Nilcéa Freire was a Brazilian feminist activist, politician and academic. A persevering advocate for women’s rights and those of underrepresented minorities in the country, her life and work carried a long history of struggles and victories.
"While resisting we have to keep pushing for progress, and what we can achieve at this time, in my view, will be through the stupendous organization of young white women, and especially black women, in all of the state capitals and large cities of Brazil." - Nilcéa Freire
In 1999 she became the first woman to occupy the position of Dean at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Here, she spearheaded the implementation of the first affirmative action policy for students graduating from public schools, requiring reserved places specifically for low-income black students in a public university. This system was adopted in dozens of other public universities.
Some years later, Nilcéa headed the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women in the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In this capacity, she led the first National Women’s Conference. Over 12,000 women from across the country participated and the result of this collective work was embodied in the National Plan for Policies for Women.
Her commitment to women, Afro-Brazilians and indigenous peoples was also strongly reflected in her work to promote their rights through initiatives of the Brazil Ford Foundation office where she was a regional director.
The feminist activist Manoela Miklos recounted Nilcéa to be "a woman without equal".
At the age of 66, Nilcéa passed away in Rio de Janeiro on 29 December 2019 of cancer.
"Without words for the news of the death of dear Nilcea Freire. It is too sad to know that she left so early. She was always part of the ranks of those who do not settle for the injustices of the world. She was the Minister of Women, an activist, always active in the feminist cause. Much missed!” - Jandira Feghali, Federal Deputy