“Gender ideology is the devil’s work”: how to reconstruct Brazil’s economy under Bolsonaro?

Reconstruct Brazil’s economy
under Bolsonaro

4 min read
Foto: Unsplash/ Marina Vitale

Brazil was built on slavery and patriarchy. The effects of these fundamentals are still visible, for example with the country presenting high rates of femicide, a large share of its Black women in the informal labour market and a huge income inequality. Although the 1988 Federal Constitution was enacted – to counter the effects of the military dictatorship, which ended in 1985 - much was still to be done. But the countering of racial and gender inequalities has been eclipsed by a generalized budget cut to social spending since 2015, which has made the Brazilian population even more vulnerable.

During the Covid-19 crisis Brazil is still facing, gender inequalities have gained the spotlight. Since early 2020, when the virus reached Brazil, the country has seen the closing of schools and day care centres, the increase in domestic work and in domestic violence and an impoverishment especially of (black) women, hit by the impacts of the crisis in the informal labour market. During the crisis, gender inequality has become more pronounced and more visible.

Even so, during the crisis, Brazil’s Federal Government (led by President Jair Bolsonaro) has had close to zero gender lens in promoting emergency public policies, because it does not even believe in gender inequalities as a social issue, rather than a “natural” or “God-given” fact, as other authoritarian regimes worldwide. In 2019, at an evangelical rally, Bolsonaro declared that “gender ideology is the devil’s work”. With such an ideal, what can one expect of public policies? Under Bolsonaro, since 2019, the budget allocated to gender issues has been shrinking even further, but also the policies put in place are changing to a conservative view, under the Minister Pastor Damares Alves, currently at the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights. And, under Bolsonaro and Covid-19, the only public policy with a gender lens was the “Auxílio Emergencial” (Emergency Benefit – EB), a temporary cash transfer programme aimed at those at extreme poverty and at those in the informal labour market. EB was only implemented because of pressure both from the National Congress and from society. Its gender lens is due to a double benefit given to single mothers. However, as 2020 ended and Brazil faced the worst of the healthcare crisis in early 2021, the government abruptly cut the benefit, leaving the poor and vulnerable at strand. The EB was only resumed in April 2021, but with much lower values.

Several public policies which could have been proposed and enacted during the crisis to counterbalance the gender effects of the crisis were not mobilized. Due to this approach of not taking gender inequalities (but also racial, regional and social inequalities) into account during the crisis, they are set to rise in Brazil as those in a privileged position stand out. Had the government been more proactive in counteracting the effects of the crisis – which exacerbates gender inequalities – during the crisis, the situation for women could have been better. However, inequalities are increasing and therefore demand an extra effort after the crisis if the society agrees on the need to reduce them.

As Brazil is still under the effects of Covid-19 (only 28% of the population fully vaccinated), it is still difficult to talk of “reconstruction”. However, the hint given by the government in the 2021 budget is worrisome: Jair Bolsonaro sent a budget proposal for 2021 disregarding the need to counterbalance the effects of Covid-19, as if the pandemic was already over and as if there was no need of new policies to compensate the loss of jobs and well-being during the crisis. Preference was again given to fiscal austerity, not to lives and livelihoods. In this sense, there was (and is, in the near future), little scope for a gender lens of the reconstruction of the Brazilian economy. Unless social pressure on the government grows.

Read the article in Italian