The Pain of Being a Woman in Brazil In Brazil, poverty is mostly young, female and uneducated. Brazil has more poor women than men (52 percent to 48 percent). Thirty percent of Brazilian households, however, are run by women, today. Brazilian women from all over the country and from all walks of life are gathered in Brasília to discuss their plight. Bianca Estrella Brazil's First National Conference on Public Policy has begun talks on the "Challenge of equality for women." The conference being held in Brasília has brought together 2,000 participants who will draw up the guidelines for the government's First National Plan for Policies for Women. This is the first conference of its kind, with broad participation of women from all parts of the Brazil. Preparations have extended over various months with representatives from thousands of municipalities providing input and presenting proposals. "We hope the government will in fact establish guidelines for a National Plan for women," says Natalia Mori, a congressional aide for the CFEMEA (Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria-Feminist Center for Studies and Assistance). She says that the conference will discuss relevant issues, such as sexual and reproductive rights, the legalization of abortion, and access for women to jobs and income. Paula de Andrade, the secretary of AMB (Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras-Brazilian Women's Articulation), another women's organization, praised the diversity present at the conference. She points out that participants are from all parts of the country, age and ethnic groups, educational levels, religions, sexual orientations and socio-cultural classes. Such diversity, she says, strengthens the conference and the influence it should have on the final plan for Pulbic Policy for Women. "We want solutions that do not treat economic policy as something separate from social policy," added Paula de Andrade. "We seek policies that will involve the government as a whole. And we want policy that recognizes the importance of women, allows them to discuss the issues and participate actively in the decision-making process." Social Inclusion Poverty is young, female and uneducated. In Brazil there are more poor women than men (52 percent to 48 percent). But at the same time, nowadays 30 percent of Brazilian households are run by women. The Special Secretary for Policies for Women, Nilcéa Freire, explains that throughout history women have been victims of prejudice and discrimination. They have simply not had opportunities. And when you add other social variants, such as the woman being black, it means only a place at the bottom of the social pyramid where the suffering is greater as the population in general gets poorer. The secretary explained that the fight against inequality because of sex or race cannot be waged only through general policies, such as economic growth to create jobs and income. "It is necessary to work within general policies on specific problems in order to achieve equality. Today it is unimaginable to seek sustainable economic growth without the talent, effort and determination of 52 percent of the population-its women," declared the secretary. Challenges for Women President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, speaking at the opening of the First National Conference on Policy for Women, declared that after years of struggle, women have made important gains, such as higher levels of education. But, he admitted, there are still grave problems. The average salary of a woman is lower than that of a man doing the same work. Women are also frequently the victims of domestic violence. Lula pointed out that studies show that one out of every three women has been the victim of some kind of violence. Lula went on to say that his administration is trying to promote equality between the sexes through government policies, such as the Program for Prevention and Combat of Violence against Women, a law that requires first aid stations to report cases of violence against women, and a special rural credit line for family farming. Lula added that deeds to land acquired through government land reform programs are now issued in the names of both husband and wife. Finally, Lula got a big round of applause when he said that in most arguments women are right. "They do not have to scream. They are different from us and do not have to resort to bravados. And we have to admit that most of the time they are right," said the president. Coconut Workers Maria Geruza Rocha has a grievance she will present at the First National Conference on Public Policy. She represents women who work with coconuts (there are various kinds in Brazil). Her movement (Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco-Interstate Movement of Coconut Crackers) exists in four states: Maranhão, Pará, Tocantins and Piauí. At the conference, Maria Geruza will call for a law to protect the more than 500 coconut workers in the four states, giving them social security benefits and healthcare. One of her arguments is that there are 63 economically viable uses for the oil of a small coconut that comes from the babassu palm tree (Orbignya barbosiana), ranging from cosmetics to a pollution-free fuel. Bianca Estrella works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at l...@radiobras.gov.br.