Bárbara Jiménez–Santiago, Regional Representative, Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrates Brisa De Angulo as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.
Brisa de Angulo is a real-life superwoman, one where every girl can look for inspiration. As a survivor and advocate for her fellow survivors of childhood sexual violence in Bolivia, Brisa is bringing an agenda focused on the needs of children, specifically girls, to the front of the international stage.
The first time I met Brisa was in Cochabamba, Bolivia, as part of our partnership with A Breeze of Hope to support an international conference in which Brisa was bringing together a group of experts to present the best practices to support girls victims of sexual violence. On that occasion, I visited the Centro Uno Brisa de Esperanza (C.U.B.E.), founded and directed by Brisa, which receives and supports the most victims in Cochabamba and serves as an inspiration and a safe space for many survivors of sexual violence, many of whom became advocates as well.
During my visit, I witnessed great professionals in law, social work, and psychology who, with minimal resources, could take girls by the hand through the recovery and the justice process. From the moment I met Brisa, I felt like I had known her forever. And to know Brisa or, to be fortunate enough, as I am, to call her a friend is to be able to see firsthand what passion and commitment mean.
Bolivia has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America, with 70% of women reporting having been sexually assaulted, and 1 in 3 girls experiencing sexual before the age of 18. However, survivors, an overwhelming majority of whom are women, often face tremendous barriers to accessing justice. Brisa is fierceness personified. She is always ready to talk about the issues facing survivors of sexual violence; it’s like watching fire take hold.
I’ll never forget a time when I joined Brisa when her case was heard before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Brisa can go from testifying with the picture of poise, showcasing her expertise on the issue as an advocate, an attorney, and a survivor, to proclaim to the judges, “This is your moment!” she said. “This is your moment to do the right thing and to deliver justice!” As she spoke, Brisa’s passion became even more evident and I was struck by her bravery in how forcefully she spoke to the judge.
Brisa has made eradicating impunity for perpetrators of childhood sexual violence in Latin America her life’s work. When she founded the A Breeze Of Hope Foundation in 2004, Brisa sought to provide legal, psychological, and social support to survivors. In pursuing this mission, Brisa is informed by her experience as a survivor, but it is not—and has never been—about securing reparations for herself. Rather, it is about helping to secure justice for girls and other exceptionally vulnerable survivors of sexual assault.
Service to others has always been a central part of who Brisa is. Growing up in the Chilimarca district of Cochabamba, the area was without a local school. Many children were faced with having to travel to neighboring areas to attend school, where beatings were common. Because she and her siblings were homeschooled, Brisa knew that education could be different; at just 14 years-old she convinced her parents to allow her to start a school in the backyard of their home. Today, she has kept that vision alive with a school where children can have a nurturing education.
Our movement is deeply indebted to the initiative of advocates like Brisa, not only for sharing her story but for allowing so many of us to be part of her movement to effect meaningful change. Brisa, along with her husband and A Breeze Of Hope’s co-founder, Parker, is always at the forefront of best practices and what is working on an international level in the region.
This knowledge is key for our work to implement strategic legal reforms, and to carry these learnings with us so that they may benefit other partners in Latin America. The strides Brisa has made to combat sexual violence are an essential part of my work at Equality Now, and I truly cannot imagine doing this work without her voice – or her devotion to this cause.