Brazil women have achieved much, but equality is still a long way off

In the country, women often work three shifts a day

Published in 08/03/2021 - 12:13 By Ana Graziela Aguiar - Brasília

Being a woman means facing a new challenge everyday. A woman must overcome obstacles often invisible. Despite making up the majority of the Brazilian population (51.8 percent, as per official figures), they are forced to tackle unequal scenarios, be it in the assignment of house chores, be it in the gains yielded in the labor market. Many often work three shifts a day. They go out to work and take care of the home as well as the children. In a significant number of households, women are the breadwinners, and have to support their families on their own. In 2018, 45 percent of Brazilian households were headed by a woman.

However, even though women lead households and get bills paid, they still have to deal with discrimination. A study by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) shows that 90 percent of the global population are prejudiced when it comes to gender equality in such fields as politics, economy, education, and domestic violence.

O Secretário-Geral Ban Ki-moon (à direita) parabeniza Martha Halfeld Furtado de Mendonça Schmidt, após sua cerimônia de posse como juíza do Tribunal de Recursos da ONU (UNAT).
Judge Martha Halfeld, the first woman to serve as president of the United Nations Appeals Tribuna - UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Historic Milestone

Regarded as a historic milestone in the women’s fight for more opportunity and acknowledgment, March 8 was selected as International Women’s Day by the United Nations (UN) in 1975. Historians often link the date to a fire that took place in 1911 New York, where 125 women demanding better working conditions died at a textile factory.

In the view of Judge Martha Halfeld, the first woman to serve as president of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, there is no more room for arguing women’s rights were “a concession made by men.” Everything women have achieved throughout history was based on their work, dedication, and sweat. In her opinion, March 8 should go well beyond flowers or gifts.

“There is no room for such beliefs. [Rights] haven’t been granted; we have earned a space with perfect equality in intellectual terms at least. We have as much intellectual capacity as any man,” says Halfed, whose term of office at the court lasts up to January 2022. She should stay at the UN until 2023.

Conceição Evaristo se emociona ao falar do caso Marielle na Flip
Conceição Evaristo: In 2019, she was the recipient of the Jabuti Award, one of the most important in Brazilian literature - FLIP/Rights reserved

Books as weapons

To gain ground in both the academia and literature, Conceição Evaristo knows how much she had to fight. Her first weapon was a book, which accompanied her since she lived a hardscrabble life as a child in Minas Gerais state. “I didn’t have much in material terms. Toys were a rare thing, moving around town was a rare thing, and traveling was beyond imagination. So I had to fill the void with books. The school I attended for the first years had a great library. I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a little girl,” she recounts.

The second of nine children, the writer was raised by her mother and an aunt. Conceição, who worked as a housemaid and a washing woman, was the first in her family to obtain a university degree.

After her graduation, she pursued a master’s degree, then a PhD. In addition to her studies, she dedicated herself to another passion: writing. Her short stories and poem were published as part of the Série Caderno Negros, in the 1990s, and her first book, the novel Ponciá Vicêncio, was published in 2003.

In 2019, she was the recipient of the Jabuti Award, one of the most important in Brazilian literature. “I had to win an award to be legitimate. Before I received it, people wouldn’t believe they had a black writer standing before them,” she remembers.

March 8, she adds, is a date to be celebrated, but also a moment for reflection and constant alertness. “All women must keep their eyes open to what is rightfully ours, that which we must claim for ourselves at all times, because nothing is offered to us; everything is earned,” she concluded.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Lílian Beraldo / Nira Foster

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