Brazilian Lula uses Women’s Day to advertise new spending plans

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Wednesday announced measures to promote and protect women after years of setbacks in their lawsuits, blamed in part on the rise of far-right forces.

During a ceremony in the capital Brasilia, Lula presented a package of more than 25 measures, the most significant of which is a bill that would guarantee equal pay between women and men who do the same jobs.

She also announced plans to spend $72 million to build domestic violence shelters and $19 million on women-led science projects.


The president voiced his debt to the women’s votes that helped him beat incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the 2022 election. And on Wednesday he accused his predecessor of policy decisions that harmed Brazilian women.

“The previous government was disrespectful when it opted for the destruction of public policies, the cutting of essential budgetary resources and tacitly motivated violence against women,” the president said, flanked by his female ministers, at the ceremony on the Day women’s international.

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

Many of the measures Lula announced, including 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, senior researcher at the Brazilian Congressional Studies Center at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s possible that some support across party lines could help the administration on this specific issue of equal pay,” Rey said in a telephone interview.

Supporters say the Bolsonaro administration’s policies coincided with the spread of extremism in Brazil, which together contributed to the deterioration of gender equality.

“Bolsonaro wasn’t the cause of all 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 the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, a non-profit organization that released a report last week showing an 18.4% increase in all forms of gender-based violence in 2022.

Bueno told the Associated Press that such forces have gathered over the past decade, as an example he points to the School Without Party movement which has encouraged parents and children to sue teachers who attempt to teach sex education and women’s rights.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva used International Women's Day to support dozens of new state expenditures aimed at funding women's interests.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva used International Women’s Day to support dozens of new state expenditures aimed at funding women’s interests. (MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images)

And Bolsonaro’s easing of gun controls has spurred domestic violence, Bueno said. In 2022, 5.1 percent of women said they were threatened with a knife or firearm, up from 3.1 percent in 2021, according to the recent report from his group.

“This increase didn’t happen by accident. It happened because you had a federal government policy to allow more civilians to own and carry firearms,” ​​Bueno said.

On January 1, Lula’s first day on the job, he reversed some of Bolsonaro’s decrees to ease gun control. His government has also required civilians to register their weapons with the federal police by the end of this month; by mid-February only a fraction had done so as the Bolsonaro-aligned pro-gun lobby rejected the registration effort.

Among activists and civil society, there is also an expectation that Lula will reboot policies and programs that have worked in the past but have been affected by budget cuts. This includes the revitalization of the national hotline for victims of domestic violence, which lost funding during the Bolsonaro government.

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 decreased 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 lowest in four years.


And, in 2021, only 0.01% of the Ministry of Justice’s National Public Security Fund went to programs to combat gender-based violence; a law passed last year established a minimum of 5%.

Speaking to the AP Wednesday in Paraisopolis, São Paulo’s second largest favela or slum, Juliana da Costa Gomes lamented the impact of Bolsonaro’s rule in increasing domestic violence and decreasing women’s cause.

“But I think we’re living in another time,” said Gomes, 37, who founded a program in 2017 to provide job training to women in vulnerable situations, about a decade after she helped found the women’s association of the favela. “It’s a moment of hope, for a new Brazil that can be better for women.”

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Lula also issued a decree to ensure free distribution of menstrual pads to all poor and vulnerable women; Bolsonaro in 2021 vetoed a bill that had sought to do the same.

Lula was joined by first lady Rosangela da Silva, known as Janja, who was a constant presence at both her private meetings and public events. You recently assumed an official position within your government, working with ministries and advising the president.

By contrast, Bolsonaro’s wife Michelle remained in hiding during the first three years of his administration, emerging during the 2022 campaign in an effort to garner votes from women and evangelicals.


“If it depended on this government, inequality would end today by decree. But it is necessary to change policies, mentalities and a whole system built to perpetuate male privilege. And this, my friends, is only possible with a lot of struggle.” Lula said.


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