Women rights and gender inequalities in Brazil

Where inspiration meets action

Let’s talk about women rights: gender inequalities in Brazil

While women’s day is celebrated worldwide on March 8th, the fight for gender equality in Brazil is far from being over. Although women represent 50,84% of the whole population (209,3 millions in 2017) and despite a life expectancy that is 7 years older than for men, the life of most Brazilian women is not what you might have seen in Western media. No, being a woman in Brazil isn’t all about working out and going to the beach while enjoying a nice papaya. Let us explain.

Short background of women’s participation in politics

Although the current situation might depict a total rejection of women in the country’s political landscape, Brazil owns one of the most effective women’s organization in Latin America. With significative social improvements over the past century, Brazilian women obtained legal vote in the 30’s and are legally supposed to enjoy the same rights and duties as men since the signing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979, and the creation of the 5th article of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. Also known for her strong female political figure Dilma Rousseff, former country’s President who was removed from office because of corruption scandals in 2016, Brazil has achieved what many countries haven’t. And it is even more surprising to learn that 52% of the country’s voters are actually women.

Yet, when one takes a closer look at the current gender situation, strong evidence of inequalities remain.

Women daily issues

Indeed, after years of fight for equal rights, Brazilian women’s situation is far behind from what it should be, or at least from what is legally stated. Today, studies focus on two main issues most women have to face: professional opportunities and gender violence.

Professional opportunities

If the World Economic Forum showed improvements in terms of health treatment and education for women, it also demonstrated strong differences in terms of careers. Although women’s presence has almost tripled in the labor market between 1970 and 2007, only 44,6% of women were employed in 2016 as against 65,8% of men (Observatoire Pharos).

Most of these women are doing domestic work, services or public administration. Potential careers are thus almost solely reserved to men, who are paid 30% more in average, according to the Labor and Employment Ministry.

Unfortunately, and as expected, the election of Dilma Rousseff has been an exception in the political representation of women in the country, as the number of female politicians remain very low (around 51 female deputies against 513 male deputies in 2016).

Gender violence

If you were already scandalized by salary differences according to gender in Western countries, you now get the idea of what it looks like in Brazil. But women have to face worse: sexual harassment, domestic violence and racism (among others). All these discriminations can be named as gender violence and follow the traditional pattern of male domination in a typical patriarchal society. Let’s take them one by one.

Sexual harassment

–  In 2015, every hour 5 people have been victims of sexual violence, according to the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública.

– Around 45,460 of cases have been denounced to the police the same year, which represents about 1 victim out of 4 filing a complaint. (FBSP)

85% of women say they fear sexual violence. (Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada)

– And yet, 65% of the population (male and female) think raping is justified if the woman is wearing a provocative outfit, and 58,5% think women are partly responsible when they are raped (IPEA).

As you can see, the issue of sexual violence against women is so embedded as a norm in the Brazilian society that even political actions to prevent these types of violence are hard to set. Although Rousseff implemented legal measures to protect the victims during her term in office, the society still has a lot of progress to make. The culture of rape, which explains the fact to put the blame on the victim rather than on the harasser in case of sexual abuse, is still very present and prevents most of the victims to denounce their attackers.

Domestic violence

22 July, 2018, surveillance cameras recorded the heinous crime of Luís Felipe Manvailer, who beat his wife to death in an elevator before cleaning the blood and running away from the murder scene. This video, that became viral after being released online, relaunched the issue of one of the main focus regarding women rights in Brazil: domestic violence.

In 2017, one out of three women in Brazil stated she had suffered violence, with their partners being their attackers for half of them (Datafolha Institute). Despite strong laws voted and named in honour of Maria da Penha, a survivor of violence, Brazil struggles to implement them.

With one of the highest rate of femicide in the world (Mapa da Violência) and about 70% of these victims being underrage (Observatoire Pharos), findings are extremely alarming for the youth and all women in the country. As the issue only starts to be spoken out on social media, the silence around domestic violence in Brazil is slowly ending but won’t die until concrete measures are set out.

Racism

As you know, racism does not only concerns women specifically. But the case of Brazil is sort of different. Indeed, it is the last country of America that has abolished slavery in 1888, and racial inequalities remain today. As a result, UNESCO found out the risk of a violent death for black women is twice higher than for white women. In Rio Grande do Norte, the risk is 8,11 times higher. Last year, on 2018 march 14th, Marielle Franco, a black Brazilian politician, was murdered.These aren’t isolated cases.

Now, were Brazilian people born more racist and sexist than anywhere else in the world? No. But they are evolving in a religious and patriarchal society, which influences men to act as dominant males. Women and black people, who are less valued and privileged by society than the oppressors, are thus easy preys for them to fill their thirst for power. Sadly, Brazil is a great example of the intersectionality of sexism. And without surprise, Bolsonaro and the country’s religious authority aren’t helping at all.

Bolsonaro and religion as a drag for social change

As the new president stands for a Christian, sexist and patriarchal society, the fight for Brazilian feminists gets tougher. Despite the fact that Bolsonaro named Damares Alves, a female evangelical pastor, to run a new Human Rights ministry, she is as expected opposed to abortion (illegal in most cases in the country) and dreams of a government ruled by the Church. In the largest Catholic country in the world, feminists and left wings attempt to fight this new government that excludes minorities.

After hundreds of thousands of women have walked in the streets of 60 Brazilian cities screaming “Ele Nao !” (“Not him!”) before the election, Bolsonaro still won and is now ready to implement his vision of society to the whole country. One of the paradox of this takeover is that a huge part of women actually defend and voted for this government. The reason behind this is explained by the feeling of “safety” the president promises to bring to women.

But the protection he refers to are the walls of the house the women will be locked in. And as we have just seen, home is no longer a safe place for women either. The supposed golden cage is not even made of gold anymore. As gender violence becomes normalized every day, with Bolsonaro claiming he would not even rape Maria do Rosario, a female politician, because she does not “deserve” it, Brazil needs now more than ever our support. If humanist voices won’t be loud enough to make a change there, we must then scream, yell and fight with them.

Written by Jeanne Ulhaq

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