TAMPA, Florida — Throughout the world, there exists a trend of the feminization of poverty. Women and children are disproportionally impoverished. This issue is so significant that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held a session in 2002 with a primary theme of eradicating poverty through the empowerment of women. Brazil had more than 212 million inhabitants in 2019, 50.86% of which are women in a country where poverty is feminized. Race also plays a role in whether people are below or above the poverty line. However, programs are implementing innovative ways to decrease the feminization of poverty in Brazil.
Gender Inequality in the Workforce
Many experts say that the poverty that exists in Brazil is due to extreme inequalities in income. These inequalities have considerable differences between women and men. In 1981, women were paid 55.7% of men’s wages. By 2002, they were still only paid 70.6% of men’s wages. Furthermore, in 2010, the World Bank found that women in Brazil made 71% of the wages men made. This shows that Brazil is beginning to close the gap between men’s and women’s incomes. However, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality.
A 2008 CEPAL Review found that discrimination against women in the workforce worsens poverty in Brazil. This is a result of the impact that women’s lower incomes have on household income. Female-headed households are disproportionately considered impoverished households. A possible explanation as to why women make much less on average than men in Brazil is because of their professions. “Food and housing, education, health, social services and domestic services” make up 45% of female workers’ jobs. Low wages and little growth characterize these industries. Moreover, 48% of men “work in agriculture, manufacturing and construction.” This represents the segregation of labor based on gender.
Additionally, women face discrimination and violence in the labor market. Women have faced violence in workplaces, such as garment factories and the health sector. Furthermore, even if women get into competitive jobs that should have good pay and growth in the economic market, they experience discrimination in pay.
Racial Inequality for Women
Because of Brazil’s racial history, the country is home to people of African, European and Native descent. The World Bank reports that women of Indigenous descent are more subject to violence. Also, femicide is more common in the Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous communities.
Additionally, Afro-Brazilian women earn less income than white women or white men of the same educational level. According to the World Bank, “Afro-Brazilian women who complete a secondary education earn half” of what white men with the same education level earn. This shows the intersection of the feminization of poverty and the racialization of poverty in Brazil. The World Bank also reports that Afro-Brazilian women who live in low-income areas have an increased chance of early pregnancy. Social vulnerability and poverty further increase this risk.
Solutions in Action
The Brazilian government is well aware of the burden the country’s women face. One of the programs it implemented to help resolve this issue is the Bolsa Familia program. This program is an income reassignment program in which more than 11 million households have participated. The program provides a monthly income in turn for school attendance for children, child immunizations, prenatal monitoring and remedial education for children and those at risk of being drawn into child labor. The program has been widely successful in helping achieve the goal of decreasing the country’s poverty rate.
Additionally, an agreement between the Ministry of Labor and Employment and the National Council for Women’s Rights states that 30% of professional job training positions will go to women. In order to combat gender discrimination, Brazil has laws against gender discrimination in wages, professional job training and career advancement. However, these laws are not enough. Therefore, the government made a commitment to reduce gender discrimination in the workplace “by 25% by 2025.”
The combination of workplace discrimination, violence toward women and racial inequality highlights the reality of the feminization of poverty in Brazil. However, programs to increase women’s income and education are already succeeding in improving the poverty rates in Brazil and offer hope for the elimination and defeminization of poverty.
– Susan Morales