Brazil: Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles

I am a fighter. It is in my blood, in my way of life.

— Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles

Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles (1945) is a human rights activist. During her whole life she has been fighting against the many facets of violence: from the State, gender-based or of any other kind. For 11 years, she has been coordinating the Popular Legal Prosecutors Course.

“Police, police!” Since she was a child, Maria Amélia knew that police meant danger. Her father, a syndicalist, used to organize meetings at home to discuss labor rights. He would ask his daughter to watch out and warn him if the police came near. “I knew those meetings were a form of fighting to improve our lives.” Her sense of citizenship grew in the midst of a battle. She lived clandestinely and under torture due to the military coup in 1964, which sentenced Brazil to a dictatorship of over 20 years. “Amelinha”–as everyone calls her–was arrested along with her partner, sister and kids. The leader of the torturers warned: “Hell is here, you have gone to hell!” She endured the horrors of physical torture and the pain of not knowing whether or not her children were alive. It was also in prison, living with other arrested women, that “Amelinha” found out that no democracy can be successful without the effective participation of women. She came out from behind bars and kept on fighting for the end of the dictatorship and to foment the feminist fight against all kinds of authoritarianism. She founded, in 1981, the Union of Women of São Paulo, a place devoted to combating violence against women. Currently, Maria Amélia de Almeida Teles coordinates the Popular Legal Prosecutors Course in the state of São Paulo that aims to qualify women to be capable of finding justice in a world full of injustices. Thanks to the popular prosecutors, in 1996, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court revoked a decree that forbade women from going into its building wearing pants. They have also managed to take two cases of murdered women, whose killers had not been punished, to the OAS (Organization of the American States), Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

União de Mulheres de São Paulo (Union of Women of São Paulo)