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Brazilian, Colombian women study workings of government in Duluth

Two young lawyers from South America, who hope to someday earn positions of political leadership in their home countries, are spending the next three weeks in Duluth studying government, health services, ecology and criminal justice with the goal...

Exchange participants
Josefina del Carmen Carcamo (center) of Colombia and Rafaela Marchiorato Lupion Mello of Brazil react as Sally Munger, president of the League of Women Voters, Duluth, introduces them during a reception Sunday at Duluth's Secondary Technical Center. The two women will be in Duluth for a month learning about the U.S. system of democracy as part of a program called Connecting Future Legislators with Civil Society. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Two young lawyers from South America, who hope to someday earn positions of political leadership in their home countries, are spending the next three weeks in Duluth studying government, health services, ecology and criminal justice with the goal of returning to Brazil and Colombia to help women and the underprivileged there.

Rafaela Marchiorato Lupion Mello, 26, of Curitiba, Brazil, and Josefina del Carmen Carcamo, 25, of Bogota, Colombia, are here as part of the League of Women Voters Legislative Fellows Program. The Duluth fellows are taking part in an internship to cultivate an increased understanding of the U.S. legislative process and gain an enhanced appreciation of the role of civil society in the political process.

Sunday afternoon, the women were the guests of the Duluth chapter of the League of Women Voters at a reception at the Secondary Technical Center.

"I really hope to know how politics work in this country, the social programs, women's issues, about the powers -- the legislative, executive and judicial -- about the political parties and the action of a civil society," Mello said. "All of that is so important because the people are the government. All people have to participate."

Mello speaks English almost as well as her native Portuguese. She's a tax attorney who works for business and industry, but also provides free legal services to the women's groups and political groups she is affiliated with. She's a member of a five-generation political family. She was elected youth social director of her party when she was 16. She is director of the Democratic Young Women Leaders in Curitiba.

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Mello laughed when asked if she were a feminist. "Ah, no. I'm not a feminist," she said. "But I think that a woman has to get her space to be like man. A person in Brazil, a woman lawyer, can do the same job as a man and she will receive less money. There isn't a reason why. We have to change that, and we are changing."

Carcamo works in civil law specializing in pensions. Speaking through interpreter Susana Pelayo-Woodward, professor of women's studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Carcamo said that she's very interested in the relationship of indigenous people with the political system around them.

On Tuesday, Carcamo and Mello will meet Fond du Lac Indian tribal Chairwoman Karen Diver on the reservation to learn about the history of the band and how it interacts with city, county and federal governments.

Carcamo wants to learn more about health issues, especially the study of breast and cervical cancer. She also thinks it's important to stand up for those less privileged.

"Her dream is that human rights are respected for all women in Colombia and to have more protection in the area of health and to have more access to education," Pelayo-Woodward translated for Carcamo.

Among the other local leaders the South American lawyers are meeting with are Mayor Don Ness, St. Louis County Commissioner Steve O'Neil, State Rep. Roger Reinert, St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford, City Attorney Gunnar Johnson, Family Justice Center Director Catherine Curley and Duluth Deputy Police Chief John Beyer.

"We think we can show them how we deal in our community on a non-partisan basis and how we have access to our leaders," said Joyce Benson, international relations chairwoman of the League of Women Voters in Duluth. "They'll learn how we deal with issues in our community. We have so much to offer and I've tried to develop a well-rounded program for them."

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