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Leaked Audio Reveals Reem Alsalem 2023 Brazil Visit “Indefinitely Postponed” Due to Alleged “Transphobia”

UN Rapporteur seeks clarification about canceled 2023 visit, scheduled in response to 2010 Parental Alienation law

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, took to social media on May 8 to ask for clarification from the Brazilian government about the cancellation of her visit to the country in 2023. Ms Alsalem was made aware of the existence of an audio recording obtained during a series of talks at UnB (University of Brasilia) in August last year. In the audio, an advisor of the Women’s Ministry on LGBT affairs, Maria Luísa (Malu) Aquino, is heard saying that the Brazilian government postponed “indefinitely” the UN Rapporteur’s visit for her “anti-trans” position. The UN Rapporteur tweeted that if this was true, the information revealed would be “concerning.”

In a statement for 4W, Ms Alsalem said: “The permanent mission of Brazil to the United Nations in Geneva and I are scheduled to meet, where I intend to seek clarification.” Although the UN Rapporteur stated after the cancelation that a new date was proposed for 2024 - which she was willing to accept - she wrote to 4W that she informed Brazil’s government in January she was no longer going to carry out any visit to the country. “I do not consider the conditions to be in place for my visit to be successful. It is unfortunate, as visiting Brazil was and continues to be a priority for me as rapporteur, given the situation of women and girls in the country.”

The leaked audio recording was originally posted by Brazilian activist Nine Borges on her Instagram. In the audio, subtitled here in English by association MATRIA, Ms Aquino can be heard saying in Portuguese (translated here) that “Bruna” [Benevides], a member of ANTRA, a Brazilian group for trans people, is her “main source within the trans women's movement.” She continues: “We talked a lot about a situation we had just now: the Special UN Rapporteur, Reem Alsalem, had a visit scheduled to Brazil and the Ministry for External Relations was articulating that with the [Women’s] Ministry.”

Ms Aquino asserts that “Brazil cannot deny receiving [rapporteurs], we have an open invitation to all UN rapporteurs.” However, she said that the Women’s Minister, Aparecida Gonçalves, had access to information about Ms Alsalem’s social media activity, and that the UN Rapporteur was “retweeting far-right profiles that talk about freedom of expression, in this far-right format with an anti-trans speech.” Then, the advisor is heard saying that the Women’s Minister asked to postpone Ms Alsalem’s visit to Brazil.

"Those women... they scared me."

4W obtained access to the complete audio and, according to Ms Aquino, there was an online meeting in 2023 with a group of “radical women", which she described as “one of the most tense moments” she had within the ministry. The advisor is heard saying: “the profile of those women, of that group that was at that meeting online, they scared me.” Ms Aquino then tells the audience that these “groups of radical women” are to be blamed for “grinding” the work of the Women’s Ministry. “Today, dealing with these groups of radical feminists who end up greatly delaying the work of the ministry with these [issues]... is one of the challenges we have,” mentioning that the Women’s Ministry had received about 20 requests for public information following the scandal.

Maiara Silveira, representative of MATRIA, a Brazilian women’s association, told 4W that the feminist organization is working to identify the cause of the canceled visit. “From the audio,” Ms Silveira said, “it seems like it was Bruna Benevides (from ANTRA) who showed her/the Ministry tweets that they considered to be transphobic, resulting in the ‘indefinite’ postponement of Reem Alsalem's visit to Brazil.”

Tweet by ANTRA Brasil. Translation: "Highly problematic and dangerous position of UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls"

Since its creation in July, 2023, Ms Silveira said that MATRIA requested several FOIs (Freedom of Information) to the Women’s Ministry, such as the definition of “who is considered a ‘woman’ for public policy purposes,” as well to explain why the visit of the Rapporteur’s visit to Brazil was canceled and when it would be rescheduled. They also asked why Brazil did not present itself to the CEDAW Committee when called to talk about Parental Alienation Law and sent complaints regarding the persecution of women by trans activists.

On January 26, 2023, less than a month after the creation of the Women’s Ministry, representatives from ANTRA met with Aparecida Gonçalves, the Women’s Minister, to deliver a dossier called “Murders and violence against Brazilian transvestites and transsexuals.” The claims of this dossier, however, have been debunked by MATRIA, in a report called “False statements about the self-declared trans population in Brazil,” published last March.

A Women’s Ministry that “refuses to speak to women”

At the end of April, 2024, Brazilian Women's Ministry created a new working group to fight against political violence against women and chose a member of ANTRA, a male transvestite who adopted the name Bruna Gurgel Baptista, as one of the representatives. Nine Borges, the activist who first shared publicly the leaked audio, posted the full list on her Twitter, commenting about the new working group that the Women’s Minister “refuses to dialogue with women.”

"The UN should thoroughly investigate why the Brazilian Women’s Ministry has refused to receive one of their representatives."

“The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls, Reem Alsalem, was set to visit Brazil to discuss the issues around self-identification policies and how they impact women and girls’ rights by increasing the chances of putting their safety at risk,” Ms Borges told 4W.

She said that the Minister’s aide, Ms Aquino, “confirms [in the audio] that the Minister Aparecida Gonçalves has canceled Reem Alsalem’s visit based on her self-identification and gender critics’ views.”

Tweet by ANTRA Brasil. Translation: "Terfism is vile and cruel. She is organizing a dossier that will be delivered to the UN rapporteur (who has adopted anti-trans stances) in an attempt to confirm the alleged persecution of trans people. Everything in the best possible fascist style!"

Ms Borges said that the “correct approach” should have been a “balanced debate that includes plural ideas” and that the Minister’s “ideological position” showed the intention to silence and “alienate women from the truth, not providing them with the opportunity to learn and understand the serious implications of allowing men into women’s spaces.”

Ms Borges continues:

“Right after canceling Reem Alsalem’s official visit, the Ministry is seen taking a public ideological stance on the issue, inviting the National Association of Tranvestites and Transexuals (ANTRA) to grab a seat at the decision-making table. While refusing to define what a woman is and refusing to dialogue with women, the Ministry honors and dialogues with an Association that falsifies data, spreads fake news, gaslights women, and more importantly, whose members are not women. Brazil has an official relationship with the UN, therefore, the UN should thoroughly investigate why the Brazilian Women’s Ministry has refused to receive one of their representatives. The UN shouldn’t let this slide.”

Official visit about parental alienation was articulated before social media’s controversy, says Brazilian collective

Ms Aquino also claimed in the audio that the UN Rapporteur was “disguised as a UN rapporteur of women who worked on the parental alienation law.” However, Brazilian collective CPI Voz Materna contests this claim, as the organization sent a complaint from women to CEDAW about parental alienation law in 2020. The complaint was accepted, the Brazilian government was questioned and CPI Voz Materna sent a Shadow Report to the UN in 2021.

Sibele Lemos, a representative of Voz Materna, said that after the report was sent, there was a call for mothers to send reports of their cases of rights violations using Parental Alienation Law, to the UN special rapporteur Reem Alsalem in 2022. The group then contacted Ms Alsalem, who held two online meetings with Brazilian mothers. The UN Rapporteur sent a letter to the newly elected Brazilian president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, asking to revoke the Law and ban the term. “This letter has not yet been responded to”, said Lemos, but a visit was scheduled for July 2023.

Another collaborator of CPI Voz Materna, Ivana Moura, said that the visit’s cancellation was “an obstacle to the advancement of discussions on violations of the fundamental rights of Brazilian women and children regarding the use of Parental Alienation in the judiciary system,” and that the Women’s Ministry even “started avoiding collectives that work in the fight for the repeal of the law.” Ms Moura recalled that, in 2023, the Women’s Ministry did have an online meeting with feminist group Raizes Feministas, who advocate for sex-based rights, which is the organization that Ms Aquino allegedly refers to in the audio as a group of “radical women.”