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The growing participation of women in the Brazilian labour market is one of the most remarkable social changes in the country since the 70s. Despite the economic crises that have affected the country since the 80s, causing enormous socio-economic instability, the participation of women in the labour market is more and more intense and diversified, and shows no signs of decline.

Women working in the field, in the family productive units and in the salaried system are normally considered "husband helpers". As women enter the labour market and see themselves as workers, they no longer accept to be considered as someone who ''helps". Data from 1985 show that the family production is the largest female activity in agriculture.

The situation of women in rural areas is very precarious, and should be studied within the changes which have occurred in the past decades in Brazil: expansion of the salaried system, rapid modernization of agriculture and landownership concentration, factors which have brought about a widespread impoverishment of rural families. An increasing number of members from the same family are hence obliged to enter the labour market in order to guarantee the family's survival. Women's work in the rural areas is characterised by noncontinuity, since the absence of social services leads them to keep a balance between their productive and reproductive roles.

There is an overall tendency towards lesser engagement in activities related to agriculture, as a consequence of modernisation. Urban areas are not able to provide employment to the rural labour force which has migrated to the cities and not even to all the available urban labour force. Under such fierce poverty conditions, the informal market seems to be the solution for family survival. Squares, commercial streets, and major cross-roads have been the stage for this survival. A number of "Persian markets'' proliferate in the cities. As long as the government does not commit itself to reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the present situation will be maintained, with a great part of the population making a living out of odd-jobs in the cities and/or in agriculture.

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