Gender Equality in Brazil

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Flag of Brazil
Population (in Mil.) 202.40
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 2,413.17
Sex Ratio (m/f) 0.98
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.1
Fertility Rate 2.18
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.61
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 36.1
Women in Parliament (in %) 8.6
Human Development Index 85/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 8/86
Gender Inequality Index 85/186
Gender Equity Index 51/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 48/128
Global Gender Gap Index 62/68
More information on variables

Social Institutions

In the news


Brazil is the largest and most populous country in Latin America as well as the leading economic power in the region, with its vast natural resources. Despite crime and highly unequal income distribution remaining pressing problems ,[1] the World Bank has praised the country for progress in reducing social and economic inequality. It is one of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – one of the rising economic powers.[2] In the October 2010 presidential elections to succeed President Lula, Dilma Rousseff became the first women to be elected as Brazil’s president. Since her election she has pledged to continue the policies of her predecessor ,[3] and the latest polls conducted in September 2011 gave her a personal approval rating of 71%, clearly demonstrating her popularity among Brazilians.[4] Brazil is classed by the World Bank as an upper middle income country.[5]

The 1988 Constitution of Brazil upholds the principle of equality between men and women, particularly within the family, and prohibits all forms of discrimination.[6] It also sets forth the State’s obligation to eradicate all forms of domestic violence.[7] The government recently amended the 1916 Civil Code and the Penal Code of 1940, both of which included provisions that were sexist and discriminated against women.[8]

The country is a federal state and many legal provisions are defined by state legislations. Women are increasingly present in the production sector and the job market in general, but professional segmentation on the basis of gender and wage inequality persists. While Brazilian women entered the workforce in increasing numbers, unemployment rose among Brazilian women in the early 2000s but has fallen recently, though it is still higher than that of men; the situation of black women and women in rural areas is more precarious; in 2005, black women had an unemployment rate of 14.1%, compared to 9.4% for all women.[9] Furthermore, violence is a major problem for women in Brazil. Brazil ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, and the Optional Protocol on violence against women in 2002.[10]

In 2011, the Human Development Index for Brazil was 0.718, placing the country at 84 out of 187 countries.[11] For the Gender Inequality Index Brazil received a score of 0.449, placing it at 80 out of 146 countries.[12] The World Economic Forum ranked Brazil 82 out of 135 countries in its 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, with a score of 0.6679 where 0 represents inequality and 1 represents equality.[13]

Discriminatory Family Code

Recent legislation has improved protections for Brazilian women within the family. The minimum legal age for marriage is 16 years for both women and men, on the condition of obtaining authorisation from the parents or a legal representative.[14] A 2004 United Nations report cited data from 1996 that 17 % of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed. This rate remained unchanged in 2000, the most recent year for which data is available.[15] Nevertheless, Brazilians overwhelmingly believe that women should be free to choose her own husband regardless of her family’s wishes.[16] Polygamy is not practised in Brazil. The new 2003 Civil Code refers to family authority rather than paternal authority and grants equal rights to the mother and father, in the interests of the couple and the children.[17] Although the law is now gender-neutral, in the event of divorce, child custody is generally granted to the mother.[18] Brazilian women have the same inheritance rights as men, although some women in rural areas face discrimination from within the family prohibiting their ownership of land via the transfer of titles to elder sons rather than widows.[19]

Restricted Physical Integrity

The US Department of State reports that rape, including spousal rape, is a crime with punishment between 8-10 years imprisonment. However, access to justice remains a challenge as perpetrators of sexual assault are unlikely to be brought to trial. Recent reforms to broaden the definition of rape have increased the numbers of rape cases under prosecution.[20] Sexual harassment in the workplace, educational institutions and from service providers is a criminal offence, however women rarely come forward with complaints.[21]

In 2006, the government passed the ‘Maria de Penha’ law that provided the first clear definition of domestic violence, tripled the severity of sentences for offenders and launched a $1 billion four-year campaign in 2007 to increase governmental capacity to deal with violence against women at all levels.[22] Reported cases of domestic violence appear to be increasing in recent years, although it is not clear if this represents an increase in violence or an improvement in the government’s collection of data on gender-based violence.[23] Social responses to violence against women began to emerge in the 1980s, after feminist groups brought the problem to society’s attention. The majority of crimes committed within the family or the household are governed by a law adopted in 1995. A general increase in the number of convictions has been observed in recent years, but judicial decisions often reflect persistent stereotypes and are frequently prejudicial to women. At least according to 2006 survey results, domestic violence is met with social disapproval, with 83% declaring that a man is never justified in beating his wife.[24]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Brazil.

Brazil has taken recent steps to improve women’s access to reproductive health services. Via the Política Nacional de Planejamento Familiar initiative, undertaken in 2007, the government is expanding access to and knowledge of contraception for poor individuals. In particular, Brazil has increased the number of contraceptives available through the Programa Farmácia Popular, whose prices are up to 90% lower than what is available on the private market .[25] The program has also increased the number of facilities that perform sterilisation for women by a factor of 7 between 2002 and 2006. As of 2005, fully 77% of women of reproductive age married or in union were currently using contraception.[26] Abortion is permitted in Brazil only to save a woman’s life ad in case of rape or incest.[27]

Son Bias

The 2011 female-to-male ratio for primary school enrollment is 0.98 and for secondary school enrollment it is 1.10.[28] 2007 figures from the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD) study indicate that out of all children aged 7-14 years, 6.9% of boys engage in economic activity versus 3.5% of girls. However, out of all children aged 7-14 years, 2.8% of girls spend an average of at least 28 hours per week doing household chores, compared to only 0.3% of boys[29].

According to a 2011 ILO study, out of all the children aged 7-15, boys are more likely to be involved in employment than girls (9 versus 5%) and the share of boys and girls in school differs little. The difference is bigger for the 16-17 age group, as 25% of girls are involved in employment versus nearly 42 % for boys. Still, this is without taking into account household chores such as child care and housekeeping, which are usually female intensive activities.[30]

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.98.[31]

There is no evidence to suggest that Brazil is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

Officially, Brazilian women have the same ownership rights as men, but inequalities persist. Access to land is legally guaranteed to women and land can therefore be granted to a man or a woman, irrespective of marital status. However, almost all the beneficiaries of the 1996 land reform were men. Since 2004 the government has undertaken a Land Reform initiative to give rural women the proper documentation they need to acquire access to land and credit.[32] Until recently, Brazil’s Civil Code discriminated against married women and restricted their access to property other than land. Men were responsible for administering joint property and also acted as their wife’s “representative”, which gave them the authority to administer their wife’s individual property. The 2003 Civil Code gives each spouse equal rights and obligations in this area. As a result of the Documentation Program for the Rural Worker begun in 2004, which provided rural women the background documents that would increase their ability to obtain government services, such as birth certificates, maternity leave and land titles, the number of women who own title to their land increased from 13% in 2003 to almost 56% in 2007.[33]

By law, Brazilian women have access to bank loans, but those in rural areas have more difficulty exercising this right.[34] In response, the government recently introduced a quota system in rural development financing programmes. However, loans are often granted to the head of the household, which effectively limits married women’s access to bank loans. Only 10.4 % of participating women were issued loans. Brazil has taken steps to rectify this system by instituting a program to issue micro-credit loans directly to rural women. This program met its target goal of serving 400,000 women in 2006, and now 25.6 % of participating women receive direct loans.[35] Brazil’s Bolsa Familia antipoverty, direct cash transfer program has met with success in improving the decision making authority of women in the household. This large program, which assists eleven million households, distributes 94% of its payments directly to women in the household. As a result, 48.8 % of women surveyed by the government in 2008 said the program increased their financial independence, while nearly 40 % stated that their decision-making authority over the family’s finances had increased.[36]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Brazilian women do not seem to be restricted in the exercise of their civil liberties. There are no reported restrictions on women’s freedom of movement. The 2003 Civil Code stipulates that spouses must decide together where they will live. This is a significant step forward: in the past, wives were obliged to live in their husbands’ place of residence. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and religion. The press is owned privately, and the print media have played a key role in exposing official corruption. Journalists that focus on crime, corruption or human rights violations are often the targets of violence. Freedom of association and assembly are also respected in general. Brazilian unions seem to enjoy more independence from political parties than in other Latin American countries.[37]

Women in Brazil have full political rights. Brazilian law requires that 30 % of candidates registered by each political party must be women. Actual political representation remains low. There were 10 women in the 81-member Senate and 45 women in the 513-member Chamber of Deputies as of April 2010.[38] Still, women politicians enjoy high esteem among the population. According to a 2007 Pew study, a higher percentage of respondents thought that women made better political leaders than men (15%), rather than vice versa (10%).[39] It would appear that there is a greater stimulus for women to take part in elections; in particular, there will be a record number of women candidates for the 2012 elections in the Brazilian president’s party, in her home state of Minas Gerais.[40]

Brazil has strong and generous maternity leave policies. All female workers in the private sector are entitled to 120 days of leave paid out at 100% of their current wages. Maternity leave benefits are paid directly by the employer, who is then reimbursed by Brazil’s Social Security Institute. In addition, it is illegal in Brazil to discriminate against pregnant women or fire a pregnant woman from her job.[41] The law also prohibits employers from requiring applicants or employees to take pregnancy tests or present sterilization certificates. However, some employers sought sterilization certificates from female job applicants or tried to avoid hiring women of childbearing age.[42] Despite these strong protections, public sentiment on the equality of men and women in the workforce is mixed. Just over 50 % of female respondents to a 2006 survey agreed or agreed strongly that ‘Being a housewife was just as fulfilling as paid work.[43] However, nearly 70 % disagreed or disagreed strongly with the notion that men make better business executives than women.[44]


  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Brazil, available at, accessed 1 December 2011.
  2. BBC News (2011), Brazil country profile, (accessed 7 December 2011)
  3. See reference 2
  4. The Guardian (2011), “Dilma Rousseff’s pledge to empower Brazil’s women comes good”, article by Tom Phillips published on 2 December 2011, available online: (accessed 7 December 2011)
  5. World Bank (n.d.) Online data:Brazil, available at, accessed on 1 December 2011.
  6. Article 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of the United States of Brazil, adopted 5 October 1988.
  7. Article 226 of the Constitution
  8. Novo Código Civil, adopted 11 Jan. 2003 via Law no. 10.406, passed 10 Jan. 2002; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2005), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Brazil, Sixth Periodic Report of States Parties, pp. 19, 88-89.
  9. Shadow Report of Civil Society (2007), Brazil and Compliance with CEDAW, p. 30; Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2008), Brazil: Country Gender Profile, pp. 7, 16, 57-58; CEDAW 2005, pp. 80-81.
  10. United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2010): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. - CEDAW: (accessed 1 December 2011); - Optional Protocol: (accessed 1 December 2011)
  11. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012. p.128
  12. See reference 11 p.140
  13. World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012.p.11
  14. Article 1517 of Novo Código Civil; CEDAW (2002), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Brazil, Combined Initial, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of States Parties, p, 191
  15. UN (United Nations) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY, p. 44; UN (2008), World Marriage Data 2008, UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Fertility and Family Planning Section: New York, NY.
  16. Pew Research Center (2007), Global Attitudes Project: Spring 2007 Survey: Question Q.44. 97% responded that a woman should be free to choose.
  17. CEDAW (Committee On The Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women) (2002), Consideration Of Reports Submitted By States Parties Under Article 18 Of The Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women: Brazil, Combined Initial, p. 188.
  18. See Reference 17, p. 188.
  19. JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) (2008), Brazil: Country Gender Profile, JICA Planning And Evaluation Department, Tokyo, p. 58.
  20. US Department of State (2011), 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Brazil, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.
  21. See reference 20
  22. Law 11,340, the “Maria de Penha” law, enacted 7 Aug. 2006; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) (2009), Questionário sobre a aplicação da Declaração e Plataforma de Ação de Beijing e o documento final do vigésimo terceiro período extraordinário de sessões da Assembléia Geral, (2000) para a preparação das avaliações e exames regionais que terão lugar em 2010 para a comemoração de Beijing +15, p. 9.
  23. See reference 20.
  24. World Values Survey (WVS), 2006, Selected Country/Sample: Brazil, Question V208.
  25. CEPAL (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) (2009), Questionário sobre a aplicação da Declaração e Plataforma de Ação de Beijing e o documento final do vigésimo terceiro período extraordinário de sessões da Assembléia Geral (2000) para a preparação das avaliações e exames regionais que terão lugar em 2010 para a comemoração de Beijing +15, CEPAL: Brasilia, Brasil., p. 8.
  26. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2006) World Population Prospects_2006, downloaded from (accessed 1 December 2011), p. 248.
  27. UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2011), World Abortion Policies 2011, available online: (accessed 1 December 2011)
  28. See reference 13
  29. Understanding Children’s Work Programme (2008), Inter-agency research cooperation initiative involving the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UNICEF and the World Bank, Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (PNAD), available online, (accessed 7 December 2011)
  30. See reference 29
  31. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012
  32. See Reference 19, pp. 51-52, 60-61,
  33. See Reference 25, p. 12; See reference 19, p. 51.
  34. See Reference 19, p. 58.
  35. See Reference 25, p. 12; See Reference 19, p. 50.
  36. SEE REFERENCE 25, p. 54.
  37. Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Brazil, online edition, (accessed 7 December 2011)
  38. State Dept., 2010; Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments.
  39. Pew 2007, Question Q.43. 73 % responded that they found men and women equally qualified; World Values Survey (2006), Selected Country/Sample: Brazil, World Values Survey, available, accessed 20 January 2010, Question V63 found that 25% of respondents thought men would make better political leaders than women.
  40. See reference 4
  41. ILO (International Labour Organization) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, accessed 19 January 2010
  42. US Department of State (2011), 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Brazil, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.
  43. WVS 2006, Question V60.
  44. WVS 2006, Question V63.

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women?  

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Brazil, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Brazil


The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database

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The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law 
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information on Brazil, please visit the report on Brazil in the FAO Gender and Land Rights Database.


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