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Texts for the Estudos Avançados[Advanced Studies] magazine offer a rich panorama of the situation of women in Brazil today

A complex, multifaceted and extremely revealing portrait of the female condition emerges from the almost 300 pages of the dossier Mulher, mulheres [Woman, women], a substantial part of issue 49 of Estudos Avançados, a magazine that is issued every four months by the Advanced Studies Institute (IEA-USP), published this December. In the set of 17 texts that make it up, there is room for the presentation of hard results of scientific research about, for example, work and the different faces of violence that (still) afflicts women in Brazilian society. But there is also room for more philosophical reflections, for inspired and very personal looks at the great mythical constructions of the idea of the feminine, and even for pure poetry. And there are also pages available for new reports on well-known personages who have their places guaranteed in any gallery of extraordinary women who have marked the national scene in the 20th century.

From the passage through this diversity of texts, through this fragmentation of intents, one comes out with the surprising feeling that rarely has a magazine, without the pretension of giving an exhaustive treatment to the theme, offered such a clear and comprehensive vision of the experience of being a woman in Brazil today. As if, in the style of certain plastic proposals with photography, a full-length figure were to insinuate itself by sticking together pieces that do not necessary fit each other. To give an idea of this dossier, it is worth beginning by that which one tries to reflect by means of the word in the singular form of its title: woman. What is dealt with here is the collective, of the female condition in general, in the various articles focused on the “concrete reality of sexuality, fecundity, citizenship, work, and humanistic, scientific and artistic culture”, as the publication’s editorial explains.

Undervalued work
Let us cast an eye over the field of work: in 2001, we found women accounting for 41.9% of the country’s Economically Active Population (EAP), according to the National Domicile Sample Survey (PNAD), carried out by the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). In absolute numbers, this means that a little over 38.8 million Brazilian women were in the labor market, either as in employment of unemployed. Almost half of those in employment at that moment were working for a salary, but there was a high “percentage of women who were in employment in the condition of domestic servants (18.3%), self-employed (16.3%) or even who did a job without any remuneration (9.6%), which evidences the vulnerability of female labor”, they observe, in the article “O trabalho da mulher e as negociações coletivas” [Women’s labor and collective negotiations], sociologists Solange Sanches and Vera Lucia Mattar Gebrim, both from the Inter-union Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies Department (Dieese), the first a coordinator of surveys, and the second, a supervisor of the Union Database.

Using the data available in the PNAD, they comment that a large contingent of women reproduces in the labor market activities similar to those they carry out in the domestic ambit, “bringing up children or looking after the elderly and the sick, working, above all, in sectors connected with education and health”. Accordingly, the provision of service in these fields employed 48.7% of the women in employment in 2001. If the vulnerable nature of the female inclusion in the market is demonstrated by this profile of occupations, by the precarious contracting arrangements and by the inequality in remuneration in the year of the survey, for comparable functions, women were getting 66% of the amount earned by men, and 85%, in the case of job contracts with a formal contract, it becomes even more evident with the data on unemployment. The rates of this amongst women proves to be systematically higher than the rates for males, according to the Employment and Unemployment Survey (PED) in the metropolitan regions of Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Recife, Salvador, São Paulo and the Federal District.

It is a fact that the expansion of unemployment has been generalized and affected all segments in the last few years. But “at least from the 1990s onwards, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, this phenomenon has come to be overrepresented by women, when they started to correspond to over half this contingent, despite their level of participation being considerably lower than the men’s”, say in their article “O sobre-desemprego e a inatividade das mulheres na metrópole paulista” [Overunemployment and inactivity of women in metropolitan São Paulo] economists Guiomar de Haro Aquilini, from the State Data Analysis System Foundation (Seade) and Patrícia Lino Costa, from Dieese. In 2000, total unemployment in this region was 16.4% amongst the men and 22.2% amongst the women, against, respectively, 7.5% and 10.7%, in 1989, according to a survey under the Seade-Dieese agreement. “Black women of up to 24 years old were the greatest victims of the selectivity of the labor market, showing an unemployment rateof 43.1% in 2002, far higher than the one observed in 1989 (19.6%)”, say the authors.

Changes on the scientific front
There is some rather heartening news, though, in the vast field of labor. For example: the participation of women in science and technology in Brazil is growing, “in spite of the chances of success and recognition in their career still being small”, according to Jacqueline Leta, an assistant professor of the Medical Biochemistry Department of the Biomedical Sciences Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), in the article “As mulheres na ciência brasileira: crescimento, contrastes e um perfil de sucesso” [Women in Brazilian science: growth, contrasts and a profile of success]. It should be explained right away that the last part of the title of the work refers to a great Brazilian scientist, born in 1922 in Czechoslovakia: Johanna Döbereiner, a microbiologist recognized chiefly for her discovery of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in tropical plants that has made possible, amongst other things, a gigantic saving with nitrogenous fertilizers in the cultivation of soybeans in Brazil. Johanna,who died in 2000 at the age of 78, went so far as to be indicated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, but was not chosen. In her article, Jacqueline Leta complains about the scarcity of systematic data about the formation and profile of human resources in higher education and in science in the country. But handling the figures available shows that in 2001 women accounted for 56.3% of the undergraduate enrollment at Brazilian universities (a lot over 3 million) and 62.4% of the total of those concluding university courses.

The greater presence of women in the academic world has certainly facilitated, according to her, their incorporation into the staff of Brazilian universities, “but it is important to point out that women are still a minority in the public university system and represent today, in 2003, 34% of the total of the active teaching staff of the University of São Paulo (USP)”. The researcher also takes data from the Directory of Research Groups in Brazil, drawn up by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), to claim that “it is possible to identify a trend for growth in the portion of women” who work as researchers and researchers-leaders (coordinators) in these groups, which indicates their greater inclusion in the system, not only as students, “but as players of greater recognition and greater hierarchical qualification”. Indeed, if in 1997 women accounted for 42% of the 33,675 researchers counted, and 37.3% of the 10,474 that within the total performed the role of leaders, in 2002 they now represented 45.7% of the 56,891 researchers recorded and 40.7% of the 21,062 leaders. Accordingly, “it is reasonable to foresee that, at the next census, the percentages of male and female researchers will grow even closer and, later on, the percentages relating to the researchers-leaders will also draw close”, says Leta.

On the other hand, though, observing the tables of scholarships awarded by the CNPq, which record the growth in the proportion of women scholarship holders, but which also indicate a reduction of this growth as the hierarchical level of the scholarship goes up, she comments that there is in this the suggestion of the existence of “some kind of discrimination in the system, specifically in the question of the productivity scholarships, those of the highest hierarchical level”. The table that she presents shows that the participation of women in the scholarships for scientific initiation went up from 54.87% in 2001 to 55.10% in 2002; in those for master’s degrees, it rose from 50.93% to 52.87% in the same period; in those for a doctorate, it went from 48.60% to 48.38%; in those for recently graduated doctors, from 47.74% to 49.73%, and in those for productivity in research, from 32.07% to 32.25% in the same period.

Jacqueline Leta takes other data, referring to UFRJ, to question the chances of Brazilian women succeeding in science and technology. “Nowadays, in 2003, women account for 43.7% of total teaching staff at the university. However, they occupy only 24% of the institution’s administrative posts”, she says. Details of the election of members of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences also serve to show how much women still have to battle to affirm their presence in a universe that was exclusively male until a few decades ago. For example: amongst the 356 incumbent academics active in 2003, only 26 are women, that is, 7.36%. Amongst the associated academics, though, “certainly a position with less prestige”, they are 25 out of a total of 88, that is to say, 28.4%. Finally, for putting the Brazilian situation into perspective, Leta reminds us that hierarchical segregation in science and technology is not exclusive to countries in which academic and scientific activity is recent. In the universities of the UnitedStates, for example, in 1995 women accounted for about 46% of the instructors, 35% of the assistant professors, 25% of the associate professors, and 11% of the full professors.

From dependents to providers
A surprising conclusion about Brazilian women appears in the article “Mulher Idosa: suporte familiar ou agente de mudança?” [The Elderly Woman: family support or agent for change?], by Ana Amélia Camarano, the coordinator of the area of Population Studies and Citizenship and professor of the masters course in Population Studies at the National Statistical Sciences School (Ence), linked to the IBGE. “What appears to be happening is that women, when they get older, move on from their traditional role of dependents to the role of a provider. This, amongst other changes, such as the increase in three generation families, has led the elderly, generally speaking, to be leading a large scale social change.”This is a conclusion taken from a work that analyzes with care the changes in the living conditions of elderly Brazilian women (over 60 years old) between 1980 and 2000, taking into account color differentials and considering four dimensions of their lives: health, income, participation in economic activity and family arrangements.

And one of the facts that sustain this conclusion is that, in the families of the elderly that is, those headed by elderly women or in which they are spouses, their income contributed, in 2000, with 46.4% of the family budget, while in families with elderly women, those in which they live in the condition of mothers, mothers-in-law or have another degree of kinship with the head, their income contributed with 26.4% of this budget. The specific contribution of social security benefits amounted to 34.3% of the budget in the first situation and to 15.8%, in the second. And, “in many cases, the social security benefit constituted the only source of income of the families that, as has already been seen, are not made up only of elderly”, Ana Amélia points out.

What most calls attention in this snapshot of the innards of Brazilian society is that of the 8 million of elderly Brazilian women in 2000 (4.7% of the country’s total population, while elderly men accounted for 3.8%), just one quarter was at work in the 40 to 59 year old age group they were therefore economically dependent. It would be impossible to suppose that in 2000, thanks in great measure to the generalization of social security benefits, including in the rural area, half of them are to be found in the position of heads of family. It is worth observing as well that 17% of Brazilian families in 2000 had elderly women, and in this universe no less than 84% were characterized as families of elderly women, which indicates a sharp reduction in the dependence of the older on other members of the family.

On violence and freedom
Violence against women appears in the dossier “Violence against women and public policies”, by Eva Alterman Blay. The incumbent professor of sociology at USP and the scientific coordinator of the Studies of Women and Gender Social Relations Nucleus (Nemge) reports some results of the survey she carried out from 1995 onwards, about homicides of women in São Paulo, to ascertain how this crime was treated by the media, in the police district records and in the lawsuit papers. Amongst these results, something that calls attention is, for example, the fact that the greater part of the victims of these crimes is in the age group of between 22 and 30 years old. Following the survey of 623 incidents in the police districts of São Paulo, the state capital, with 964 victims, of which 669 were women and 294 men (and one victim whose sex was not identified in the records), the researcher also observed that “five out of ten homicides are committed by the husband, boyfriend, fiancé, companion or lover (sic). Ifwe include ex-partners, this figure grows: in seven out of each ten cases, the women are victims of men with whom they have had some kind of relationship of affection”. Eva Blay comments that “there is a remarkable difficulty” for men to accept that the woman is breaking up a relationship, so much so that “about two out of every ten crimes are committed by former partners”.

Be that as it may, it is worth registering, as she does, that there are changes in the way that the papers nowadays focus violence against women. “The content of the news item shows a clear trend of change of language. If up to the 1980s the victims were presented as causers of their own death, and there was visible support for the murderers, in the last decade of the 20th century, the news items have become more investigative, relatively neutral, and with a certain tendency to question judgements that make it easier for the defendants to escape”, she says. Nevertheless, in the ambit of the courts, impunity for the crimes remains extremely high. In a representative sample of 81 lawsuits, 50% of the cases were filed away, basically because the criminals were not identified, and 24% have been suspended, because the defendants have absconded.

The female universe, nevertheless, cannot be perceived only in these melancholic zones of its contemporary experience. That is why it is important to point out something that merits a careful reading in the Mulher, mulheres dossier, the reproduction of the words of thanks of philosopher Marilena Chauí for the homage by the Faculty of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences, apropos the title of Doctor Honoris Causa that she had received in June 2003 from the Université Paris 8. Explaining there why she had accepted the honor, she says: “In a hegemonically masculine academic world, I regard the loneliness of women as intolerable, and that is why, when called to the stage of honor, I stepped up on it for there to be women on it as well”. Worthy of a careful reading is the very fine text “O Tao da teia sobre textos e têxteis” [The Tao of the web about texts and textiles], of the highest literary level, from writer Ana Maria Machado, as well as the reflections from philosopher Sueli Carneiro, the director of the Geledés Black Woman’s Institute, about the double struggle of black women for their space in Brazilian society, amongst various others.