Education Champion Network

Denise Carreira

Deputy Coordinator, Ação Educativa Champion since 2018
“I deeply believe in education, in its power to open the windows of life, to transform people and the world.”
Training teachers to end gender and racial inequality in schools and making it legal to discuss these issues in the classroom

The Issue

In Brazil, girls face gender-based discrimination in schools from classmates, teachers and school administrators. Despite these challenges, there is a growing movement to pass legislation that would ban teachers from discussing issues like gender equality, racism, sexual and reproductive rights in schools, limiting those conversations to the home. This legislation would exacerbate gender inequalities in the classroom and prevent progress for girls’ education in Brazil. 

Denise’s approach


When Denise expressed interest in studying science as a student, some family members told her the subject was just for boys. That early experience with gender discrimination inspired Denise to dedicate her career to championing the rights of girls and women. After getting a bachelor’s in journalism, she worked for years as an educator in the Amazon region and then went on to receive her master’s and doctorate in education. For the past 30 years, Denise has worked as an anti-racist feminist activist and educator fighting for marginalised groups and social justice in Brazil. She was coordinator of the National Campaign for the Right to Education, national rapporteur on Human Right to Education and one of the authors of the “Cost Student Quality,” an innovative proposal on educational financing and participatory methodology to overcome racism in schools.

As deputy coordinator of Ação Educativa and Plataforma DHESCA and professor of educational policies, she works to overcome gender and racial inequality in education through advocacy, teacher training and research. With her Malala Fund grant, Denise is building an online course to train teachers on gender equality and how to promote more tolerant learning environments. To help encourage gender and racial equality in the classroom and combat violence against girls and women, Denise works with partner organisations to develop methodologies and educational materials for teachers. With Ação Educativa, she is building a coalition of organisations to fight against laws that would prevent teachers from discussing gender equality, racism, sexual and reproductive rights. Through public hearings, policy papers, media campaigns and political letters, the coalition is encouraging the Supreme Federal Court to rule these laws unconstitutional.

Denise’s impact

In April and May 2020, Denise coordinated a civil society campaign to ensure teachers can discuss issues like gender equality, racism, sexual and reproductive rights in schools. Through public and media awareness campaigns and a manual against censorship in schools, Denise helped ensure the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil ruled three anti-gender municipal laws unconstitutional and stated that it is the duty of the state to address gender and sexuality in schools. She also co-authored a participatory methodology to overcome racism in schools.

With the other Brazilian Education Champions, Denise organised a public hearing in November 2019 where quilombola and Indigenous girls urged Brazilian leaders to support their right to learn. At the hearing, Denise presented a new report by Malala Fund Champions, which encouraged the National Congress of Brazil to renew the Fund for Maintenance and Development of Basic Education and Valuing Education Professionals (FUNDEB). FUNDEB is the government financing mechanism that makes sure marginalised schools get the resources they need to support their students. Unless Congress takes action, FUNDEB will end in December 2020. Their report also explained the structural racism that prevents students in Brazil from learning and recommends how leaders can address these inequalities with changes and increases in education funding. The report also included testimonials from girls about the challenges facing their schools, including poor bathrooms, unreliable transportation, underpaid teachers and insufficient access to technology.    As a result of the years of advocacy from education leaders like Denise, in August 2020, the Brazilian senate approved the constitutional amendment that makes FUNDEB permanent, an important step in ensuring that the government funds free and quality basic education for all students.

In 2019, Denise facilitated self-defence workshops for girls in São Paulo from different social backgrounds. The girls discussed gender-based discrimination and violence within and outside of schools. They shared their experiences speaking out for their rights and offered advice for each other. Ação Educativa published two publications on Brazilian girls’ rights and education, which Ação Educativa shared in workshops and online. 

In November 2018, Denise with partners published the "Defence Manual Against Censorship in Schools," a guide for teachers on how to protect themselves from threats against free speech about gender and diversity. The manual saw over 130,000 downloads and received coverage in more than 30 media outlets. 

Currently, Denise leads a national coalition of organisations that advocates for educational funding and other social and environmental policies and for a new economy committed to human rights and environmental sustainability.

More about Denise

Website: Ação Educativa
Youtube: Ação Educativa
Organization's Twitter: @acaoeducativa

There are 6 other Education Champions working in Brazil.