Cleo Manhas was a public school student in the early 1980s when Brazil was coming out of a military dictatorship and the feminist movement was on the rise. She started her activism as a teenager, raising her voice through student unions, both in school and university. After securing her degree, Cleo went on to teach and later worked for the National Congress, evaluating public policies focused on education. Disappointed by the sexism she witnessed and the exclusion of women in political decision-making — as well as the lack of intersectionality in the feminist movements around her — Cleo was motivated to leave the party and focus on addressing the gender, racial and socioeconomic barriers that Brazilians faced. She joined INESC in 2009 to support young people’s right to education, addressing the unique challenges that girls and marginalised and low-income communities face.
Holding authorities accountable and strengthening every citizen’s ability to do so is vital to fighting poverty and inequality in Brazil. These tenets are what drive INESC’s mission. A key instrument in this fight is monitoring the distribution of public money. That’s why Cleo and her team analyse Brazil’s federal budget and equip citizens with the tools and financial understanding they need to advocate for themselves. With their Malala Fund grant, Cleo will track federal and state education budget allocations for the pandemic response to hold leaders accountable and inform future strategies on advocating for girls’ education during crises. The team will train 20 girls from public schools on analysing federal budgets and policies that impact their rights and access to education. The girls will contribute to INESC’s advocacy activities at the national level and bring their voices to members of the Brazilian parliament.