Pagina Principal  

English Report

In Brazil, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds, but this statistic does not show the true extent of the problem. Every 15 seconds a Brazilian woman is prevented from leaving her home, every 15 seconds another is forced to have sexual relations against her will, and every 9 seconds another is criticized for her sexual conduct or her performance at work, either in or outside the home.

Brazilian women in the beginning of the 21st Century[1]

Gustavo Venturi* e Marisol Recamán**


Racial discrimination and regional imbalance: a profile of social inequality

            The socioeconomic diversity that define the profile of Brazilian women make the usage of a singular indicator inaccurate, because the data vary drastically in some segments of the female population.  At the time of data collection[2], ¾ of Brazilian women (76%) lived in homes with monthly incomes of up to 5 minimum wages (and 42% with a monthly income of up to 2 minimum wages), and only 8% of women received above 10 minimum wages. However, in the Northeast, 86% of women lived in families that earned up to 5 times the minimum wage, and only 5% earned over 10 minimum wages.  Among women who were raised and still lived in rural areas, 93% had a monthly family income of 5 minimum wages, and only 1% earned more than 10 minimum wages.  Among white Brazilian women, ⅔ had a monthly family income of up to 5 minimum wages (67%), yet mixed black and white women, or black women, 82% and 87%, respectively, lived in homes with up to 5 minimum wages per month.  Among white women, 11% had family income of over 10 minimum wages per month, but among black women, only 2% reached this income bracket.

Nationwide, ⅔ of women had only basic schooling (66%), but among white women the proportion is 62%, as opposed to 82% of black women and 84% of women who were raised and live in the countryside. Nationwide, only 7% of Brazilian women attain higher education. However, 9% of white women attain higher education while this is true of only 5% women of mixed race, 2% of black women, and 1% of women who live in rural areas.  In the Northeast, 43% of women do not pass the 4th year of basic schooling and only 4% attain higher education, while in the Southeast, the rates are, respectively, 37% and 7% 

Further evidence of the inequality that delineates significant differences between Brazilian women can be observed in computer knowledge and internet access.  At the end of 2001, 28% of women had used computers – 9% stated they used them regularly, 19% stated they used them occasionally, as opposed to 72% that had never used a computer and 10% who said they had never seen a computer up close.  As far as internet usage, only 14% had used it (9% had used it a few times, 5% always used it), and 30% stated they did not know what the internet was.

Naturally, this is due to a phenomenon that shows a clear generational contrast: among adolescents (15 to 17 years of age), although half had never used a computer (48%) and ¾ had never had access to the Internet (77%), only 5% had never seen a computer up close (13% used computers regularly) and 21% did not know what the internet was.  These figures were gradually worse for each consecutive age range.  Even in women between 35 and 44, which represents the largest portion of women in the Economically Active Population (PEA) (67%), 77% of them had never used a computer (9% had never seen a computer up close, and only 8% used computers regularly), and 29% did not know what the world wide web was. Among older Brazilian women (60 years old or more), 98% had never used a computer, 23% had never seen a computer up close, and 57% did not know what the internet was.

Beyond generational differences, regional, racial, and social inequalities again make themselves present when examining frequent computer use: 11% of women in the South of Brazil and 15% of women in capital cities, as compared to 5% of women in the Northeast and 2% of rural residents; 12% of white women and 39% of women with monthly salaries of more than 10 minimum wages, as compared to 7% of women of mixed race (black and white) and 5% of black women, and only 1% of women with a monthly salary of up to two minimum wages. In October 2001, 16% of Southern women had ever navigated the internet, 24% of residents of capital cities, 17% of white women, and 60% of Brazilian women with monthly salaries above 10 minimum wages; 8% of Northeastern women, 3% of rural residents, 4% of black women, and 2% of women with monthly salaries of less than two minimum wages had ever used the internet.

Discrimination in the workforce, double shifts, and domestic violence

In contrast to the differences that come from regional, class, and racial inequalities, Brazilian women share similar experiences of discrimination and oppression. At the time of data collection, a little more than half of Brazilian women (53%) were a part of the Active Economic Population (PEA): 40% were doing some type of remunerated work and 12% were unemployed.  Of those who were not a part of the PEA (47%), the majority had done remunerated work (31%), and only 17% had never entered the workforce.

When asked if they could freely choose between “working outside the home and dedicate yourself less to the home and family,” or “dedicate yourself more to the home and family, leaving work outside the home as a second priority,” the majority opted for autonomy (55%), in detriment to the traditional gender role (38%). But the research also confirms the predominance of the precarious character of the participation of women in the PEA. Of those who were doing remunerated work (40%), almost 3/5 of them (57%) were in the informal work sector, mostly autonomous “irregulars” (35%) or as salaried woman who aren’t registered professionally (15%), while less than half the women (42%) were in the formal work sector, principally as registered salaried women (22%) and civil workers (15%).

With an average work week of 33 hours and 41 minutes (38 hours and 55 minutes in the formal market, 29 hours and 49 minutes in the informal market), close to ⅔ declared that they work regularly, while ⅓ of them do odd jobs or temporary work. Including other eventual sources of salary with their remunerated work ⅔ had individual salary of up to two minimum wages per month (65%), while 40% had a salary of up to one minimum wage per month—a range within which 59% of the women in the informal sector fell, 62% of residents of the Northeast, 75% of adolescents, 76% of those who were never schooled, or 60% of those who never went beyond 4th grade; 47% of black women workers and 45% of those who were mixed black and white, as opposed to 33% of the white women.

Besides this grim picture—worse than the men in whichever segment examined, as the IBGE Census 2000 data demonstrated—the second issue that compromises the conquest obtained by Brazilian women with their growing participation in the workforce is the weakness of the male counterpart in the division of domestic work.

As a result of their participation in the PEA, close to ⅓ of homes (32%) have women as the primary person responsible for financially supporting the household, while in ⅔ of homes the person responsible is the man (66%).  At the time of data collection, 21% of the women interviewed were principal providers, in 7% of the homes their mothers were the principal providers, and in 4% it was other women (in 12% of the homes that had women there weren’t any men, including 3% that lived alone).

Among married or “partnered” women (57%), 87% reside in homes in which the principal provider is a man (in 83% are their partners) and 12% in which the principal person responsible for supporting the home is a woman (in 9% of the cases, the woman herself). Another 36% are supporting providers, which makes the participation in the family salary of 45% of women with partners. Once the partners are examined, another 10% are supporting providers, which makes  93% of male participation, as opposed to 45% of female participation, as those responsible for supporting Brazilian households in which there are cohabitating couples.

What about the division of domestic work? In 96% of homes where women live, a woman is the primary person responsible for the execution or orientation of the household chores.  Three of four women interviewed (75%) stated that they were the ones principally responsible for non-remunerated work (in 14% of homes it is the woman’s mother who is responsible) and 18% declare themselves assistants, accounting for 93% of participation in household chores. Among the 43% of single women, 54% are responsible for the household chores (in 30% of the cases it is their mothers) and 35% are assistants, accounting for 89% of participation.  Among those who live with their husband or partner, 91% are the principal people responsible for household chores and 6% are assistants, increasing total participation to 97%.

In contrast, in only 2% of homes in which there are women living is there a man principally responsible for household work (1% is the partner, 1% is another person living in the home) and in only 19% do men assist with the chores (10% being the partners). In family units in which a couple lives together, 2% of male partners are principally responsible for work around the house and 18% assist.  We have, therefore, a male participation of only 20% of the cases, as opposed to an almost absolute female participation (97%) in household work.

In conclusion, in Brazilian couples, while almost all men are breadwinners (93%) and almost all women execute or oversee work around the house (97%), almost half of women are also breadwinners (45%), as opposed to only 1/5 of men who participate in household chores (20%).  This degree of inequality in the sexual division of social labor becomes evident as the weight of the double shift.  The accumulation of paying and non paying work has fallen upon women who, either by desire or by necessity have advanced in the direction of their self-determination.

And what is the burden of the double shift? When questioned about the amount of time dedicated to caring for the home and family in the week prior to data collection, the women interviewed stated an average weekly shift of 39 hours and 36 minutes (23 hours and 52 minutes cleaning the house, cooking, washing and ironing clothes; 13 hours and 57 minutes caring for children, and 1 hour and 47 minutes caring for the elderly and sick).  The average is reduced to 27 hours and 47 minutes among unmarried women, and increases to 48 hours and 30 minutes among women who live with their husbands—as opposed to 5 hours and 36 minutes of their partners’ time, according to the women.  For those who were already out of the PEA, the average reaches 43 hours and 42 minutes, falling to 35 hours and 48 minutes among women in the PEA.  The average for women in the formal work sector is 27 hours, and 35 hours and 24 minutes for those in the informal work sector (51 hours among unemployed women). When added to the hours of remunerated work, the double shift adds up to 66 hours a week for women in the formal PEA and 65 hours for women in the informal PEA.

Like any phenomenon of oppression, however, its social reproduction would not occur if it were not for the internalization of the dominant practices and values by the oppressed.  Thus, even when complaining about the exploitation they experience in the domestic world, women do not stop expressing hegemonic opinions about the society in which they live.  Although the majority of Brazilian women (87%) agree that “men and women should equally divide up housework” (71% agree completely, 17% partially agree), at the same time they believe that women should have the final word about how it should be done (71% in agreement, 47% agree completely, 24% partially agree), and believe that “even if they want to, men do not know how to do housework” (55%, 35% and 20%, respectively).  These attitudes reveal self-worth regarding the knowledge acquired in the female world, an important element in this transitional moment of the woman’s social role—but they can also contribute to perpetuating men’s low level of participation in housework.  Confirming once again the power of the reproduction of unequal roles in society, this study reveals that in homes with children under 18 years of age, 29% of the time daughters become assistants in housework as opposed to 9% for sons. Even for women who do not live with a partner, daughters and sisters help more (11% and 15%, respectively) than sons and brothers (3% each).

Violence against women

            The other facet of the sexist standard that characterizes gender relations nationwide is expressed in data related to domestic violence against women—a phenomenon whose existence is acknowledged, but about which there is little discussion.

Close to one in five Brazilian women (19%) spontaneously declare they have been victims of some type of violence on the part of a man: 16% relate cases of physical violence, 2% cite some kind of psychological violence, and 1% cite sexual assault.  However, when different types of aggression are suggested to them, the rate of violence against women exceeds twice the previous rate, reaching an alarming 43%.  A third of women admit to having been a victim, at one point in their lives, of some type of physical violence (24% from threats with a weapon to denying them the right to come and go freely; 22% of actual physical violence and 13% of marital rape or sexual abuse); 27% suffered psychological violence and 11% affirm that they have been victims of sexual assault, 10% of which involved an abuse of power, recently made explicit in law.[3]

The most common manifestations of domestic violence are more mild; slaps and pushes (suffered at least once by 20% of women interviewed), and threats by breaking things, torn clothing, objects thrown, etc. (15%); psychological violence, such as name-calling and offenses to moral conduct (18%), systematic criticisms of their performance as mothers (18% among those who have or had children), and the devaluing of their work, either in or outside of the home (12%).  But 12% also stated that they had suffered threats of physical violence to them and their children and 11% did suffer beatings, with cuts, bruises, or fractures.  Eleven percent had experienced forced sexual relations (the majority was marital rape, still inexistent in Brazilian penal legislation); 9% had been locked in their homes, not allowed to leave or work; 8% had been threatened with firearms and 6% suffered abuse, forced to perform sexual acts that they did not enjoy.

The projection of the rate of beatings (11%) for the Brazilian female population at large (61.5 million) indicates that at least 6.8 million of living Brazilian women have been beaten at least once in their lives.  Of the women interviewed, 31% declared that the last occurrence was in the period of 12 months prior to the study, suggesting that 2.1 million women are beaten a year, 175 million per month, 5,800 per day, 243 per hour or 4 per minute—one every 15 seconds. 

            Among women who stated they had been beaten, 32% affirmed that it only happened once, but 20% said that it occurred 2 or 3 times and 11% said they had been beaten more than 10 times, or “several times.”  Another 15% said they did not know how many times they had been beaten, but the amount of time they had been exposed to this type of violence—among them, 4% had been beaten for “more than 10 years,” or “my whole life” (another 4%).  Naturally, we are speaking of the survivors.  And if we consider the fact that, despite the methodological procedures adopted to create a climate of trust in the interviews, certainly a number of women interviewed were not able to overcome the fear or discomfort of confession, one can conclude that the rate of one woman beaten every 15 seconds in Brazil still hides the true extent of the problem.

The same is true of the other expressions of violence against women that were investigated, which indicate rates that are equally obscene: every 15 seconds a Brazilian woman is prevented from leaving her home, every 15 seconds another is forced to have sexual relations against her will, and every 9 seconds another is criticized for her sexual conduct or her performance at work, either in or outside the home. 

These numbers show that violence against women in Brazil, far from being a problem that should be restricted to the privacy of a couple’s home, constitutes a social phenomenon that is widely found, and requires ample and accessible public policies.

The responsibility of the husband or partner as the principal aggressor varies between 53% (armed threats of bodily harm) and 70% (breaking objects) of the occurrences of violence in any of the modalities that were investigated, except for sexual assault.  Other aggressors that were commonly cited were ex-husbands, ex-partners and ex-boyfriends, which, added to husbands and partners, make up a solid majority.  Jealousy (many times of the woman) comes up as the principal apparent cause of violence, along with the man being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the aggression—both spontaneously mentioned by 21% of the women interviewed.

Confirming the transversality of the phenomenon, in general, violence declines with the increase of monthly family salary and schooling. Regarding explicit forms of aggression, the rate falls from 27% against women with a monthly family income of up to 2 minimum wages, to 14% against those with a salary of over 20 minimum wages; sexual forms of violence (marital rape and abuse) drop from 17% to 10% in these same segments, and forms of threats and restrictions drop from 29% to 16%. Psychological violence decreases a bit, going from 30% to 21%, when observing family salary.

In almost all types of violence, more than half the women do not seek help.  Only in cases that are considered grave, like threats with firearms and beatings, a little more than half the victims (55% and 53%, respectively) ask someone to help them—an appeal that usually falls to another woman in the family, mother or sister, or to a close female friend.  The cases of public denunciation are even less frequent, occurring in cases of armed threats of bodily harm (31%), beatings (21%) and threats of beatings (19%).  The public agency most often used to denounce domestic violence is the local police station.  The Women’s Station (Delegacia da Mulher) is reached in only 5% of cases of beatings.

Among the six proposals for public policy to combat violence against women that were suggested in this study, the creation of shelters for victims of violence and their children was most popular (43% chose it as their first choice, 74% chose it as one of their top three choices). The creation of Specialized Stations to attend to victims came up as the second most popular (21% and 60%, respectively), followed by psychological services (12% and 51%), by a free telephone service, such as SOS Mulher (13% and 44%) and by legal orientation services for victims of violence (5% and 40%).  In last place was the proposal to have TV and radio campaigns against violence against women (5% and 26%), curiously the only proposal of a preventive character among those investigated, since the other proposals only serve to intervene after the damage has been done.

Of course, other proposals could have been tested, such as an approach to the problem in schools since elementary school, as a specific discipline about human rights. The dimension of the phenomenon that was observed in this study indicates that, however necessary and important they are, setting up shelters for victims even on a large scale, is insufficient. This problem demands active educational policies that can reach our society as a whole.

In a different voice[4]

In short, people are mistaken if they think of Brazilian women today and visualize a housewife, conformed and happy with her dependence on and submission to her husband, or who is waiting to meet one.  This is not how they see themselves, and this is not how they live. The participation in the workforce, either already conquered or a goal for the majority of women, is valued over all as a means to construct their autonomy, or at least to bring economic independence in relation to men. 

When questioned at the beginning of the interview about the first thing they would do to make all women’s lives better, the most common spontaneous responses were ending discrimination in the workplace (47%), equal rights (10%), fighting against violence against women (9%), more freedom (5%), less sexism and more recognition on men’s part (5%).  These responses make up a specific area of concern, and show that women pursuing their autonomy.


[1] An earlier and shorter version of this text was published in the journal Teoria & Debate no 50, Feb-Apr/2002, under the title “Afinal, o que querem as mulheres?”. This article is the synthesis of the study “A Mulher Brasileira nos Espaços Público e Privado” (The Brazilian Woman in Public and Private Spaces), carried out by Núcleo de Opinião Pública da Fundação Perseu Abramo (the Perseu Abramo Foundation’s Nucleus of Public Opinion).

[2] Although 2 ½ years passed between data collection and the writing of this introduction, the results analyzed here are essentially the same, since they reflect structural trends of the reality of the female condition in Brazil and women’s perceptions about this reality, which have not changed considerably in this period. We opted, as a general rule, to maintain verb conjugations in the present tense, to refer to data that is sensitive to time, e.g., the precision of average family income in minimum wages or access to a computer or the internet.

[3] Law 10.224, from May 15, 2001, introduced the following statement in the Penal Code: “Sexual assault—art. 216-A.  “To coerce someone with the intention of taking sexual advantage of them, taking advantage of a position of power in relation to their job, position, or function.”

[4] Title of a book by the North American social psychologist, Carol Gillian, (Harvard Univ. Press, London, 1982), published in Brazil by Editora Rosa dos Tempos.