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Violence against women surged after dam collapse, Christian Aid reports

31 January 2022


Indigenous people of the Pataxo ethnicity block a railway in Brumadinho, Brazil, last Tuesday, to mark three years since the disaster

Indigenous people of the Pataxo ethnicity block a railway in Brumadinho, Brazil, last Tuesday, to mark three years since the disaster

THE Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil not only killed hundreds of people, but led to a surge in violence against women, as livelihoods collapsed, households came under pressure, and men were brought into the area to carry out repairs, Christian Aid has reported.

The Brumadinho tailings dam contained waste from an iron-ore dam. When it collapsed, it unleashed the equivalent of 4700 Olympic swimming pools of mud into the valley, killing 270 (News, 8 February 2019). It contaminated the Paraopeba River and water systems and lands near by, affecting the livelihoods of an estimated 944,000 people and causing extensive environmental damage.

The federal police in Brazil have recommended that criminal charges be brought against 19 senior directors and staff of the the mining company Vale SA, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, and a German safety-audit firm. The company is already liable for £5 billion in compensation.

Christian Aid and the Brazilian organisation Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), in their report published this week to mark the third anniversary of the disaster, have described the effects of the disaster as reported by women.

Their study, The Mud Went Through My Soul: Voices of women affected by the Brumadinho dam rupture, focuses on the dam collapse as undermining women’s rights, impeding their access to water, freedom from violence, ability to work, mental health, and environment.

As the river was contaminated, drinking-water supplies were destroyed, together with fisheries and other sources of income. Women said that livelihoods, particularly in agriculture and fishing, had been “extinguished” because of contamination, shortages of water, or lack of investment in production.

Many of the women interviewed by MAB also reported illnesses such as vomiting, stomach aches, and skin allergies.

Violence against women also increased, both at home and outside the home, and this was partly attributed to the influx of new workers into the area after the disaster.

The head of global policy and advocacy for Christian Aid, Fionna Smyth, said: “Families have been torn apart by the Brumadinho disaster, and the community remains devastated now three years on. Speaking directly to the people most impacted by the rupture, it is chilling to understand countless women have been subjected to the horrors of gender-based violence.

“Not only must Vale be punished for their crimes, but we also need lasting systemic change. It is time leaders commit to a new guarantee of basic rights: namely, access to quality water, adequate health care, right to gender equality, and a right to information.”

The Church of England Pensions Board has sought to put pressure on mining companies to adopt new global safety standards (News, 26 March 2021). The new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management was developed in response by a coalition of investors led by the Pensions Board and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish AP Funds (News, 12 April 2019).

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