Fellow Since 1998
This profile was prepared when Denise Dourado Dora was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
The New Idea
Denise Dora is working to democratize women's access to the justice system in Brazil through a program that challenges the society's paradigm of gender and race discrimination. Denise founded an organization called Themis (Legal Assistance and Gender Studies) to train and empower women community leaders to fight for their legal rights. Since it's founding in 1992, Themis has pursued two primary objectives: training courses for community leaders to enable them to become community legal prosecutors; and the creation of SIM (Information Services for Women). SIM receives formal complaints about abuse and violence against women and provides assistance in individual and collective cases. With technical support from Themis' staff, both programs are led and supervised by popular legal prosecutors.While on the one hand, Themis represents women in the courts, Denise's program also engages women in demanding their own rights, enabling them to become actors within the judicial system. Denise is not only educating poor women of their rights and training them how to articulate these rights, she is also creating spaces in which women public prosecutors can work within the system. A key element of Themis' program is to transform the judicial system itself that for so long has perpetuated discrimination and inequality for women. To address the resistance that comes from a judicial system dominated by men, Themis also creates partnerships with judicial branches of the municipal and state governments to guarantee support. One of Themis' slogans is "Say SIM to Women" ("sim" means "yes" in Portuguese). Denise has developed direct collaboration with judges and members of the Public Defender's office through training courses, some of whom are now co-teaching community leaders' classes with Themis' lawyers. Brazil's New Constitution, established in 1989, created legal measures to defend gender and race issues in the executive and legislative branches, but left the judicial branch untouched, and discrimination has actually increased. Using Themis, Denise is working to expand the national discussion on equal access to justice. Through community training programs, publicity on cases and research and publishing activities, Themis is influencing the opinion of the general public on gender inequalities, methods of popular legal education and the justice system.