Overcoming the odds: The relentless struggle of black women


Note from BW of Brazil: Today’s article represents yet another perfect example of the blog’s objective: Analyzing Brazil from the racial perspective with a special focus on the struggles and triumphs of black women. The piece below is actually from November of 2013, during the Month of Black Consciousness, but it’s still important material that provides insight into “the struggle”. Analyzing the comments that this blog receives both here and in social networks, we perceive that 1) many people are surprised to know how much race/color factors into Brazilian society or 2) others believe there is too much focus on the racial aspect. Note to those who write comments of the second type. This blog’s focus IS analyzing Brazil from the perspective of race. This material is presented here because these issues exists. If they didn’t, perhaps the news presented here wouldn’t be necessary. For those interested, please proceed to today’s report below. 

The relentless struggle of black women

By Thathiana Gurgel

On November 20 the National Day of Black Consciousness is celebrated in Brazil. On the same date in 1695, Zumbi dos Palmares, the last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares (one of the most important in the colonial period), was killed. 125 years after the abolition of slavery, the inclusion of black people and, more specifically, black women in Brazilian society, continues to be hampered by the remnants of this historic inequality, on which the commemorative date invites us to reflect.

The IBGE indexes from August 2013, concerning the unemployment rate as a percentage of the economically active population, reflect this inequality in the labor market. The unemployed represent 6.4% of the black population, against 4.3% of the white population. Configured by gender, unemployment affects 8% of black women, compared to 5% of white women, 5% of black men and 3.7% of white men.

Photo: personal archive - Thula Pires was the first in her family to complete her master's and Ph.D
Photo: personal archive – Thula Pires was the first in her family to complete her master’s and Ph.D

For Professor of Law at PUC-Rio (1), Thula Pires, 33, the indicators show that the social position of the black woman is still a subordinate place. “Black women represent the highest rate of illiteracy and unemployment and the lowest rate of non-domestic formal jobs (public or private),” says Thula, that have “a trajectory that doesn’t reflect, even remotely, the trajectory of black Brazilian women.” Thula studied in private schools and did her graduate studies at PUC-Rio, also a private university.

Cleonir Alves or Tia Gaúcha (2) (as she is known), 72, chairman of the Conselho de Mulheres da Zona Oeste (Council of Women of the West Zone or COMZO), has a trajectory closer to the reality of most black Brazilian women. She came from Rio Grande do Sul, with her husband, to “try life” in Rio. Right away, she got pregnant and had eight children, although only six have survived. During her first year in Rio, she came to spend nights on the street, even pregnant, having nowhere to sleep, to get her first job as a maid.

Photo: Thathiana Gurgel - Tia Gaúcha raised their six children alone and now campaigns for the empowerment of women in the West Zone
Photo: Thathiana Gurgel – Tia Gaúcha raised their six children alone and now campaigns for the empowerment of women in the West Zone

The president of COMZO studied up to the 8th grade and loves to read, to get informed. Along with her husband, they’ve lived in the Cidade de Deus (3), in Realengo, Bangu and in Santa Cruz, where they established themselves for 22 years. Tia Gaúcha’s husband died when the eldest son of the couple was 16. Alone, she had to work hard to raise and sustain their six children, accumulating the affairs of the house with her working day in family homes, a profession that occupied almost her whole life.

The “Gaúcha de Atitude” (Gaúcha with attitude) as she’s known in social networks “because when she has to speak, she really speaks”, fought all her life and went through a lot of racial affronts. As a teenager, her dream was to be a singer. By participating in a radio contest, she overheard the jury saying, “this negrinha (black girl) (4) sings well, but is too ugly to represent Rio Grande do Sul.” Tia Gaúcha revealed that this was one of the biggest traumas of her life, but that only served to encourage her to prove her value. Today, her struggle is to end violence against women and the empowerment of women.

“Racial isolation” at universities and in professional categories

When academic formation is a hindrance, professional qualification also becomes one. Thula points to one of the serious discriminations in Brazilian society: “the funnel represented by higher education demonstrates its elitism and exclusionary character.” The attentive professor, citing the Fichário das Desigualdades Raciais do LAESER/UFRJ (Racial Inequality of LAESER/UFRJ File), the schooling rate of young Brazilians according to groups of race or color in 2008, for the asymmetry that arises between the schooling of blacks and whites: it’s less than 1% in elementary school, 19% in high school and goes to 23% in higher education. “In the last decade, however, had a quantum leap in higher education that can be credited to affirmative action programs of a socio-racial slant implemented on a larger scale in public educational institutions as well as in private.” Even with these programs, however, this year USP (University of São Paulo) had no black freshman in the three most competitive careers in college: advertising, engineering and medicine.

These inequalities create, within certain professions, a racial isolation. Thula said she hears with some regularity comments like: “you don’t have the profile of a law professor.” For the professor, in her case, this isolation doesn’t only appear in the academic career, but in the legal profession in general. As an example, the TRT (Tribunais Regionais do Trabalho or Regional Labor Courts) there are 487 judges in all, of which 202 are women, and of these only five are black. In the TRF (Tribunais Regionais Federais or Federal Regional Courts), there are 145 judges in total, of which 38 are women, and of these only two are black. In the Tribunais Superiores (High Courts), there are 82 ministers in all, of whom 14 are women and there is no black minister.

Student Fernanda believes in the power of education to change the inequalities in Brazil. Photo: personal archive
Student Fernanda believes in the power of education to change the inequalities in Brazil. Photo: personal archive

Fernanda Martins, 22, is on the 8th period of Social Service at PUC-Rio. Also a resident of Santa Cruz, she says she chose the course because “I admire the role of the professional pertaining to society and the individual, working in the construction of a more just and equal society, besides contributing to the individual knowing their rights and duties and having autonomy to be the subject of their history.” A way to combat oppression? Fernanda believes that education is the basic way to this transformation, and it’s in this area that dreams follow.

Source: Viva Favela


1. The Pontifícia Universidade Católica or Pontifical Catholic University is one of Brazil’s top institutions of higher learning and has branches throughout the country.

2. Gaúcho (masculine) or Gaúcha (feminine) is a resident of the South American pampas, Gran Chaco, or Patagonian grasslands, found mainly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Southeastern Bolivia, Southern Brazil and Southern Chile. In Brazil, gaúcha/gaúcha is also the main demonym of the people from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Source

3. Meaning City of God, Cidade de Deus is a neighborhood in the West Zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is also known as CDD among their inhabitants. The neighborhood is also the name and setting of the 2002 blockbuster film of the same name.

4. The term negrinha is the diminutive of the term negra, meaning black woman. Although it and a similar term, neguinha, are popular designations, the term can be accepted in an affectionate way depending on the way it’s said and the social scenario, but many black women are increasingly seeing the term as a pejorative insult.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


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