It took almost 75 years for the Attorney General’s Office of São Paulo, the largest state in the country, to be under the command of a black person.
At the top of the hierarchy of the institution where she has worked for 20 years, Inês Coimbra is betting on dialogue to accelerate the transformation of a white and male system that does not suit the majority of Brazil’s population, self-declared mixed race or black and female.
“[A falta de diversidade ] It’s a problem that we need to combat and I don’t think the best path is ‘me against them’, which means banning men, banning white people. It’s a path of dialogue, information and literacy”, he says.
This is the movement she tries to make, although she recognizes that the process is slower than she would like. Since she took over the prosecutor’s office, a body whose main function is to advocate for the state, her challenge has been to provide transparency to the institution’s racial data, facing the need for re-registration and a staff training process.
While she prepares the rules for the prosecutor’s first public competition with quotas and seeks to strengthen the human rights coordination created last year, Inês is also trying to expand the debate at a national level.
The racial diagnosis in public law, to be released this month, was made by the Permanent Forum on Equity and Diversity of the National College of Attorneys General of the States and the Federal District, created based on a proposal made by Inês with the aim of confronting inequalities.
“Maybe we’ll get there, but what’s our rush? Can we wait another century to have equity or not? If it’s an important issue, it requires energy applied to transforming a culture. You can’t change this organically”, it says.
Appointed in 2022 by then governor Rodrigo Garcia (PSDB) and reappointed by Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans), Inês has no party and does not intend to. Nor does she consider the defense of equity to be a left-wing agenda.
“It’s a social agenda, for everyone, right, left, center, middle, whatever. How is it possible to defend something that isn’t gender equality, inclusion of all people? I don’t see it as a partisan agenda, I think it’s quite anachronistic think about it from that perspective.”
This awareness was not yet present in the teenager from Belo Horizonte who lived in Espírito Santo when she chose the law course because of the chances of a job to survive and influenced by her aunt, who saw her as a defender of causes and things.
Daughter of a single mother who works at a daycare center, of simple black origin who got involved with her father, the son of a diplomat, Inês was raised with the help of her maternal grandparents. She was 13 years old when her father died and her mother took on even more of a double role to be her “bread”.
At the time, he had already seen cases of racism against uncles, grandparents and his own mother, but he would only be able to name them that way in the last decade, when he came to terms with his blackness.
“I didn’t grow up with an anti-racist repertoire. I never considered myself a white person, but I didn’t have all that literacy”, he says, citing reading “Tornar-se Negro”, by Neusa Santos Souza, as a divider. In the work, the author reflects on how black people needed to whiten themselves to rise socially in the country.
“This perception that we are not born black, as I also said [a intelectual] Sueli Carneiro, is a cruel achievement. For me there was a very broad gain of awareness that encompassed episodes from the past.”
She says she can no longer “see the world except through this lens.” “This means that a place that only has white people or that only has men will always catch my attention. It’s not something I don’t notice anymore.”
Inês arrived in São Paulo when she was just over 20 years old, advised by a college friend about the opportunities in the city. She completed her first specialization at PUC-SP in civil proceedings with the help of a scholarship, took the public prosecutor’s exam and found herself studying public law.
“It’s an area that can help with important social transformations. Thinking about public law means thinking a little about sociology, political science and public management.”
He started as an assistant at the Public Defender’s Office, until then part of the state attorney’s office. At the Children and Youth Court she came across women who turned to the State seeking public policies because they found themselves alone in raising their children.
Years later, while working as a consultant to government departments through the prosecutor’s office, she says she re-encountered women’s issues when participating in projects such as the removal of families from expropriated areas for the construction of the Women’s Hospital, which replaced the Pérola Byington Hospital.
“We tried to do it in the most delicate and careful way possible, and I think my previous experience as a Public Defender helped me a lot with this. It’s a process that requires dialogue and empathy. You can’t do this with truculence”, he states.
The most difficult period of his career came during the pandemic, when he was part of the state government’s crisis management committee, responsible for deciding from one day to the next on issues such as closing shops, hiring refrigerated trucks to place bodies, using cylinders of diving oxygen in hospitals and rules for necropsies.
“I remember arriving home the day one of the meetings began to worry about anesthetics. [para intubação]. I called a friend and cried. They were very complicated topics, but I think the public service and the state of São Paulo, especially considering the circumstances, handled the task well”, she says.
Now facing privatization processes, Inês states that the impact on the neediest population has been a premise in the studies carried out by the agency.
For her, diversity is an asset to increase the efficiency of decisions in a complex society.
“There are experiences that are very difficult to understand if they have not been experienced. When we are talking about the Justice system and the structures that exist to deal with social conflicts, the more experiences, the more capable we are of making efficient proposals to resolve these conflicts. “
Mother of a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, she counts on a support network to educate them and balance her roles at the institution and as a professor of administrative law, a task she performed until taking on her current position.
Inês says she has never left anything aside because she is a woman, despite having faced harassment and experiences outside the institution that no man would have and which she prefers not to talk about.
Despite this, she looks to the future with the hope of a wave of change. “I want to believe that we are following a path of conquest, moving forward. Maybe not at the desired speed, but we are going.”
X-RAY | Inês Coimbra, 46
She is the first black person and fifth woman to head the Attorney General’s Office of the State of São Paulo, where she has worked for 20 years. Master in State Law from PUC-SP and specialist in civil procedural law and administrative law from the same institution, he graduated in law from the União das Escolas de Ensino Superior Capixaba (1999)