‘Being a black woman is to resist and survive all the time.” So said Marielle Franco, the Rio de Janeiro city councilor shot dead in a targeted assassination last week, just 18 months after she was elected. Franco was 38 years old. She was a black, gay, single mother from the Maré favela who stood up for poor people, LGBT people, black people, and women. When her car was hit by nine bullets – four of which entered her skull, killing her instantly – she was on her way home from an event titled Young Black Women Who Are Changing Power Structures. This is what can and does befall such extraordinary women.
And Franco was extraordinary. She was a fearless, charismatic and popular politician with integrity, operating in a country, characterized by president Michel Temer’s all-male, almost exclusively white cabinet, in which more than half the population is black, mixed race or female. No wonder she had to resist all the time. No wonder she did not survive.
The world is at once shrinking and becoming more frightening, and the reverberations of such hateful and emblematic acts travel far and fast. So, too, does the response: tens of thousands turned out across Brazil to protest about the murder of Franco. Hundreds of thousands have pledged their refusal to forget in more than 30 languages using the hashtag #MarielleFrancoPresente. Franco was apparently the subject of more tweets (3.6m in 42 hours) than Dilma Rousseff, after the ex-Brazilian president’s impeachment.
However, we can no longer shake our heads in barely disguised relief at the track records of “other” countries on human rights, political crisis, economic recession or even murder. Such atrocities happen here too: think of Jo Cox. And, wherever it happens, it is always as much about the hatred of women as it is about political ideology. It appears that Franco, like Cox, was a woman murdered for her beliefs. (In Franco’s case, you can also add race and sexuality to the list.) Now it feels as though all the threads are coming together: #MeToo, Time’s Up, the gender pay gap, structural racism, lack of diversity, and on and on it coils. Underpinning the vast and nebulous tangle is gross and endemic inequality. And, at the extreme end, the outcome is the destruction of a harbinger of hope like Marielle Franco.