’re at risk of violence, abuse, disease and hunger. They have little chance of an education – and many girls end up in prostitution, Valdênia says.

When she was 14, Valdênia helped open a ‘safe’ house for young girls who worked as prostitutes. The police didn’t approve. “Who controls prostitution?” she says. “The policemen, and the men who have money.”

York Press:
Valdênia Paulino Lanfranchi

She lived with the girls for ten years, then helped open two human rights centres to help families in the favelas. She went to university, and got degrees in education and law. Eventually, after suffering repeated attacks and threats, she and her husband Renato, also a human rights worker, moved to Paraiba, in north-eastern Brazil. There Valdênia, now 47, joined the Oscar Romero human rights centre, working to protect the rights of local ‘indigenous’ people.

She also, in 2011, became Police Ombudsman for Paraiba – the first woman to hold the post. It brought her into conflicts with ‘those in power’. “I was then a victim of everything from raids on the headquarters of our organisations to sexual violence and death threats.” Brazil is supposed to be one of the world’s emerging democracies. “But we have more than 100 human rights defenders threatened with death,” she says. “We have inequality, poverty, hunger. Why? What has happened?”

5 human rights defenders in York tell their incredible stories (From York Press).

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