Thirty-two-year-old Brazilian Samira Alves Aun traversed a long and winding road before becoming what she is now: a devout Catholic who is a strong advocate of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Born to a deeply religious family, Samira adopted the “conservative point-of-view” ever since she was a child. She remembers regularly attending a church near their house. “Since I was eight, I was exposed to very strong values and religious morals, molding my vision about myself, about others, the world, and God…I remember spending time in that church more than in any other place,” she wrote.
While her religious upbringing brought her much comfort and strength, it also produced in her a “strong Christian guilt” in relation to her own sexuality. When she was 12 years old, Samira had intimate contact with a friend. “[During] that time, in addition to not having any idea about what we were doing, I felt that I was a horrible person, having abominable experiences. All of those feelings were reinforced by religious discourses, which I agreed with because I’ve learned to see and understand them that way,” she wrote.
She developed a closer relationship with her local church and attended social pastorals with her parents. At the age of 14, Samira’s family moved to a small and even more conservative town in the countryside of São Paulo.
The first thing she did upon moving was to join the youth group of the local church. There, she came into contact with Catholic nuns, and started to think about her vocational growth. At the age of 17, she entered a convent.
She carried what she described were strong conservative views. “I was against the use of condoms and abortion…I never paid attention to gender issues, even though I was connected with the Base Ecclesial Communities, a strong Christian movement that emerged in the 60s to fight oppression of the poor, and was linked to liberation theology. Inequality and social injustice were our main concerns. I felt uneasy about the hierarchical structure of the church, but I had not developed a clear criticism towards that,” Samira wrote.
At the age of 23, her father passed away. Samira left the convent at this time, and faced a lot of uncertainty about what to do with her life. She reconnected with her youth pastoral group, and through it got to know about the Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir or Catholics for the Right to Decide.
The movement gave her a women-oriented view on biblical, theological and historical issues—issues that Samira has grappled with her entire life. Progressive discourses with her pastoral group about the movement introduced her to the importance of women’s SRHR. “Many feelings started growing strong inside of me. Some concepts made immediate sense. But, the abortion issue was one of the toughest to let go…it was a painful deconstruction, but it was a necessary one,” she said.
Samira got into trouble with their local priest, who branded her as “against life and pro-abortion.” It also got her into fights with her mother, who held conservative views. “My mother would feel very embarrassed with this position, and we would fight constantly because I was getting closer to Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir. I was also in contact with the sisters of the congregation that I was part of originally. They didn’t agree with my positions. They would say that it was not the best alternative.”
Her life at the convent, formal education, and exposure to progressive Catholic groups gave Samira “critical knowledge to understand the religious and moralistic biases that limits and oppresses everyone, especially us women.” She is now able to express her sexuality freely. “I felt the Christian guilt diluting—that guilt that would repress me even in very simple, affectionate exchanges,” she wrote in her journal.
Samira patiently explained SRHR issues to her mother. She insisted that the right to a legal and safe abortion was based on the Bible and Catholic Church documents. After a while, her mother opened up. She told Samira a vital piece of information that she had kept to herself all these years. “She told me that she had an abortion when she was a minor,” Samira said. This sudden revelation from her mother forged a strong bond between them. For Samira, it was a personal triumph.
“I will not give up this fight. Sexual and reproductive rights are legitimate rights. Women have the right to choose. Nobody should decide for us or condemn our choices based on hypocritical morals that only strengthens oppression and inequality in this sexist and patriarchal society,” Samira concluded.