Hot national debate in Brazil connecting inequality and exclusion

Oxfam Brazil’s empowering way of working with youth movements is engaging young people on issues such as inequality and fiscal accountability. These issues normally don’t have the “cool” factor, but by combining culture, identity and politics, Oxfam Brazil and partners have managed to do exactly that! Young people engaged with social movements in urban Brazil are taking up these issues raising their voices together and making them their own.

85% of Brazilians live in cities and 11.2 million of these people live in slums (favelas) on the edges of big cities. Despite progress on reducing poverty through social programs, income redistribution and new regulatory and legal frameworks such as the Cities Statute Youth Statute, Brazil is still one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Brazil’s cities are seen by the privileged few as places of modernization and opportunity. But the day-to-day reality for millions of Brazilians is that of poverty and segregation. Young people – and especially young black women and men who make up half of Brazil’s population under 30 – are hardest hit by the reality of urban exclusion, discrimination and violence.

To achieve a more equal society with opportunities for all, young people need access to information and tools to challenge the status quo and assert their right to a better future. The key to Oxfam and our partner’s success in engaging the hearts and minds of young people has been a combination of being able to work with existing social movements – and to then step back. Providing the space and means by which activists can take up and run with issues that they are passionate about – in their own way.

The Levante Popular de Juventude (LPJ) had already brought together young people with strong independent perspectives on issues that were deeply rooted in their communities. We reached out to the LPJ to engage members on the issue of inequality and tax justice. Seeing these issues as important, they then turned Oxfam’s policy positions into language that would connect with young audiences, using their own networks and communication channels. They adapted messages from Oxfam’s briefing paper ‘An Economy for the 1%’ into a parody of the popular song “Aquele 1% bilionário’ that has had 40,000+ hits on Youtube. In this way, Oxfam Brazil contributes to enhancing this vibrant Brazilian youth social movement’s work.

Millions of Brazil’s young people will be directly and negatively affected by their government’s new fiscal reforms, which effectively freeze public spending for 20 years. This will hit public services such health, education and social security that marginalized urban young people depend on. Youth activist Thailla spoke up clearly and powerfully in the run-up World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017 about the injustice of paying more tax to get lower quality public services.  Oxfam Brazil believes young people have huge potential – and untapped energy – to achieve significant change in Brazil and on the world stage.