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 

  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 



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