Women in Brazil

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Women in Brazil
Dilma Rousseff - foto oficial 2011-01-09.jpg
The first woman to become President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value 0.447 (2012)
Rank 85th out of 148
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 56
Women in parliament 9.6% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 50.5% (2010)
Women in labour force 59.6% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.6949 (2013)
Rank 62nd out of 136
Brazilian Top Model Gisele Bündchen
Brazilian Painter Tarsila do Amaral

This article considers the roles and rights of women in Brazil.

Politics and law[edit]

Women in Brazil enjoy the same legal rights and duties as men, what is clearly expressed in the 5th article of Brazil's 1988 Constitution.[3] A cabinet-level office, the Secretariat for Women's Affairs, oversees a special secretariat that has responsibility to ensure the legal rights of women. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages, there were significant wage disparities between men and women. However, many women have been elected mayors and many women have been federal judges. The first female assumed office in the Senate in 1979. Women became candidates for vice president for the first time in 1994. As of 2009, only 9% of the seats in the national parliament were held by women.[4]

On November 21, the World Economic Forum released a study indicating that the country had virtually eradicated gender differences in education and health treatment but that women still lagged behind in salaries and political influence. According to the Labor and Employment Ministry, women were paid 30 percent less than men. In 2005, UN Special Rapporteur Despouy noted a strikingly low level of women's representation in the judicial system, where women occupied "only 5 percent of the top posts in the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office."[5]


Women gained the right to vote under the same literacy requirements as men in 1932.[6] The Brazilian women's suffrage movement was led by biologist Bertha Lutz.[6] In 2006, women accounted for 51.5% of all Brazilian voters.[7] (Voting is mandatory in Brazil for literate citizens.) Although there's major participation of women in the elections, the percentage of women who become Federal deputies is still very low, accounting for only 8.8%.[7]


As far as education is concerned, the literacy rate for women is slightly higher than those for men. Female literacy rate (as defined as 15 years of age or older with the ability to read and write) was 88.8% in 2004.[8] Male literacy rate was 88.4%.[8]

Women already represent more an undisputed majority in many of the college courses. In the areas of Health and Human Sciences, they account for 66% and 71% of all students, respectively. Besides, as a whole, 53% of all Brazilians who are in universities are women.[9] The progresses in education for women have started some decades ago, but, in fact, since the 1930s women have had a higher number of years in school, in average, than men when it refers to the lower levels of scholarity, and, since the 1970s, they surpassed men in the higher levels, as well.[7]

Until the mid-to-late nineteenth century, education for girls focused on domestic skills.[6] In 1879, Brazilian institutions of higher learning admitted upper-class, mostly urban, white women- while the rest of the female population remained illiterate.[6] Currently the literacy rates between men and women are relatively proportionate to the population[6] and the level of education of women is now greater than that of men.

In 1970, there were approximately 19,000 women professionals in Brazil, including engineers, architects, dentists, economists, professors, lawyers, and doctors. By 1980, there were about 95,800 women in these fields.[10]

However, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, psychology, literature, and arts classes are composed almost entirely of women, in contrast to agriculture and national defense courses, in which extremely low numbers of women are enrolled.[11]


Export agriculture and largely feminized labor forces in Latin America has expanded significantly in the last three decades.[12] Research has illustrated how farms in northeast Brazil purposefully construct gendered divisions of labor and how women often experience worse pay and conditions than men.[13]

According to The World Bank, 42% of people employed in the non-agricultural sector were women.[14]

The law provides 120 days of paid maternity leave to women and seven days to men. The law also prohibits employers from requiring applicants or employees to take pregnancy tests or present sterilization certificates, but some employers sought sterilization certificates from female job applicants or tried to avoid hiring women of childbearing age. Violations of the law are punishable by jail terms for employers of up to two years, while the company may be fined 10 times the salary of its highest-paid employee.[5]

Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in jail. The law encompasses sexual advances in the workplace or in educational institutions and between service providers or clients. In the workplace it applies only in hierarchical situations, where the harasser is of higher rank or position than the victim. Although the legislation exists and was enforced, accusations remained rare, and the extent of the problem was not documented.[5]



The legal minimum age for marriage without parents assistancy is 18 for both women and men.[15] The average age at first marriage is 22.6 years for women and 25.3 years for men.[16]

In the past, under Brazil's civil code, the husband was the legal head of the family, with complete authority over children and family decisions.[17] Nowadays the things are pretty different, in the first article of Civil Code Article of 2002 the new direction the current legal is clear demonstrated by the replacement if the expression "every man" for "everyone". The legislature recognized that civil now a consensus that both, man and woman shall enjoy the same privileges and responsibilities towards the society, therefore, are equally responsible, or is obliged, in proportion to their property, and the support of the charges family and children's education. They also have the option to add the surname of male to female or the female in the male. Its not mandatory. Through marriage, man and woman mutually assume the condition spouses, among these duties are loyalty, which is maintaining monogamous relationship, mutual fidelity, living together in the marital home; mutual assistance; support, custody and education of children; mutual respect and consideration.


Divorce became legal in Brazil in 1977, with the law permitting each person only one divorce in a lifetime and only after a three -year legal or five-year de facto separation.[11] This condition was lifted in 1988.[11] Men can remarry immediately after the divorce papers are signed, but women must delay their marriage for 270 days.[10]

Religion and spirituality[edit]

Women have been suppressed and excluded from participation in public activity in Roman Catholic institutions in Brazil.[18] It has been a history of limitations, but with an exception: women, particularly those of indisputable African lineage, have dominated the syncretistic Afro-Brazilian religious groups.[18]

There are Afro-Brazilian religions that combine elements of African tribal religions, Amerindian religions, Catholicism, and Kardecism (French Spiritism)that are women centered [19] The main features include curing and public rituals in which female mediums are possessed by spirits.[19] These religions coexist with Catholicism.

Health and sexuality[edit]

Reproductive rights are a critical issue in Brazil. Major health problems have been caused by back-street abortions and attempts to make sterilization the main form of contraception for women.[20]

The oldest and largest foreign-funded private organization with a population control program is the Family Welfare in Brazil (BEMFAM), which is funded by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.[20]

While adult prostitution is legal, various associated activities, such as operating a brothel, are illegal. While no specific laws address sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses, such as pedophilia and corruption of minors. The government released a "code of conduct to combat sex tourism and sexual exploitation" and conducted campaigns in the most affected areas. The states of Pernambuco, Espírito Santo, Amazonas and Paraná and the Federal District enacted laws requiring certain businesses to display signs listing the penalties for having intercourse with a minor. Rio de Janeiro and Bahia states had previously enacted similar legislation.

Women's groups reported that prostitutes encountered discrimination when seeking free medical care. Trafficking of women for the purpose of prostitution is a serious problem, and it is known that international criminal groups and mafias are involved in this activity.[5]


The prevalence of female sterilization in Brazil is among the highest in the world.[21] The most widely used method of contraception in 1996, relied on by 40% of women in union, was female sterilization. This single method was responsible for more than half (52%) of all contraceptive use in Brazil. The only other method used by a considerable proportion of women was the pill (21%).[22]

According to a 1996 study, "sterilized women who were young at the time they had the surgery and those who had limited knowledge of sterilization and other contraceptive options are more likely than other women to seek a reversal of the procedure." [21] A 2003 study in Campinas concluded that "in order to reduce the number of young women who choose surgical sterilization over equally effective, but reversible methods, it is necessary to act early in life." [23]

Violence against women[edit]

Though prohibited by law, domestic violence in Brazil is said by some[who?] to remain widespread and underreported. There is a tendency to blame the victims of these offenses, and most criminal complaints regarding domestic violence are suspended inconclusively.[citation needed] The government has acted to combat violence against women, particularly by creating police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. While many of these stations have fallen far short of standards and lack strategies to protect victims after the reports were filed, they nevertheless have raised public awareness of crimes against women.[5] The recent Lei Maria da Penha (Maria da Penha Law, which was named as a tribute to Maria da Penha, a woman who became paraplegic after she was beaten by her violent husband and fought for the approval of this law) was sanctioned in 2006 and marks an effort to make the imprisonment of violent husbands more rigid and guaranteed in order to prevent domestic violence and avoid impunity.[24]

Rape is illegal and punishable by eight to 10 years imprisonment. However, few rapists are brought to trial or convicted. Marital rape, though technically illegal, is not commonly viewed by the courts as a crime.[11]

Racial inequality[edit]

There are serious and controversial issues about differences in the situation of women with different races and ethnicities in Brazil. As a whole, black and Amerindian women enjoy considerably less quality of life than white women, but this reflects the general characteristics of the social and economic gap that has separated social classes in Brazil for centuries, thus not indicating any specific problem about gender and women's rights. Black women's life expectancy, in 2004, was 69.52 years, while white women could expect to live 73.80 on average. However, there is, at least apparently, no legal or institutional circumstance that generates those ethnic differences, but lower standards of life have always been related to a much larger percentage of mulatto, black and Amerindian people in Brazil, as in many other countries. That said, in the last years, there is a tendency of soft decrease in Brazil's racial inequality.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Human Development Report". United Nations Development Programme. 2013. p. 156. 
  2. ^ "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013". World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13. 
  3. ^ http://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide/nations/brazil.php
  4. ^ http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crname=Brazil
  5. ^ a b c d e Report on Human Rights Practices 2006: Brazil. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (March 6, 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ a b c d e Lind, pg. 102.
  7. ^ a b c José Eustáquio Diniz Alves* (2007). "PARADOXOS DA PARTICIPAÇÃO POLÍTICA DA MULHER NO BRASIL". 
  8. ^ a b https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/br.html
  9. ^ Simon Schwartzman (1990). "A diferenciacao do ensino superior no Brasil". 
  10. ^ a b Winter.
  11. ^ a b c d Neft, Naomi; Levine, Ann D. (1997). Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. Random House. pp. 210-220. ISBN 0-679-78015-7
  12. ^ Selwyn, B. (2010). "Gender Wage Work and Development in North East Brazil". Bulletin of Latin American Research 29 (1): 51–70. doi:10.1111/j.1470-9856.2009.00311.x. 
  13. ^ Selwyn, B. (2010). "Gender Wage Work and Development in North East Brazil". Bulletin of Latin American Research 29 (1): 51–70. doi:10.1111/j.1470-9856.2009.00311.x. 
  14. ^ http://data.worldbank.org/country/brazil
  15. ^ Neft, Naomi; Levine, Ann D. (1997). Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. Random House. pp. 210-220. ISBN 0-679-78015-7
  16. ^ Neft, Naomi; Levine, Ann D. (1997). Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. Random House. pp. 210-220. ISBN 0-679-78015-7
  17. ^ Neft, Naomi; Levine, Ann D. (1997). Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. Random House. pp. 210-220. ISBN 0-679-78015-7
  18. ^ a b Myscofski, C. (1985). "Women's religious roles in Brazil: A history of limitations". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 1 (2): 43. 
  19. ^ a b Burn, Shawn Meghan. Women Across Cultures. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Print.
  20. ^ a b Caipora Women's Group. Women in Brazil. London: Latin America Bureau (Research and Action), 1993. Print.
  21. ^ a b "At risk of regret". International Family Planning Perspectives 23 (1): 2. 1996. 
  22. ^ Remez, L. (1997). "More than half of all Brazilian contraceptive users rely on sterilization". International Family Planning Perspectives 23 (4): 184. doi:10.2307/2950845. 
  23. ^ Tamkins, T. (2004). "In Brazil, Women Who Lack Knowledge About Fertility Control Are Those Most Likely to Become Sterilized". International Family Planning Perspectives 30 (2): 102–103. 
  24. ^ http://www.americansforunfpa.org/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=878
  25. ^ PNUD Brasil

Further reading[edit]

  • Lind, Amy. (2003). "Brazil." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Women's Issues Worldwide. Vol. 2. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-32787-4
  • Winter, Jane Kohen. (1993). Women in Society: Brazil. Times Books International. ISBN 1-85435-558-9
  • Neft, Naomi; Levine, Ann D. (1997). Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries. Random House. pp. 210–220. ISBN 0-679-78015-7
  • Burn, Shawn Meghan. (2005). Women Across Cultures. 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-282673-8
  • Caipora Women's Group. (1993). Women in Brazil. Latin America Bureau. ISBN 0-906156-79-3

External links[edit]