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Models go topless to protest catwalk racism

A model prepares for the Iodice fashion show at Fashion Rio Winter 2014 at Pier Maua on November 7, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.A model prepares for the Iodice fashion show at Fashion Rio Winter 2014 at  Pier Maua on November 7, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo:  Getty

Some 40 models, most of them women, have staged a topless protest in Rio de  Janeiro against the low presence of Afro-Brazilians on fashion catwalks.

‘‘What strikes you, your racism or me?’’ one of the female demonstrators  wrote on her chest during the protest late Wednesday timed to coincide with Rio  Fashion Week.

The demonstration also coincided with the signing of a deal between the  Fashion Week organisers and the Rio ombudsman’s office setting a 10 per cent  quota for black models in fashion shows, the G1 news website reported.

‘‘This agreement crowns a joint initiative that can open a space that does  not yet exist,’’ said Moises Alcuna, a spokesman for Educafro, a civil rights  group championing the labour and educational rights of blacks and indigenous  people.

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More than half of Brazil’s 200 million people are of African descent, the  world’s second largest black population after that of Nigeria.But  Afro-Brazilians complain of widespread racial inequality.

‘‘If we are buying clothes, why can’t we parade in the (fashion) shows,’’ asked a 15-year-old model taking part in the protest. ‘‘Does that mean that only  white women can sell and the rest of us can only buy?’’

‘‘Claiming to showcase Brazilian fashion without the real Brazilians amounts  to showing Brazilian fashion (only) with white models,’’ said Jose Flores, a  25-year-old former model who now works in advertising.

After 13 years of debate, President Dilma Rousseff last year signed a  controversial law that reserves half of seats in federal universities to public  school students, with priority given to Afro-Brazilians and indigenous  people.

In June 2009, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) – Latin America’s premier  fashion event – for the first time imposed quotas requiring at least 10 per cent  of the models to be black or indigenous.

Previously, only a handful of black models featured among the 350 or so that  sashayed down the catwalk – usually less than three per cent.

But in 2010, the 10 per cent quota was removed, after a conservative  prosecutor deemed it unconstitutional.