Brazil’s Lula’s Women’s Day measures aim for backlash


SAO PAULO — Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced measures Wednesday to promote and protect women after years of setbacks to their cause that are partly to blame for the rise of far-right forces.

At a ceremony in the capital, Brasilia, Lula unveiled a package of more than 25 measures, the most important of which is a bill that would guarantee equal pay for women and men doing the same jobs.

He also announced plans to spend 372 million reais ($72 million) on building shelters for domestic violence and 100 million reais ($19 million) on science programs led by women.

The president credited women’s votes for helping him defeat incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. And on Wednesday he blamed his predecessor for policy decisions that hurt Brazil’s women.

“The previous administration was disrespectful when it chose to destroy public policies, cut basic fiscal resources and implicit violence against women,” the president, flanked by his female ministers, said at the International Women’s Day ceremony.

Of Lula’s 37 ministers, 11 are women. For most of his administration, Bolsonaro had only two female ministers.

Several of Lula’s announced measures, including spending on shelters and scientific projects, are by decree. But others require congressional approval, and since Lula’s legislative base is not yet solidified, it is hard to gauge whether he will have enough votes, said Beatrice Rey, a senior researcher at the Center for Brazilian Congressional Studies at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s possible that some support across party lines will help the administration on this particular pay equity issue,” Wray said in a telephone interview.

Supporters say the Bolsonaro administration’s policies are compounded by the spread of extremism in Brazil, which together have contributed to worsening gender equality.

“Bolsonaro was not the cause of this. it 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 the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, a nonprofit that last week released a report showing 18, 4% increase in all forms of gender-based violence in 2022.

Bueno told The Associated Press that such forces have come together in the past decade, exemplified by the No Party School movement that encouraged parents and children to report teachers who tried to teach sex education and women’s rights.

And Bolsonaro’s loosening of gun control has fueled domestic violence, Bueno said. In 2022, 5.1% of women said they had been threatened with knives or guns, up from 3.1% in 2021, according to her group’s recent report.

“This rise did not happen by chance. It happened because you had a federal government policy of allowing more citizens to own and carry firearms,” Bueno said.

On January 1, Lula’s first day on the job, he rolled back some of Bolsonaro’s decrees to loosen gun control. His government also asked citizens to declare their weapons to the Federal Police by a deadline later this month. By mid-February, only a fraction had done so, as the pro-gun lobby aligned with Bolsonaro pushes the registration drive.

Among activists 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. This includes reviving the national hotline for victims of domestic violence, which lost funding during the Bolsonaro administration.

A study published in March 2022 by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, a non-profit organization based in Brasilia, showed that funding for the hotline fell by 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 combat gender-based violence in 2022 was the least in four years.

And, in 2021, only 0.01% of the Department of Justice’s National Public Safety Fund was directed to programs to combat gender-based violence. a law passed last year set a minimum of 5%.

Speaking to the AP on Wednesday in Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo’s second-largest favela, or slum, Giuliana da Costa Gomes lamented the Bolsonaro administration’s impact on increasing domestic violence and diminishing the cause for women.

“But I think we’re living in a different time,” said Gomes, 37, who in 2017 founded a program to provide vocational training to women in vulnerable situations, about a decade after she helped found the favela women’s 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 the distribution of free menstrual pads for all poor and vulnerable women. Bolsonaro in 2021 vetoed a bill that sought to do the same.

Lula was accompanied by First Lady Rosângela da Silva, known as Janja, who was a constant presence at both his private meetings and public events. He recently assumed an official position in his government, having contacts with ministries, as well as advising the president.

By contrast, Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle, has stayed out of the spotlight during the first three years of his administration, appearing during the 2022 campaign in an effort to garner votes from women and evangelicals.

“If it were up to this government, inequality would end today by decree. But it is necessary to change policies, attitudes and an entire system built to perpetuate male privilege. And that, my friends, is only possible with a lot of struggle,” Lula said.

AP video reporter Tatiana Pollastri and writer Mauricio Savarese contributed

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