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Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced measures Wednesday seeking to promote and protect women after years of setbacks in their causes blamed in part on a rise in far-right forces.
At a ceremony in the capital, Brasilia, Lula presented a package of over 25 measures, the most significant of which is a bill that would guarantee equal pay for women and men who perform the same jobs.
He also announced plans to spend $72 million to build domestic violence shelters and $19 million for science projects led by women.
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The president has expressed his indebtedness for the votes of women who helped him beat incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. And on Wednesday he blamed his predecessor for policy decisions that harmed Brazilian women.
“The previous government lacked respect when it opted for the destruction of public policies, cut essential budgetary resources and tacitly motivated violence against women,” said the president, flanked by his female ministers, for the ceremony on International Women’s Day.
Of Lula’s 37 ministers, a record-high 11 are women. During most of his administration, Bolsonaro had just two female ministers.
Several of Lula’s announced measures, including the spending on shelters and science projects, are by decree. However, others require congressional approval and given that Lula’s legislative base has yet to be consolidated it is difficult to gauge whether he will have enough votes, said Beatriz Rey, a senior researcher at the Center for Studies on the Brazilian Congress at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
“It is possible that some support beyond party lines will help the administration on this specific issue of salary equality,” Rey said in a telephone interview.
Advocates say the policies of Bolsonaro’s administration dovetailed with the spread of extremism in Brazil, which together contributed to the deterioration of gender equality.
“Bolsonaro was not the cause of this; he was the symptom of something bigger, which is the consolidation and rise of the far-right in Brazilian society,” said Samira Bueno, executive director of Brazilian Forum on Public Security, a non-profit that last week published a report showing an 18.4% rise in all forms of gender-based violence in 2022.
Bueno told The Associated Press that such forces have been gathering over the past decade, as an example pointing to the School Without Party movement that encouraged parents and children to report teachers attempting to teach sexual education and women’s rights.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva used International Women’s Day to stump for dozens of new state expenditures aimed at funding women’s interests. (MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images)
And Bolsonaro’s loosening of gun controls spurred domestic violence, Bueno said. In 2022, 5.1% of women said they were threatened with knives or firearms, as opposed to 3.1% in 2021, according to her group’s recent report.
“This uptick didn’t happen randomly. It happened because you had a federal government policy to allow more civilians to own and carry firearms,” Bueno said.
On Jan. 1, Lula’s first day on the job, he rolled back some of Bolsonaro’s decrees to loosen gun control. His government also required civilians to register their guns with the Federal Police by a deadline later this month; as of mid-February just a fraction had done so as the pro-gun lobby aligned with Bolsonaro pushes back on the registration effort.
Among campaigners and civil society, there is also an expectation that Lula will restart policies and programs that worked in the past but were affected by budget cuts. That includes revitalization of the national hotline for domestic violence victims, which lost funding during the Bolsonaro government.
A study published in March 2022 by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, a Brasilia-based non-profit, showed funding for the hotline fell 42% to 25.8 million reais from 2019 to 2021. The same study found that the amount budgeted for the Ministry of Women and Human Rights to fight gender violence in 2022 was the least in four years.
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And, in 2021, only 0.01% of the Justice Ministry’s National Public Security Fund went towards programs to fight gender violence; a law passed last year established a 5% minimum.
Speaking to the AP on Wednesday in Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo’s second-largest favela, or slum, Juliana da Costa Gomes lamented the impact of Bolsonaro’s government in increasing domestic violence and diminishing the cause for women.
“But I think we are living in another moment,” said Gomes, 37, who in 2017 founded a program to provide professional training to women in vulnerable situations, roughly a decade after helping to establish the favela’s womens’ association. “It’s a moment of hope, for a new Brazil that can be better for women.”
At the ceremony on Wednesday, Lula also issued a decree to guarantee distribution of free menstrual pads for all poor and vulnerable women; Bolsonaro in 2021 vetoed a bill that had sought to do the same.
Lula was joined by first lady Rosângela da Silva, known as Janja, who has been a constant presence at both his private meetings and public events. She recently took an official position within his government, liaising with ministries as well as advising the president.
By contrast, Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle, remained out of view during the first three years of his administration, emerging during the 2022 campaign in an effort to drum up votes from women and evangelicals.
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“If it depended on this government, inequality would end today by decree. But it is necessary to change policies, mentalities and an entire system built to perpetuate male privileges. And this, my friends, is only possible with a lot of fight,” Lula said.