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The current situation of Brazilian women

The current situation of Brazilian women

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 and which have caused 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.

The entry of women into the labour market was triggered by a number of different factors: the deterioration of the buying power of wage-earners, compelling women to look for a complement to the family income; new female behaviour resulting in an increase in the expectations of consumption; the proliferation of new products; and, especially women's desire to work outside the home, thus achieving economic independence and contributing to the family budget.

During the 70s, the expansion of the economy, increasing urbanisation, and the accelerated rhythm of industrialisation resulted in a favourable atmosphere for the incorporation of male and female workers in the nation's labour force. The Brazilian society underwent great social, economic and demographic transformations. Levels of employment registered an increase and the country became more and more urban.

Profound transformations in the patterns of behaviour and in the values related to the social role of women, intensified by the impact of the women's movement in the public sphere, have facilitated and still facilitate the entry of women into the labour market. The decrease in fertility rate, the increase in schooling and access to universities have contributed even more to this process.

During the 80s, the country registered a sharp economic crisis which resulted in high inflation and unemployment rates, and in the deterioration of the overall quality of life, therefore modifying the growth scenario of the previous decade.

The expansion of the third sector, from 46% in 1981 to 54.5% in 1990, had a significant impact on the Brazilian labour market. Studies show that women are concentrated in this sector, mainly in the various service industries, commerce and management areas.

On the whole, the informal labour market provides little information about the male and female market share. However, the National Research of Home Samples (Pesquisa Nacional de Amostra Domiciliar - PNAD) reveals that the informal economy corresponds to more than 40% of the labour force engaged in nonagricultural activities. The remunerated domestic services engage 7.8% of this work force and 34.5% are employed in family or independent small productive units. The importance of the informal sector is more significant among women, due to the domestic services rendered by them. (IBGE, PNAD data, 1990).

The ''domestic responsibilities" factor subjects the access to jobs by women to certain conditions, which is revealed by the frequency with which they carry out remunerated activities in the home. In fact, women correspond to 82% of the labour force in this sector. Men hold 70% of the jobs in stores, garages, etc., and are more numerous in the public service. In rural areas, it is not unusual to find women doing sewing jobs for companies at home-this practice is indeed on the increase. They work during their "time off", using foot-operated or electric sewing machines that are bought with great difficulty. The women are paid for by the piece-work, are not registered and therefore receive no social benefits. A large number of women working in their own homes are heads of household (20.3%), a situation which reinforces the commercial activities developed within the household.

As to rural work, the family-based mode of exploitation accounts for 80% to 90% of the bean, rice, corn and cassava crops, and is responsible for the occupation of 84% of the labour force in this sector. Women working in the field, in the family productive units, and in the salaried system are normally considered "husband helpers". Besides that, women are considered "inactive" when there is no clear distinction between the domestic chores and the economic activities. However, when women enter the labour market and see themselves as a worker, they no longer accept to be considered as someone who "helps".

IBGE data from 1985 show that family production is the largest female activity source in agriculture. The units employing only family members correspond to 56.3% of the total female work force engaged in agriculture and to 39.2% of all male workers of the family production. Women working as temporary salaried work force often travel great distances to work, which means worse conditions when compared to the work done within their own productive units.

The incorporation of female workers in the different economic sectors is affected by marital status. While industry employs primarily young and single women, other branches of the economy, such as services, social activities and public administration, tend to employ married and probably older women.

1990 PNAD data reveals a new profile of the Brazilian female worker, with a larger participation of married and older women: 20% of them were active in the 1980s, while 37.6% are active in the 1990s. Therefore, the participation of wives in economic activities is Increasing.

Children are a factor of interference in the performance of the female work force in the labour market. The lack of infrastructures, e.g. day nurseries, obliges the mothers to leave children aged 0-6 with relatives or to pay a babysitter. When the children are 7 years old, they can go to the compulsory public school, and the mothers feel more comfortable to work outside the home. In rural districts, many women have no option but to take their children with them to work, subjecting them to harsh conditions.

The 1980 census showed that 70% of the female work force is employed in so-called "women jobs": secretaries, shop assistants, teachers, nurses, maids, peasants and factory labourers.

When analysing single female-headed households, one finds that they are subject to a lower income level, due to the lower female salaries, compared to the male ones. Children from these households have more difficulty to attend school and they are over-represented among the poor, as a consequence of the gender imbalance in wage-earnings.

Based on these general data, it is possible to affirm that the overall female labour force in Brazil today involves 23 million women, which represents 40% of the urban labourers and 36% of the rural ones. According to the Hunger Map drawn up by the Applied Economical Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), among the 160 million inhabitants of Brazil, 32 million are under the absolute poverty level, and 16 million of them live in rural areas

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