“Women are not alone”: Painting a colourful call to end gender-based violence in Brazil

Ericka paints the mural at Parque Rio Branco, Boa Vista. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel
  • 08 February 2023

BOA VISTA, Roraima – In December 2022, 12 Venezuelan women and girls gathered at Rio Branco Park in Boa Vista, Brazil, and stood before an eight-metre-high white wall. For them, it was a blank canvas – one that would soon be transformed by colour, creativity and an appeal for gender equality. 

“It is amazing to be here,” said 17-year-old Ericka, one of the dozen mural painters. “It's not easy to move somewhere else, leave your friendships behind and adapt.” 

A group of women and girls paint in a park.
The Rio Branco Park is one of the most visited sites in Boa Vista. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Ericka left her home in San Félix, Venezuela, four months ago. For the past two months, she has been living with her mother, step-father and five siblings at the Pricumã shelter for refugees and migrants in Boa Vista, the capital of Brazil’s northwestern Roraima state. 

She said she has hardly ventured out beyond the shelter. “I never leave – just to buy food every now and then. Today I saw so many things for the first time, like the park.” 

Every day, about three hundred Venezuelans flee the country for Brazil, as Venezuela weathers political volatility and grinding poverty.

Their journeys can be dangerous. Around the world, migrant women and girls face elevated risks of exploitation, violence and abuse. And their difficulties may continue once they’ve crossed into a new country, confronted by pressing needs for food, shelter and health care.

Art and autonomy

A woman paints with a baby in her arms.
Twelve Venezuelan women and girls took part in the graffiti workshop organized by UNFPA. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Boa Vista is less than 150 miles from the Brazil-Venezuela border. The city hosts a UNFPA safe space, a place for recent migrant arrivals to recover and seek critical sexual and reproductive health care – including support for survivors of gender-based violence.

UNFPA in Brazil also hosts workshops in Boa Vista, like the ones Ericka attended that focused on graffiti as well as gender-based violence. The initiative explored the various forms that violence can take, protection measures and how to access legal mechanisms. 

At the meeting, she planned with other participants to create artwork to raise awareness of violence against women and girls, especially refugees and migrants.

“The mural is a symbolic legacy of the journey these women and girls have taken,” said UNFPA’s Deputy Representative in Brazil, Júnia Quiroga. “It is a reminder that women and girls deserve autonomy over their lives, bodies and destinies.” 

A legacy for the city

A group of girls mix paint.
Girls mix the paint colours before the start of the activity. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

Back in Rio Branco Park, Ericka and the other muralists met on a sunny Saturday in December. Led by Venezuelan artist Diana Afronativa, the women prepared the paint, positioned ladders and then picked up their brushes. As the hours passed, the wall became a work of art. 

People passing stopped to watch, and the women and girls laughed and danced while painting figures, a landscape and a message in Portuguese, Spanish and the indigenous language, Warao: “For a world with no violence against women and girls”.

“It demonstrates that women are not alone – that they don't need to be trapped in toxic relationships or to suffer in silence,” Ericka said.

A colourful mural.
The finished mural. © UNFPA Brazil/Isabela Martel

The wall’s message rings loud and clear. And while Ericka may not always be in Brazil, as she hopes one day to return to Venezuela, her legacy – preserved in paint – will live on.

“I never thought that I would come to Brazil, much less that I would paint and make new friends here.” But she told UNFPA, “My dream is to go back with a degree, pursuing the career I want, in graphic design.”

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