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The issue of racism in fashion continues to make headlines and now some 40 black models, most of them women, have staged a topless protest in Rio de Janeiro. They are protesting against the low presence of Afro-Brazilians on fashion catwalks, reports Agence France-Presse (via Raw Story).

The protest was staged to coincide with the signing of a deal between the Fashion Week organizers and the Rio ombudsman’s office setting a 10 percent quota for black models in fashion shows, according to the G1 news website.

“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 focusing on the labor and educational rights of blacks and indigenous people.

In Brazil, more than half of its 200 million people are of African descent, making it the world’s second largest black population after that of Nigeria. Yet Afro-Brazilians have been woefully underrepresented in the fashion world.

“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?”

The government of Brazil has been working to increase diversity all round. After 13 years of debate, last year President Dilma Rousseff signed a law that reserves half of seats in federal universities to public school students, with priority given to Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people. And as we recently reported, President Rousseff is moving forward with an affirmative action program that will ensure that 20 percent of the nation’s government jobs will go to black Brazilians.

In the fashion industry, things were looking up for a while. Back in June 2009, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week– Latin America’s top fashion event — for the first time imposed quotas requiring at least 10 percent of the models to be black or indigenous. This didn’t last long.

In 2010, the 10 percent quota was removed, after a conservative prosecutor deemed it unconstitutional. The result was a drastic decrease in black models on the catwalk.

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