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Gender equality in Brazil: progress or mirage?

What could explain the discrepancy between an increasing favorable perception of gender equality and the alarming data on insecurity and violence against women and reduced career opportunities?

The rhetoric about gender equality in Brazil has never been more present, as have stories about successful female entrepreneurs, the rise of the female universe at university, news of an increased presence of female police stations, and lawsuits for sexual abuse or harassment with favorable results for female victims. Unmistakable signs of a country moving toward gender equality?

According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2023, Brazil ranks 57 out of 146 countries in terms of gender equality. This is the best position the country has occupied since 2006, having risen 37 places in the last year. The most significant improvements that have led to this rise have been in politics. Elected on a center-left platform and defeating an openly anti-feminist candidate, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made history in his first year by appointing the largest number of women to ministerial positions in the country and increasing female representation in Parliament by 2.9 percentage points.

Beyond the overall indices, gender equality in politics has also been remarkable for Brazilian women. A recent study by the research institute Market Analysis, in partnership with the WIN network, revealed that 41% of women believe that the ideal of gender equality has been fully or partially achieved in Brazilian politics. This figure represents a significant increase of 16% since 2018. An even higher percentage, comprising more than half of women (53%), believe that gender equality has also been achieved in the arts, sports, home and work.

Men are more complimentary about these advances than women, a phenomenon that has been noted for years and which may both highlight their commitment to the agenda and exaggerate the interpretation of advances that part of the female universe still considers to be occurring at glacial speed and to be more cosmetic than substantive. Could it be that the male bias in the overvaluation of gender advances is more a sign of a worrying majority satisfaction that feeds social conformism, the result of the popularization of the concept of “gender equality” in social networks, schools, soap operas, and news programs, than a reflection of concrete improvements in women’s quality of life?

The Market Analysis/WIN survey reveals the true colors of gender inequality in Brazil: the vast majority of women say they perceive that they have fewer job and professional opportunities than men (70%). Compared to 2021, the percentage of women who say they have suffered physical or psychological violence in the last year has also increased (6.4%), and those who say they have suffered sexual harassment increased by 1.2%. These traumatic experiences are known to be recurrent and underreported in surveys.

What might lie at the bottom of this tension between optimistic readings and pessimistic admissions? What phenomena could explain the discrepancy between an evolutionarily favorable perception of gender equality in the public and alarming data on insecurity and violence directed at women, as well as fewer professional opportunities for them?

If it were not for the fact that women rate the achievement of gender equality very favorably in the various areas mentioned, it could be argued that men’s perception raises the satisfaction statistics. Elderly men (over 65) and those from more affluent socioeconomic classes are three times more likely than women to say that gender equality has been achieved, especially in the professional, political, and domestic spheres. Accustomed to the scarcity or absence of women in the first two spheres, and to their submission in the domestic world, it is possible that a minimal change in this scenario is enough to make male baby boomers and those with a level of well-being well above the average consider the advances sufficient.

It is not surprising that education has a peculiar effect. Men with a high level of education, i.e., college or higher, join the chorus of satisfied men: a majority (65%) see tangible progress. Among their female counterparts, i.e., women with master’s degrees, PhDs, or MBAs, less than half agree that gender equality is close to being achieved in the domestic sphere.

This optimistic assessment of gender equality in Brazil is intensified among non-heteronormative minorities. While the vast majority of gay men (70%) believe that gender equality has been achieved at home, in the arts, in sports and at work, as well as in politics, the majority of lesbian women disagree (65%). For them, this ideal is far from being achieved, especially in politics and at work. Unfortunately, they have also suffered more sexual harassment and more physical or psychological violence.

In this context, we must ask whether we are celebrating the successes achieved decades ago, the mere formal advances in legal and regulatory systems, or the equality put into practice in the daily lives and trajectories of Brazilian women. The former should be celebrated as historic; the latter as rights; but if girls and women continue to be subjected to various forms of discrimination and gender violence, the ideal of equality is still a long way off.


Otros artículos del autor

Posgrado en Ciencia Política (Unicamp) y es analista de investigación de Market Analysis, consultora de opinión pública con sede en Brasil.

Otros artículos del autor

Licenciada en Ciencias Sociales por la UFSC (Universidad Federal de Santa Catarina, Brasil) y analista de investigación de Market Analysis, consultora de opinión pública con sede en Brasil.


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