SEATTLE — For decades, Brazil has fought to alleviate poverty and address its political and environmental issues. However, one issue that the country did not expect to deal with is women’s rights. With a staggering rate of gender-based violence and the increase of women in the workforce, women’s empowerment in Brazil has become the principal issue in the country.
Starting in 2010, when the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was elected, many women have been trying to break away from the “traditional” misogynistic chains of the home. Announcing that “Yes, women can” in her inaugural speech, Rousseff has motivated women to step out of their roles in the home and to enter the workforce.
Although gender remains a “black and white area,” families and businesses have seen a shift in trends. Over the last two generations, the overall fertility rate has decreased to 1.9 children per family, which is below the level at which the population “replaces” itself. On the business side, 49 percent of new entrepreneurs of companies less than three years old are women, a stark contrast from the global average of 37 percent.
Despite women becoming owners and board members of new companies, more established companies only have about 3.4 percent female CEOs and 3.9 percent female board members. Further, women’s wages were only 84 percent of men’s, and the gap only increases with higher levels of education. Among those with 12 or more years of schooling, women earned merely 58 percent of men’s salaries. For the most part, the wage gap appears to reflect discriminatory practices and social norms.
However, as more women finish school and enter the workforce, this trend should continue to increase. In fact, the illiteracy rate for women 15 years and older has decreased from 20.3 percent in 1991 to 9.8 percent in 2008. The estimated literacy rate today in Brazil is 92.06 percent. Additionally, the share of the female labor force with tertiary education increased from 7.4 percent in 1992 to 11.9 percent in 2008, and now is higher than males.
While women’s empowerment in Brazil has been more geared toward equal pay, education and equal opportunities in the workforce, laws that address gender-based violence are also at the forefront of the movement.
In an effort to stop violence against women, President Rousseff has set into place two very important laws. The first, the Maria da Penha Law, was created in 2006 after de Penha’s husband attempted to murder her twice. The law establishes special courts and stricter sentences for offenders, but also other instruments for the prevention and relief in cities of more than 60,000 inhabitants, such as police stations and shelters for women.
The other law was created as a part of the U.N. Women’s Step it Up campaign. The signed law criminalizes femicide, the gender-motivated killing of women, and sets tougher penalties for those responsible for such crimes. It also redefines “femicide” as any crime against women, including abuse, discrimination and death. If found guilty of any these laws, offenders could face 12-30 years of imprisonment.
Both laws come at a time where Brazil has seen a staggering amount of domestic violence. Between 1980 and 2010, more than 92,000 women were killed in Brazil. According to the 2012 Brazilian map of violence, the number of female deaths rose from about 1,400 to 4,700, a 230 percent increase, which ranked Brazil seventh in the world in female deaths.
Although Brazil has a long way to go toward eliminating female violence and creating equal opportunities in the workplace, women’s empowerment in Brazil has created many opportunities for women to pursue an education and break out of misogynistic roles at home to become working powerhouses.
– Amira Wynn