LOS ANGELES, California — Women represent more than 50% of the population in Brazil, but they are still paid about 20.5% less than men and have fewer opportunities in the labor market. Mostly Black and Indigenous women are the heads of many of Brazil’s most impoverished households. Studies show a direct link between poverty and domestic violence as women who are financially dependent on their partners tend to be more submissive and stay in abusive relationships for the sake of economic security. Furthermore, pre-pandemic data in Brazil shows that every two hours, one woman becomes a victim of femicide and every hour more than 500 women suffer some kind of violence. Ela Segura is a women’s training initiative that aims to improve the lives of Brazilian women.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Ela Segura’s Goals
According to ABC News, 47% of women were not participants in Brazil’s job market before the COVID-19 pandemic even hit in comparison to 29% of men who were not part of Brazil’s workforce. After the pandemic hit, 52% of women were out of Brazil’s workforce, the highest rate in about 30 years. One of the reasons for the increase was the closure of daycares and schools, which left many working mothers with no option other than staying at home to look after their children. Many women, who often also occupy positions in “hospitality, food, beauty and domestic services” lost their jobs as these industries were among the most affected sectors in the wake of COVID-19.
In addition, during the first two months of lockdown in Brazil, the femicide rate rose by 22% and reports of physical aggression dropped 25.5% as lockdown measures increased the difficulty to call a helpline due to confinement with the abuser within the home. Against this backdrop, the Rede Mulher Empreendedora (RME), “Brazil’s network of female entrepreneurs,” in partnership with Fundación MAPFRE, a nonprofit organization with its headquarters in Spain, created Ela Segura (She Safe).
The project intends to lift women out of poverty by educating them on how to become entrepreneurs and access better opportunities in the job market. As a consequence, these women will have a chance to achieve financial independence and feel more empowered and confident to leave situations of domestic violence.
Ela Segura Strategy
Ela Segura’s strategy to empower women in Brazil involves classes, mentorship and investment. The first stage consists of providing free online training: videos on finances, administration, marketing, self-confidence, entrepreneurship and communication. Participants must be a minimum of 16 years old, there is no restriction on occupation or place of residence and the participants will receive certificates.
After this, Ela Segura will select a minimum of 2,520 socially disadvantaged women to receive mentorship and food aid for six months. The final stage consists of selecting 160 small businesses or business ideas to receive an investment of 3,000 reais (three times Brazil’s minimal monthly wage) and technical guidance. Ana Fontes, the founder of the RME Institute, defines Ela Segura on the MAPFRE website as “undoubtedly one of the most robust and comprehensive projects” of the institute.
The RME Institute has fostered entrepreneurship and employability for women in situations of social vulnerability since 2017. Ela Segura intends to help “around 50,000 women across Brazil over the course of a year.”
Investing in Women is Effective
COVID-19 aggravated and spotlighted a situation that was already problematic: the violence and poverty that hamper women’s well-being in Brazil. Empowering socially disadvantaged women economically is an essential move to fight gender inequality and violence. In fact, any government concerned with the development of its society must invest in women’s empowerment. The International Monetary Fund affirms that “[i]nvestment in women’s education and health and attention to their employment opportunities and empowerment, pays big dividends in terms of economic development.”
While advocating for the Brazilian government to do more in terms of gender equity policies, nonprofits are taking action, uplifting women, socially, economically and emotionally. Although Ela Segura has just begun, similar projects have already proven successful. In 2020, for example, the RME Institute helped more than 120,000 women through four main projects. One of them is Ela Pode [She Can], a program to educate women on business matters and personal improvement skills. After the program’s end, 89% of the participants felt more confident to start their own businesses; 50% actually started businesses; 72% experienced income growth and 22% found employment.
Projects like this show that, with purpose and investment, the lives of women can improve rapidly and, consequently, the entire Brazilian society can advance.
– Iasmine Oliveira