Turning the Tide

    Turning the Tide

    Of all changes occurred in the last two decades, the most impressive
    was the massive entrance of Brazilian women into the nation’s workforce.
    They are in the Army, the Brazilian Academy of Letters,
    and all the government branches. The first woman was just appointed
    to the 11-seat Supreme Federal Tribunal.
    By Marta Alvim

    Nearly sixty years ago, songwriters Ataulfo Alves and Mário Lago teamed up to compose
    what would become one of the most enduring hits in the history of Brazilian popular music.
    It was an unpretentious samba, called Ai, que saudades da Amélia, and it struck
    a chord with both male and female audiences throughout Brazil. Lago’s lyrics rhapsodized
    about a former lover—Amélia, "a mulher de verdade" (the real
    woman)—who had stuck by her partner faithfully under the most excruciating

    That samba so accurately mirrored society’s entrenched view on the "proper"
    role of females that before long, Amélia was unofficially incorporated into the
    (Brazilian) Portuguese vernacular. According to the Aurélio Dictionary (Brazil’s
    most prestigious), Amélia is synonymous with "a woman who accepts all sorts of
    afflictions and/or abuse, without complaining, for the love of her man." Even today’s
    generation of young Brazilians knows what "ser uma Amélia" (to be an
    Amélia) means, although the number of Brazil’s Amélias has since dwindled

    Brazilian women have arrived at the end of the 20th century with a long list
    of achievements to celebrate. Be they famous or unknown, they’ve achieved the right to
    vote and decide what to do with their own bodies with regards to birth control. They have
    stormed the workplace and taken over traditionally held male realms. They have demanded
    and succeeded in putting a stop to the impunity bestowed upon wife killers, who invariably
    got acquitted for their "crimes of passion" by pleading the "honor
    defense" on the grounds of wife’s adultery.

    It hasn’t been easy to overcome cultural barriers against Brazilian women, especially
    since the laws of the nation only reinforced women’s marginal role in society. Until the
    early ’60s, Brazil’s Civil Code recognized only the man as the sole head of the household,
    and it greatly restricted women’s rights concerning fundamental aspects of her life. By
    getting married, for instance, women became subject to their husbands’ authorization just
    to sign a work contract; to open a checking or savings account; to travel abroad; and she
    did not even have a say when it came down to deciding where the couple would set up

    In 1962, those resolutions were stripped off the Civil Code, and the following years
    were marked by significant changes. For one thing, women’s enrollment in Brazilian
    universities soared, and that in turn increased their presence in less traditional areas
    of the job market. However, it wasn’t until the mid ’70s that the first organized women’s
    groups started to blossom and to spread all over the country.

    The Feminist Movement

    Although the ideas of American feminist Betty Friedan and French philosopher Simone de
    Beauvoir were discussed and debated by Brazilian women in the early stages of Brazil’s
    feminism, Brazilian women’s movements have always been more active and successful in
    dealing with concrete social issues. Whereas in the United States women were proclaiming
    free love, in Brazil the Female Movement Against High Prices was demanding more food for
    the nation’s households. And while hordes of French women took to the streets of Paris,
    demanding the right to have an abortion, in Brazil the Female Movement for Amnesty was
    confronting the military dictatorship, which then ruled Brazil with an iron fist.
    Thousands of husbands had either disappeared or been arrested under the military rule, and
    women were fighting to bring them home.

    However, this doesn’t mean to say that no reshaping of Brazilian attitudes towards
    women was taking place on other fronts. The media began to openly discuss issues related
    to women’s sexuality, including some that had been taboo subjects before, such as
    lesbianism and birth control. Plays, movies and TV soap operas also reveled in these new
    sources of inspiration and reference.

    In 1980, Malu Mulher (Malu Woman) was the most popular and successful TV program
    in Brazil. In its weekly episodes, it depicted the daily struggles and achievements of a
    divorcée—Malu. Divorce had been legalized three years prior to that, in 1977, and Malu
    Mulher symbolized the doubts and expectations of Brazilian women at that time. In
    addition, none other than Regina Duarte had been chosen to star as Malu. The famous
    actress, nicknamed the "Namoradinha do Brasil" (Brazil’s Sweetheart, due
    to the docile roles she played in numerous soap operas) had been the archetype of a
    submissive woman, through the characters she impersonated on TV. So out went Ai que
    saudades da Amélia, and in came Começar de Novo (Starting Over), the Malu
    Mulher theme song by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, which became the hit of the season.

    It was also during the mid ’70s and the early ’80s that Brazilian feminists waged a
    relentless campaign targeting violence against women by pressuring the judicial system
    into properly prosecuting and punishing those so-called crimes of passion which previously
    had been committed with impunity. For centuries, Brazil’s legal system condoned the murder
    of unfaithful wives, companions and lovers. During the colonial period, a man could use
    the honor defense if he had caught his wife in the act of adultery and killed her, or her
    lover. Although the Brazilian Penal Code officially abolished this type of defense in
    1830, this practice nonetheless continued to be widely used in 20th century
    modern Brazil.

    The women’s upheaval came in the wake of several infamous, high-profile murders, whose
    victims were, among others, Angela Diniz, shot by playboy Doca Street; Eliane de Grammont,
    murdered by popular bolero singer Lindomar Castilho; Eloisa Balesteros, killed by her
    wealthy mineiro (from Minas Gerais State) husband, just to name a few. With the
    slogan Quem ama não mata (He, who loves, doesn’t kill) and by staging widely
    publicized street protests, demonstrations and petitions, Brazilian feminists managed to
    mobilize the nation around their cause. In 1985, the governor of São Paulo State, Franco
    Montoro, created the first specialized women’s police station (DEAM) to assist the female
    population. Today, there are 255 DEAMs across the country.

    However, of all the changes that occurred in the last two decades, the most impressive
    was the massive entrance of Brazilian women into the nation’s workforce. They have gained
    access to once-exclusive male enclaves such as the Army, the police force, the Brazilian
    Academy of Letters, the judicial system, and the legislative and executive branches of
    government. Just last October, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso appointed the first
    woman to the 11-seat Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil’s highest court.

    Work Conditions

    In 1970, 18.5 percent of Brazilian women worked outside the home. A recent study
    conducted by Seade Foundation (an entity linked to the government of São Paulo State)
    shows that women now represent 51 percent of Brazil’s workforce, compared to 47 percent in
    1994. The same study reveals that 43 percent of the country’s women have a High School
    diploma, compared to 35 percent six years ago.

    Another revealing indication of the widespread participation of women in Brazil’s job
    market comes from the income tax returns of Brazil’s working population. Data provided by
    the Secretariat of Federal Revenue confirm that women are active in nearly all
    professional categories and have even surpassed their male counterparts in several of
    those. (See accompanying chart.)

    In the corporate world, changes are evident as well, although women are still the
    minority in decision-making positions. One remarkable exception is Maria Silvia Bastos
    Marques, now CEO of National Steel Company (CSN). Last year, she was the only woman
    featured among the twelve most important business personalities selected by Time magazine.
    Ironically, until three years ago, the very same CSN didn’t have any female restrooms at
    its industrial unit in the town of Volta Redonda.

    Other companies, such as Merrill Lynch, are hiring an increasing number of female
    workers. Of the 244 people employed by Merrill Lynch’s Brazilian branch, 42 percent are
    women, but only a third occupies high-ranking positions. Carmaker Citroën is betting on a
    bolder hiring approach, though. Last October, the company opened a São Paulo dealership
    in which all of the employees—from management to reception and security, as well as
    all the mechanics—are female. Citroën’s decision was made after company research
    revealed that the women’s opinions are decisive in the sale of seven out of ten cars in

    However, not all that is well ends well. On average, Brazilian working women still earn
    60 percent of what their male counterparts earn in the same position. In the United
    States, that difference has been decreasing and is now up to 82 percent.

    Much needs to be done to fully implement and enforce the existing labor laws as well,
    although women’s organizations agree that Brazil’s labor legislation is relatively
    satisfactory and even more advanced than in other countries. For instance, Brazilian women
    are granted 120 days of paid maternity leave, with the State covering 100 percent of their
    salaries during that period. Other countries offer fewer days, such as Argentina (90 days)
    and the U.S. (84 days). Legislation in Australia and the United States guarantees job
    stability, but no payment of wages. In Brazil, problems arise because many companies
    systematically ignore the labor statutes.

    According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 26 percent of
    all heads of households (approximately one out of four) in Brazil were women in 1999,
    compared to 23 percent in 1995. However, rather than a sign of emancipation, the increase
    in the number of Brazilian female heads of household is more symptomatic of family
    disintegration and poverty.

    Abandoned by their husbands and companions, women are left to fend for themselves,
    usually with the added responsibility to provide for their children, as their partners
    often disappear without paying any kind of child support. The situation is tragic,
    especially among low-income women. Unable to afford private daycare centers and faced with
    limited choices of public-funded centers, those women often have no choice but to leave
    their minor children alone in charge of the household and of themselves while they are
    away at work.

    On the other hand, working middle-class women have become increasingly more dependent
    on hired household help. Approximately 17 million women make a living as domestic workers
    in Brazil. Few laws are on the books to protect these workers, though. For centuries,
    Brazilian labor legislation has systematically ignored this professional subcategory,
    where workers often toil under conditions resembling slavery. Seventy percent of domestic
    workers are black women, and the majority of them are either the primary, or the only
    breadwinners in their family.

    The average income in households where females are the sole breadwinners is only 2.6
    times the minimum wage, versus 6.3 times for families where men are the primary providers.
    Brazilian feminists have dubbed this phenomenon "the feminization of poverty".

    Political representation

    Brazilian women still represent only a small fraction of the country’s top-level
    politicians. Although a woman recently was elected mayor of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest
    city, only 7 percent of all federal deputies and senators in the legislative branch are
    women, and President Cardoso has not yet appointed a single woman to join the government.
    That could change, though. Today, 55.4 percent of Brazilian voters are females, versus
    54.1 percent of male voters.

    In the year 2000 municipal elections, women won only 11.5 percent of seats on city
    councils in 5,500 municipalities and only five of the 26 capital states’ mayoral races.
    However, the number of female mayors countrywide has increased 85 percent in the last
    three elections, from 171 mayors in 1992 to 317 in 2000.

    Until now, no woman has ever been considered to Brazil’s vice-presidency, much less to
    the presidency. If Marta Suplicy, mayor-elect of São Paulo, can prove she’s a capable
    administrator, she might become the second female presidential hopeful, along with Roseana
    Sarney. Maranhense (from Maranhão state) Sarney, Brazil’s only female governor,
    has been recognized as a skillful administrator with an exceptional ability to cross party


    Brazilian families have changed a great deal over the past few decades. One of the most
    significant demographic changes is the sharp decline in birth rate. In 1965, the fertility
    rate was 5.7 children per woman; today, it’s 2.3. According to the Civil Society for
    Family Wellfare in Brazil (Bemfam), 99.6 percent of Brazilian women are aware of some type
    of modern contraceptive method. However, sterilization is still one of the most frequently
    used methods of contraception in Brazil. Four out of ten sexually active women of
    childbearing age have been sterilized.

    This situation can be attributed at least in part to negligence in the public health
    sector, which still lacks a comprehensive healthcare program for the nation’s women.
    Women’s organizations, researchers and even government officials all lament the excessive
    use of sterilization in the country, which borders on abuse. Whereas in developed nations
    only 7.6 percent of women choose sterilization over other contraceptives, in Brazil 27.3
    percent of women opt for this ultimate resource.

    In 1986, the Ministry of Health designed a project called PAISM (Program of Integral
    Attention to Woman’s Health) that was supposed to address not only the contraception
    issue, but also intended to reduce illness and deaths among women and children.
    Unfortunately, the program has yet to be effectively implemented. As a result,
    pregnancy-related mortality is still remarkably high—150 deaths per 100 thousand live
    births. In the United States, that ratio is 10 to 100 thousand. It is estimated that 14
    percent of all pregnant women have no prenatal care whatsoever. Moreover, cervical cancer,
    which is curable and preventable, is now the main cause of death among non-pregnant
    Brazilian women. Only about 10 percent of Brazilian women undergo periodical Pap smears (a
    procedure used to detect this type of cancer at an early stage).

    Another 10 thousand women die every year as a result of illegal abortions. Still
    outlawed in Brazil, it is estimated that 1 million clandestine abortions are performed
    every year. Complications arising from botched procedures are the fifth leading cause of
    hospitalization in the country, at a cost to the State of nearly $30 million a year. Only
    recently did the Brazilian Congress pass a bill that will allow women to seek abortions in
    cases of rape or imminent risk to the woman’s life.

    On another front, there is an alarming increase in the number of AIDS cases among
    Brazilian women. International health organizations have praised Brazil’s government for
    its swift actions to prevent this deadly disease, which has dropped sharply among
    Brazilian men. However, Brazilian health officials acknowledge that they have been unable
    to stop the spread of the HIV virus among women. Two decades ago, there was one
    HIV-positive woman for every 27 men; today, there is one for every three. According to the
    World Health Organization, 100 thousand Brazilian women are now HIV-positive. Sadly, the
    great majority of infected women are married and were completely unaware that their
    husbands carried the virus. Many were infected while they were pregnant and therefore not
    concerned about the use of contraceptives. One important factor is that many women are
    inhibited in insisting on the use of condoms by their own submissiveness or by
    intimidation from their husbands or companions.


    In spite of all the victories and achievements of Brazilian women in the last few
    decades, make no mistake: machismo is well and alive, and still permeates much of
    the Brazilian mentality and daily life. Sexual harassment is a reality, but continues to
    be greatly underreported and unpunished.

    Likewise, physical violence against women is still widespread, though largely invisible
    and not reflected in official statistics. A report released by the United Nations’
    Commission on Human Rights in 1996 concluded that "…machismo, as it
    exists in Brazilian society, is imbued with the notion that violence is a natural part of
    a relationship between men and women, as an indication of passion".

    In many activities, gender taboos still prevail, and it will most likely be a long time
    before they can be eliminated. A case in point is Brazilians’ sexist attitude towards
    female athletes, perceived as being masculinized and often plagued by rumors about their
    sexual preferences. The gender discrimination extends not only to female soccer players
    but to basketball and volleyball players as well. Some athletes try to counter that kind
    of speculation by making public appearances with boyfriends, husbands and children, and
    even by posing nude for Playboy, as it was the case with basketball star

    Although more independent due to their substantial participation in today’s job market,
    most Brazilian women still prefer to share a house with a man rather than live
    alone—no matter who the head of the household may be. According to Bemfam, there has
    been an increase in the number of couples who, instead of marriage, are opting to live
    together under the so-called "consensual union". Brazil’s Constitution of 1988
    sanctioned this type of union by extending the same rights given to married couples to
    those in such cohabiting relationships. To date, 13% of couples have chosen this path,
    compared to only 9 percent in 1986.

    Marta Alvim is a Brazilian journalist, freelance translator and
    interpreter. You can reach her at mltdalvim@yahoo.com

    The Female Revolution

    Women are the majority in
    the following professions:

    Social Workers 97%
    Speech Therapists 97%
    Receptionists and Phone Operators 92%
    Librarians and Archeologists 92%
    Nurses and Nutritionists 91%
    Domestic Workers 90%
    Psychologists 89%
    Teachers 77%
    Beauticians 71%
    Lawyers 59%
    Physicians 54%

    Men and women tie in
    the following areas:

    Judicial System Workers 52%
    Biologists 51%
    Administrative Assistants 51%
    Dentists 50%
    College Professors 50%
    Architects 50%
    Artists 49%
    Civil Servants 48%
    Journalists 47%

    Women are the minority in
    the following segments:

    Engineers 9%
    Agronomists 9%
    Metal Workers 3%
    Chemists 2%
    Bricklayers 1%
    Pilots 1%
    Longshoremen 0.5%
    Mechanics 0.5%

    Source: Secretariat of Federal Revenue


    The Trailblazers

    1534 — Ana Pimentel takes on the administration of São Vicente Province.

    1752 — Brazilian Teresa Margarida da Silva Orta is the first woman to publish a
    book in Portuguese. The book, titled Proverbs on Virtue and Beauty, was published
    in Portugal.

    1814 — Ana Néri, the pioneer of Brazil’s nursing movement, is born.

    1882 — Maria Augusta Generoso Estrella graduates from New York Medical College and
    Hospital for Women, becoming Brazil’s first female physician. Due to the repercussion of
    her case, Brazilian higher education schools opened their doors to women in 1881.

    1888 — Princess Isabel, Brazil’s regent during the second Empire, signs the end of
    slavery into law.

    1899 — Chiquinha Gonzaga, the first Brazilian female songwriter, composes "Ó
    Abre-Alas", Brazil’s first Carnaval tune.

    1914 — Eugênia Brandão, hired by carioca (from Rio Janeiro) newspaper A
    Rua, becomes the first Brazilian female reporter.

    1918 — Maria José de Castro Rabelo Mendes is appointed to the Ministry of Foreign
    Relations, a.k.a. Itamaraty, as the first female diplomat. Initially barred from taking
    Itamaraty’s grueling entrance examination, she eventually took the test and placed first
    in the examination process.

    1922 — Berta Lutz founds the Brazilian Federation for the Advancement of Females,
    which later becomes a fundamental tool in the movement for the women’s right to vote. In
    1932, Brazilian women voted for the first time—ahead of France, Switzerland and

    1922 — Anésia Pinheiro Machado receives her license from the International
    Aviation Federation, and is the first woman to pilot an airplane in Brazil.

    1928 — Alzira Soriano, the first woman to run for office in the country, is
    elected mayor of Lajes, in Rio Grande do Norte State.

    1930 — Gaúcha (from Rio Grande do Sul State) Yolanda Pereira is the first
    Brazilian to win the Miss Universe pageant.

    1932 — Swimmer Maria Lenk is the first Brazilian and South American female to
    participate in the Olympic Games, which was held in Los Angeles that year.

    1933 — Carlota Pereira de Queiroz is the first female elected to Brazil’s Lower

    1939 — Carmen Miranda leaves for the United States and is the first Brazilian
    woman to succeed in Hollywood.

    1947 — Dona Ivone Lara is the first female songwriter welcomed into the composers
    rank of a Brazilian samba school and is one of the founders of Império Serrano.

    1958 — Brazilian Maria Esther Bueno is the youngest tennis player to win the
    Wimbledon tournament at the age of 18.

    1961 — In Germany, Brazilian Márcia Haydée becomes Stutgart Ballet’s first

    1971 — Leila Diniz shocks the country by wearing a bikini in Ipanema Beach while
    proudly displaying her six-month pregnant belly.

    1977 — Writer Rachel de Queiroz is the first woman elected to the Brazilian
    Academy of Letters.

    1979 — Eunice Michiles is elected the first female senator in Brazil.

    1982 — Esther de Figueiredo Ferraz, the first Brazilian female minister, is
    appointed to the Ministry of Education.

    1994 — Benedita da Silva is the first Afro-Brazilian woman elected to the nation’s

    1994 — Roseana Sarney is elected Brazil’s first female governor, in the state of

    1996 — Writer Nélida Piñon is the first woman to preside over the Brazilian
    Academy of Letters.

    1999 — Actress Fernanda Montenegro is the first Brazilian woman nominated for an
    Oscar, for her role in Central do Brasil (Central Station).

    2000 – Ellen Gracie Northfleet, the great-granddaughter of an American expatriate who
    left Virginia for Brazil after the Civil War, is the first female appointed to Brazil’s
    highest court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal. (Female judges already represent
    approximately 40 percent of all Brazilian judges.)


    Women in World Politics

    Parliamentary representation of women
    in different parts of the world:

    Europe 15.5 %
    Asia 14.9%
    Americas 14.7%
    Africa 10.9%
    Brazil 7%
    Arab nations 4%

    Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union


    Ai, que saudades da Amélia
    (Ataulfo Alves e Mário Lago)

    Nunca vi fazer tanta exigência
    Nem fazer o que você me faz
    Você não sabe o que é consciência
    Não vê que eu sou um pobre rapaz

    Você só pensa em luxo e riqueza
    Tudo que você vê você quer
    Ai, meu Deus, que saudades da Amélia
    Aquilo sim é que era mulher

    Às vezes passava fome ao meu lado
    E achava bonito não ter
    o que comer
    Mas quando me via contrariado
    Dizia: meu filho, o que se há
    de fazer ?

    Amélia não tinha a menor vaidade
    Amélia é que era mulher de verdade

    How do I miss Amélia

    I’ve never seen so many demands
    Neither someone doing all that you do
    You don’t know what’s conscience
    You don’t see I’m a poor lad

    All you can think is luxury and riches
    All that you see you want to buy
    Alas, my God, how do I miss Amélia
    That really was a woman

    Sometimes she would starve by my side
    And thought that having nothing
    to eat was pretty
    But when she saw me upset
    She would say: "My son, what
    can we do!"

    Amélia wasn’t vain in the slightest
    Amélia surely was a true woman


    Começar de Novo
    (Ivan Lins – Vitor Martins)

    Começar de novo
    E contar comigo
    Vai valer a pena
    Ter amanhecido

    Ter me rebelado
    Ter me debatido
    Ter me machucado
    Ter sobrevivido

    Ter virado a mesa
    Ter me conhecido
    Ter virado o barco
    Ter me socorrido

    Começar de novo
    E contar comigo
    Vai valer a pena
    Ter amanhecido

    Sem as tuas garras
    Sempre tão seguras
    Sem o teu fantasma
    Sem tua moldura

    Sem tuas escoras
    Sem o teu domínio
    Sem tuas esporas
    Sem o teu fascínio

    Começar de novo
    E contar comigo
    Vai valer a pena
    Já ter te esquecido

    Começar de novo…

    Starting over

    Starting over
    And counting on me
    It will be worthwhile
    That morning has come

    That I rebelled
    That I struggled
    That I hurt myself
    That I survived

    That I turned the table
    That I knew myself
    That I turned the boat
    That I rescued myself

    Starting over
    And counting on me
    It will be worthwhile
    That morning has come

    Without your claws
    Always so firm
    Without your ghost
    Without your frame

    Without your crutches
    Without your control
    Without your spurs
    Without your spell

    Starting over
    And counting on me
    It will be worthwhile
    To have already forgotten you

    Starting over…

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