Gender issues in Brazil

. Oct 15, 2017
Gender equality Brazil Photo: Michael Prewett
Gender equality Brazil

Photo: Michael Prewett

Of Brazil’s 207.7 million inhabitants, just over half are women. Women are gaining ground in important areas, occupying 43 percent of the workplace and becoming the primary breadwinners in 37.3 percent of households. The country elected its first-ever female president, Dilma Rousseff, in 2010. Brazil is home to some of the world’s largest and most famous gay pride parades, and same-sex marriages have been legal since 2012. But despite these strides, cultural attitudes and public policies alike leave significant room for progress when it comes to gender and equality.

In concrete terms, Brazilian women earn 74.5 centavos to every 1 real earned by men. Women remain disproportionately responsible for household chores. Female representation remains low in politics as well as in business leadership positions, and gender-based violence and sexual harassment remain commonplace in almost all contexts. In the wake of Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment, human rights advocates were given cause to worry in the form of then-interim President Michel Temer’s instalment of an all-white, all-male cabinet, and scrapping of the Ministry for Women’s Rights.

But what turned Temer’s cabinet into <em>boteco </em>chat for Brazilians was what one magazine did as he was inaugurated as President.</p> <p>Running a satirical piece on Temer’s wife, Marcela, <em>Veja</em> magazine <a href="">called</a> her <em>bela, recatada e do lar</em> – beautiful, maiden-like and a housewife. But Brazilians didn’t see the piece as satirical, perhaps because this sort of commentary is not a one-off in Brazil; the gender-based discrimination saturating political cabinets and boardrooms is perpetuated in the street. Brazilian women made their feelings about the magazine article <a href="">pretty clear</a> on social media, but Brazil’s upper echelons took little notice: less than a year later, on International Women’s Day 2017, Temer considered discerning fluctuating supermarket prices an inherently feminine accomplishment.</p> <p>These attitudes translate easily into everyday harassment for many Brazilian women. In 2017, 51 percent of the population told researchers from Datafolha and the Brazilian Forum for Public Security that they had witnessed sexual harassment in the street. In the same <a href="">study</a>, 20.4 million women said they had received disrespectful comments while walking in the street, and 5.2 million said they had been sexually harassed on public transport.</p> <p>Initiatives to combat this are popping up sporadically. <a href=""><em>Chega de Fui Fui</em></a>, from women’s rights NGO Think Olga, crowdsources denunciations from members of the public as “an attempt to map the most uncomfortable and dangerous places to be a woman in Brazil”. This September, proper law enforcement resulted in one man’s <a href="">arrest</a> after he ejaculated on a woman on a public bus in São Paulo. However, with few women in leadership positions, cultural attitudes are shifting slowly and public policies have yet to follow suit.</p> <h3>Gender parity in politics affects gender equality in real life</h3> <p>In 1982, an unlikely contender found her way into Brazil’s politics. Black, female, and from one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, <a href="">Benedita da Silva</a> – known affectionately as ‘Bene’ in her community – won a seat as a city councillor with the Workers’ Party (PT). In 1994, less than ten years later, Silva made history: she became the first Black woman elected to the Brazilian Senate.</p> <p>Although women account for 51.4 percent of the general population, political representation remains <a href=",brasil-tem-menos-mulheres-no-legislativo-que-oriente-medio,1645699">low</a> among women in Brazil, and this is especially the case among women of color like Bene. Dilma Rousseff may have been elected twice to the presidency, but the Inter-Parliamentary Union <a href="">found</a> that representation in Brazil has fallen drastically in recent years: from 25.6 percent in 2014 to just 4 percent in 2017. LGBTQI representation remains even lower, with Jean Wylls as the only representative in the Lower House and no representative in the Senate.</p> <p>Those in seats of representation often find themselves fighting battles that their male counterparts simply don’t face, like representative Maria do Rosário. In 2003, fellow politician Jair Bolsonaro <a href="">told</a> Rosário that she wasn’t “worth raping” because she was “too ugly”. Although this was an exceptionally explicit case, it reflects a broader culture that stalls progress for women’s and LGBTQI rights.</p> <div id="attachment_562" style="width: 662px" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-562" class="wp-image-562 size-full" src="" alt="Sexism politics Brazil" width="652" height="408" srcset=" 652w, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 652px) 100vw, 652px" /><p id="caption-attachment-562" class="wp-caption-text">Bolsonaro to Rosário: she wasn&#8217;t &#8220;worth raping.&#8221; Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr</p></div> <p>Nor is Bolsonaro’s attitude as uncommon as it may seem: a 2013 survey found that 58.8 percent of Brazilians believed that rape would be less common if women behaved ‘properly’. Those attitudes are sufficiently engrained. In 2017, 52 percent of women who were victims of violence didn’t report the incidents to law enforcement.</p> <h3>Gender-based violence is endemic – and structural</h3> <p>Like other forms of violence in Brazil, acts of gender-based violence are just the tip of the iceberg. Progress is slow, in part because low representation means that gender rights end up registering low on political agendas. It took a full two decades of ceaseless persistence from Maria da Penha, who was left paraplegic after her husband attempted to kill her twice, before Brazil finally passed a law to protect women from domestic violence and femicide in 2006.</p> <p>Gender-based violence and femicide remain serious issues in Brazil, with the Maria da Penha law proving insufficient alone. The World Health Organization shows that Brazil has the fifth highest rate of femicide in the world, while Brazil’s public healthcare system registers an average of 405 women who are physically abused to the extent that they seek medical assistance every day.</p> <p>Ministry of Health data also showed that the number of <a href="">gang rapes doubled</a> between 2011 and 2016, registering an average of ten per day in 2016. Black women are also more at risk than any other group: killings of Afrobrazilian women grew by 54.6 percent between 2003 and 2013, despite the Maria da Penha law.</p> <p>Complications from clandestine abortions also kill an average of <a href=",diariamente-4-mulheres-morrem-nos-hospitais-por-complicacoes-do-aborto,10000095281">four women per day</a>, according to official government data, with abortion regulation left at the mercy of conservative beliefs in Congress.</p> <p>Some believe that organized crime in Latin America, through gendered and oppressive power structures, <a href="">contributes</a> to the high rates of gender-based violence. But even in mainstream culture, gender-based violence and domestic abuse <a href="">continue to be pervasive</a> in Brazil. In part, this is because <a href="">conversations</a> about emotional and psychological abuse are only just beginning. However, it is also related to stubborn power structures that make reporting gender-based crime and discrimination <a href="">more difficult</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, despite its reputation as one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, anti-LGBTQI violence in Brazil is scarily – and increasingly – frequent. With the exception of same-sex marriage, few concrete political changes have been made to LGBTQI rights and little protection is offered. There is no government office or body which tracks violence against LGBTQI individuals in Brazil; instead, non-profit <a href="">Grupo Gay da Bahia</a> tracks and publishes information <a href="">daily</a>, in addition to an annual report.</p> <div id="attachment_558" style="width: 2738px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-558" class="size-full wp-image-558" src="" alt="LGBTQI Brazil" width="2728" height="1772" srcset=" 2048w, 300w, 768w, 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 2728px) 100vw, 2728px" /><p id="caption-attachment-558" class="wp-caption-text">LGBTQI protest in Brasília, 2016. Photo: Commons</p></div> <p>In 2016, Grupo Gay da Bahia found that one LGBTQI Brazilian is murdered every 25 hours, with trans murders making up <a href="">almost half</a> of these numbers. The NGO includes suicides in its numbers, because LGBTQI suicide is twice as common as hetero suicides and is directly linked to discrimination and bullying. Activists believe the increase in anti-LGBTQI violence <a href="">correlates</a> with cuts to government funding for anti-homophobia campaigns.

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