Pagina Principal

English Report

The Employment Study of the Inter-Trade Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies (DIEESE) points to a higher level of unemployment among women. In August of 2003, the rate of total unemployment in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, was 23.6% for women, and 16.5% for men. Between 1995 and 1998, it is estimated that roughly 150 thousand economically active women were incited to leave the workforce to wholly dedicate themselves to their children. Since the beginning of 2003, 300 thousand women have left the workforce. Women with up to three years of schooling receive the equivalent of 61.5% of men's income, while women with eleven years or more of study receive 57.1% of the income of men.

Women's Rights to Employment
and Fair Wages

Miriam Nobre*

According to the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute (IBGE), many Brazilian women do not have access to basic rights. Less than half of pregnant Brazilian women have access to health care, which causes a high maternal mortality rate in our country. Many women do not have equal working conditions in relation to men. In addition, women suffer sexual abuse, and carry a heavy load of domestic work. This year, we studied the Multi-Annual Plan proposed by President Lula, which included measures to overcome gender inequalities.

Women in the Work Force

The numbers of Brazilian women in the workforce, in both the formal and informal markets, remain almost the same in the last few years. In 2001, 48.9% of women were working; in 1999 the rate was 49%, and in 1995 it was 48.1%. In 1976, the rate of female activity was 28.8%. The 1970s and 1980s showed a growth of women's presence in the workforce, including married women over 30 years old, with children. In the 1990s, even with the economic crisis, women did not leave the workforce. We also need to consider that, in 1992, the studies began to include a variety of economic activities, such as women who worked in rural areas.

The rate of male working activity in 1992 was 76.6%, and in 1999 it was 73.8%. These numbers show a great deal of inequality between men and women. This data suggests that there are 14 million more women looking for work than men.

A good part of Brazilian workers are in the informal market: 34.6% of men and 40.4% of women do not have a formal job. Of the total employed population, 53.9% of men and 54.9% of women did not contribute to Social Security. Of men older than 60, 20.4% do not even have a retirement pension, and 24.6% of women in this age group are in the same situation. Only a quarter of working female maids contribute to Social Security.

According to the Employment Study of the Inter-Trade Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies (DIEESE), in August of 2003, the rate of unemployment in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo was 23.6% for women, and 16.5% for men.

In 2001, the average monthly income of white men was R$874.33; for white women it was R$583.09; for black men it was R$421.75; and for black women it was R$296.43. The average monthly income for families with children that had a black woman as the primary earner, was R$162.00, with 71.3% of women and 55.1% of men receiving up to two minimum-wage salaries as income.

Lula's Government: Changes for Women?

The first months of the new government were marked by economic crisis, high rates of unemployment, and a decrease in workers' incomes. During his campaign, President Lula promised to double the minimum wage within four years. In 2003, the minimum wage increased only 2%, which raises expectations for the next few years.

The so-called Welfare Reform did not address the problems generated during the former administration. It did not take steps towards including people who are in the informal market in the Social Security System.

However, the Lula Administration has asserted that 2003 is a year of transition, of sacrifice, and that 2004, with the new Multi-Annual Plan, he will launch "a model of long-term development" with the creation of new jobs and an increase in the minimum wage.

The Multi-Annual Plan (PPA) is organized into five areas: social, economic, regional, environmental and democratic reforms. Many women are responsible for operating social programs like the Zero Hunger campaign and the School Grant.

In the breakdown of the PPA, proposed by the Ministry of Education, women will have greater participation in educational programs. Today only 10.7% of children between the ages of 0 and 3 attend preschool. The Early Childhood Education Program looks to "not just finance the parents in their task of educating and caring for their children, but also orient them in how to do it." Besides appointing parents to this task, this Program, very likely, will be run by mothers and can be a way for them to enter the job market.

This policy is similar to the French APEs (Parental Educational Allocation), in which a minimum wage income is offered to parents who wish to retire from the workforce. In the period between 1995 and 1998, an estimated 150 thousand economically active women were incited to withdraw from the workforce to wholly dedicate themselves to the care of their children (Trat, Josette, 2002). Since its beginning in 2003, when this "benefit" could be accessed by mothers with a child, it is estimated that 300 thousand women left the workforce.

Another important issue for women is the struggle for wage equality. Women with up to three years of study receive the equivalent of 61.5% of men's income, while those with 11 or more years of study receive 57.1% the income of men. This numbers show a great deal of discrimination against women.

Proposals by the Women's Movement

Economic rights are increasingly present on the agenda of the Women's Movement. On August 26, 2003, rural workers of the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (CONTAG) and other organizations brought 30,000 women to Brasilia. They demanded more access to land and water, health care, to a living wage, and policies to prevent sexual violence.

Brazilian women are mobilized to demand a minimum wage income for women over 60 years of age who never contributed to the Social Security system. This proposal is called the "the housewife's pension."

The Women March began a campaign to raise the monthly minimum wage to R$730.00. In the first stages it proposes to double the value of the minimum wage in 4 years, which means an increase of 19% by May 1, 2004.

These initiatives have a core principle of strengthening the autonomy of women, which would include their financial independence and a fair compensation for their work. It touches on the profound income inequalities of our country, which include class, gender and race. To confront them, it is necessary to have the political will of our government, and an intense grassroots mobilization.

The women are ready to protest!


* Miriam Nobre is an expert at SOF - the Enduring Feminist Organization (Sempreviva Organização Feminista), a part of the Economy and Feminism Network, and a coordinator of the Worldwide Women's March