This is my diary of a recent trip to Brazil to speak at a conference on geography, gender and sexualities.
This was a very different conference opening for a number of reasons. Firstly it started with the national anthem sung by a local choir, who reappeared later to sing other songs from various Brazilian composers.
The opening was done by people from the University, but also the hundred or so people at the conference from all over Latin-America, Portugal and Spain, were welcomed by the Secretary of State, for the State of Rondinia for Education. He spoke of the importance of education for society, University is free in Brazil. More than this he recognized the importance of studying gender and sexuality to address social inclusion and improve society. Then he went on to say how important geography is to this endeavour, as we need to know how where we are influences exclusions/inclusions and power relations between men and women, as well as around sexuality.
It is refreshing to hear a politician understand the importance of not only education to improve society but also the place of geographies of genders and sexualities to achieve this. The place of gender and sexuality in geographies in Latin America is very different to that of the UK. The conference organizer talked about gender and sexuality are not recognized as ‘appropriate’ or relevant topics and people struggle to get published in Geography. This seminar offers a chance for people from across Latin America and Iberia to come together, where they are usually isolated into small pockets away from each other. Indeed it is in working together that they were able to start a journal and also to include sexualities for this first time into the title of the conference.
Maria Dolores Garcia Ramon gave the opening talk, speaking about two women travellers Gertude Bell and Isabel Erhenardt. These women traveller had more freedom because they didn’t travel in professional roles, and often challenged colonial rule, but they also helped it. Gertude Bell, for example helped Lawrence of Arabia. I also learned about Porto Velho’s colonial history, which included the British shipping 3 huge water containers to the town, that only served the British half of the town. There is also a British train by the waterfront, also brought by the British during the colonial era. This ‘old town’ area is now popular for evening entertainment both the water towers and the train act as symbols for Port Velho.