Women's Agency in the Cash Transfer Program in Brazil: Fighting Precarity and Gender Inequality and Transforming the Role of the State in Public Policy Making

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:35
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Solange SIMOES, Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies, Eastern Michigan University, USA
Yumi GARCIA DOS SANTOS, Dept. de Sociologia, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais/Brasil, Brazil
Our paper discusses the findings of a mixed methods research (focus groups and survey) with urban and rural women living in situations of economic precarity (extreme poverty), recipients a federal cash transfer program (PBF), credited with significant reduction of poverty and inequality in Brazil. Over 90% of the recipients are women.  Our research showed important impacts of the PBF on the women, such as more autonomy in family relations, including the issue of domestic violence; more self-esteem; access to stable cash income enabling access, even if informal, to credit, among others). In this paper, however, we will move beyond PBF’s impact on women’s lives, and will focus on our study’s recommendations for further developments of PBF in Brazil. We reveal, from a critical-feminist approach, who the women beneficiaries in the program are, and their potential to collectively become active participants in the construction of possible “exit doors” from the program, and from their situation of economic and power precarity. We offer several specific recommendations (such as bridges for dialogue and coordination among the women beneficiaries and the local technical bureaucrats in the frontline of the program; and initiatives to support local economies with the potential of strengthening the PBF women’s entrepreneurship, among others). But beyond specific recommendations, we argue that a crucial gap in the current PBF – and in the role of the state and public policy - is not to create concrete structures of opportunity for women beneficiaries to meet and exchange information and experiences within the PBF, sharing their potential for critical thinking and individual and collective action to fight precarity, and, at the same time, enable the transformation and advancements of public policy. In most cases, it was in our focus groups that the PBF women beneficiaries in our research sample met for the first time.