Brasilien: Maria José de Oliveira Araújo

Three decades ago, discrimination and violence against women were not socially noticed. There have been important advances: women's role in society is growing – and they know their rights better.

— Maria José de Oliveira Araújo

Doctor Maria José de Oliveira Araújo (born 1949) is the coordinator of the Women's Health Division of the Brazilian Ministry of Health. On the front of national politics, she puts into practice the ideals that guide her career: sexual and reproductive rights and humane and respectful care for women during their entire life, from puberty to menopause. Prior to coordinating this program, she supported the creation of major organizations, publications and political actions.

In medical school, the student Maria José de Oliveira Araújo left a class after seeing a woman, on a bed for gynecological examination, ready to be collectively examined by over ten students. Remembering this episode, over three decades later, she says: “The way hospitals treated women really revolted me. I have been a feminist since I was born and just realized it later on.” She found herself in the late 1970s, during a postgraduate program on women's and infant's health in France, when she got involved in the feminist movement. She came back to Brazil, in 1980, full of energy. She helped create, in the same year, the Women's House of Grajaú, one of the first health centers in a poor neighborhood in São Paulo. Three years later, she went to Switzerland, where she studied natural and preventive gynecology. Back in Brazil, she founded along with a group of activists the Coletivo Feminista Sexualidade e Saúde, the Feminist Collective of Health and Sexuality, which is still a national example to be followed in human care for women. In 1989 and 2001, when São Paulo elected left-wing mayors, she headed the women's health area. She introduced a service for legal abortion (in case of rape and life risk for the mother) in Brazilian public hospitals. Currently, there are 42 clinics that perform abortions legally. Her house was invaded, and she received death threats. Maria José de Oliveira Araújo also created many centers to help women and teenagers, victims of sexual violence. Intending to spread those victories, she participated in the foundation of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights. Since 2003, she works for the Brazilian Ministry of Health, where she still bravely fights as she used to do in her youth.

Programa de Assistência Integral à Saúde da Mulher (Paism) Coletivo Feminista Sexualidade e Saúde