Note from BW of Brazil: Today, March 8th, we pause in recognition of International Women’s Day. The struggle of black women of Brazil against racism, sexism, violence and social inequality has long been documented, but with the installation of the current government, after the overthrow of the nation’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, and the proposals of draconian measures disguised as methods to save and revive the future of the economy, many Brazilians, particularly black women, are being faced with new challenges that directly affect their lives and the ability to retire at a reasonable age in dignity. For this reason, I will amend a tried and true slogan: The struggle MUST continue!!
March 8th: Black women and pension reform
By Juliana Borges*
March 8th, International Women’s Day, is approaching in a worrying international and national situation, which ends up expanding its symbolism and representation of struggle.
Capitalism is going through a deep reorganization and a crisis that impacts both in the economic field and in the political and symbolic field. The rise of representatives of a conservative agenda has taken place in various parts of the world, from the wars in Arab territories to the advance of the Islamic State, the product of systematic Western interventions in the region, through the context of conflicts and wars in the African territory also with this political-religious configuration, the coups and defeats in Latin American countries that until then had counted on progressive hegemony, the rise of right-wing politicians in Europe, culminating in the election of Donald Trump in the United States with a national-protectionist and extremely conservative and retrograde agenda in the field of civil and democratic rights.
The kidnapping of the State by Capital has deepened, and if before necessary mediations in this relationship by a political class, not necessarily coming from the system, today capitalism has presented, without mediations, its own representations for the “management” of the State and its interests. Add to this the deepening of criticism and apathy to democracy as a political system in force in a crisis of representation and participation. Representative democracy has been counting on less and less enthusiastic supporters.
However, it is also in these territories, with the main reference being the countries of the global South, which has emerged resistance and contestations both to the economic model and to authoritarian political models. New forms of interaction, action and organization arise mainly from social networks and technologies to transpose the participation of the digital field into activism, also in the streets. Women are the front line in the processes of these territories.
It is in this sense that the 8th of March gains central contours.
Women have long produced and constructed action on the understanding that there is no emancipatory and anti-capitalist struggle without the structural struggles against machismo and racism. From the understanding of militant intellectuals, such as Audre Lorde, that there is no hierarchy of oppressions, coupled with the theory of intersectionality, women have constructed struggles and actions against oppressions that permeate all social relations and combine, inseparably, from economic oppression.
In this context we can think of the struggles carried out by women in Brazil in the last period and how they connect to this new international wave of feminist resistance.
This emergence of feminism connects itself to the emergence of feminism negro (black feminism). Articulating the necessary struggles in the country against the retrograde offensive of the coup d’etat government of Michel Temer to the international call for a mobilization of women in a fight “against neoliberal attacks” on a global scale.
Black and intersectional feminism focuses on the interrelationship of oppression, that is, it does not give up the struggle against economic oppression, but points out that they are related to others. If “race informs class and class informs race,” as well said by Angela Davis, it is at the heart of Black Feminism and in the work of women of diverse ethnicities as the basis of the pyramid of inequalities, the general and systemic struggle. In other words, Black Feminism itself is anti-capitalist.
In Brazil, no discussion can be made without relation to the racial question. It was 328 years of a slave period, having black bodies dehumanized as the first commodity in the country and the economy of slavery as the mainstay of the Brazilian economy. In addition, the very formation of national identity arises from divergences between the Portuguese elite, who arrived in the country fleeing the Napoleonic troops, and the local elite around the abolition of slavery. That is, our idea of Brazilianness and nation is constructed from the divergence by the permanence of the enslavement of blacks in the country. This is no small thing. So it should also focus the discussions and political struggle with the 8th of March.
The fight against Pension Reform is a struggle of black women
The motto of several acts of Dia Internacional da Mulher (International Women’s Day) this year is the fight against Pension Reform and the end of violence. Some of us may not make the direct connection between these agendas and the lives of black women, but they have a centrality in the living conditions of the black Brazilian black population.
The proposal for Pension Reform sent by the coup installed President Michel Temer to Congress could be summed up as the end of the access to retirement by the working and black majority of the population. The impacts will be minimal in the short term and disastrous in the medium and long term. The proposal intends to establish 25 years of minimum contribution and 49 years of contribution to access the social security system with fullness. In addition, it matches the minimum age for retirement.
In this proposal, black women, the basis of the social pyramid and, therefore, receiving the lowest wages and occupying the most precarious jobs, which mean the absence of a formal contract, will die working. The impacts of this precariousness of life are already visible. According to the survey ” Retratos da Desigualdade” (Portraits of Inequality), conducted by IPEA, while white women had a life expectancy of 73.8 years, black women had this expectation reduced to 69.5 years. In the differentiation of insertion in the labor market, black women are also disadvantaged, with 66% of white women entering the market, while 61% of black women are included (IBGE).
But differentiation also occurs in the quality of these jobs. Of the 6.6 million people engaged in domestic work, 92% are women, 61% are black women. (IBGE, 2011). Needless to say, the majority of this contingent works informally. Another factor that worsens our lives is the equalization of the minimum age. Women are the main caregivers in the patriarchal society, this entails double and triple working hours. The difference in both contribution time and minimum age was an important, if not the only, mechanism that recognized this sexual division of labor and, therefore, the effects of patriarchy on women’s lives.
The argument used is the social security deficit. A fallacy! The social security system was in balance with economic growth, hence job creation and contribution, which guaranteed revenue growth. In addition, in indicating the deficit, the government omits other sources of social security resources which, if counted, show that the system is actually at a surplus.
Inequalities increase and deepen the risks of violence. 59. 4% of the records of domestic violence in the Central de Atendimento à Violência – Ligue 180 (Violence Treatment Center – Dial 180) are of black women (2013). 62.8% of maternal deaths are black, a situation that could be avoided with access to information and attention in prenatal and childbirth. (SIM/MS, 2012). The majority of women who report having undergone some type of obstetric violence are also black women, making up 65, 9% of the data (2014). Moreover, black women are twice as likely to be murdered as white women (MJ/2015), between 2002 and 2013 there was a 54.2% increase in homicides of black women (ONU Mulheres e SPM/2015) and between 2000 and 2014, there was 567% growth of the female prison population, being 68% of black women were in prison for crimes that could undoubtedly have used penal alternatives other than jail (MJ/2015).
With the systemic crisis that we have lived on a global scale, and with the offensive of setbacks in minimum rights acquired with much struggle in Brazil with the post-coup, we are going through a moment in which the discarding of the black bodies, which remain dehumanized, will deepen.
March 8th has revolutionary origins. The date was chosen at an International Conference of Socialist Women to commemorate a strike initiated by Russian women for bread that began the process that culminated with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, being, in the post-war adopted by the UN. Black Feminism, in turn, has, as stated, a strong anti-capitalist bias towards the living conditions of black women in Brazil and in the world.
In this sense, March 8th is a date for all women, but in this scenario of deepening the sexist, racist and capitalist exploitation, International Women’s Day has strong relation and interest for black women.
Following the formulations of large and important black feminists like Angela Davis, Sueli Carneiro and Lélia Gonzalez of that it is necessary to “Enegrecer Feminismo” (Blacken Feminism), this March 8th becomes, in the face of so many attacks, fundamental for all of us. Let’s enegrecer (blacken) March 8th fighting against setbacks on our bodies and lives. Retirement stays, Temer leaves! We pause for the lives of women!
* Juliana Borges is a Black Feminist. Researcher in Anthropology at the School of Sociology and Politics Foundation of São Paulo, where she studies sociology and politics. She was Deputy Secretary of Policies for Women of the City of São Paulo (2013).