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Thursday, August 13th, 2009 - One comment

Strong Women from Salvador da Bahia

“My name is Vera. I come from the outskirts and I’m very proud of it. I don’t have a job, but I manage to survive.”

“I am Marta. I also come from the outskirts. I participate in a women’s committee.”

“My name is Sandra Regina and I belong to an organization that works to fight violence against women.”

“My name is Edamir. I’m a student and I have a nine-year old boy. We live alone, the two of us”.

“My name is Jamili and I came here in the search for knowledge.”

“My name is Rosangela Rosa and I’m here to add up.”

Vera, Marta, Sandra, Edamir, Jamili and Rosa were among the approximately 130 women who packed the auditorium of a governmental institution to participate of the World Population Day commemorations in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, in July.

For them, the notion that chronic poverty and crisis have a deep impact on population, especially women, is more than an economic axiom, but a crude, often overwhelming reality.

That’s one of the reasons why they were invited to participate in the event, an informal dialogue with authorities in the areas of women’s rights, participative governance and social planning.

They could bring a more vivid account of the challenges faced by women in impoverished areas of the city and their real demands, but most importantly they could think together and debate about what could be done and what they could do to change the situation.

Based on the event in Salvador, UNFPA Brazil produced a video with debate excerpts and testimonials by the participants about challenges and suggestions to improve the quality of life and perspectives for women. The 1,000 copies of the video will be distributed during the second semester among government officials, service providers, community leaders, activists, and communication professionals from institutional and commercial media outlets in the state of Bahia.

The major goals are to sensitize about the importance of promoting and fighting for more equitable policies, programmes and services, and raise awareness about UNFPA work in partnership with the city and state.

Although it is not yet possible to evaluate the scale and impact of the current economic crisis, it’s possible to observe from concrete examples of people living in contexts of social and economic vulnerability that women are indeed the most hardly hit.

As heads of households or as part of poor families and communities, women tend to have less access to services, opportunities and, ultimately, their potential to contribute to development is seriously impaired.

Bahia, the most populous state in Northeastern Brazil, is home for 14 million inhabitants according to the 2007 official count. The population is ageing as a result of fertility trends — 1.9 children per woman, below the substitution rate – but also the increased life expectancy — 72 years in 2007, very close to the country average (72.7). Among the elderly, there is a predominance of women, usually in conditions of great vulnerability.

Differently from developed countries, the age structure change is happening faster and in a context marked by insufficient economic growth, high social inequality, and the persistency of historical challenges like racial discrimination, religious intolerance, illiteracy, lack of infrastructure, poor housing alternatives, lack of access to services, and poverty.

The large cohorts of people becoming economically active exert even more pressure over public services, the job market, and public policies. There are approximately 2.8 million youngsters aged 16-29 looking for a job in Bahia.

Eighty five per cent of the population aged 60 years or more is covered only by a public governmental health plan – SUS. The majority of women in their reproductive years deliver their babies in hospitals and clinics. However, maternal mortality is a serious problem: in the state, the maternal death ratio is of 68.7. According to WHO, it shouldn’t  be higher than 20. The majority of maternal deaths occur in public health institutions.

The crisis tends to make this scenario even worse. And for women here in Bahia worse means an almost complete absence of respect towards basic human rights, being it in the public sphere, in the communities or even at home.

Despite their activities as community leaders and the knowledge about their rights, every day women face various forms of discrimination and violence.

Even though, most of the women participating in the event in Salvador brought words of hope and courage. They are in search of a better life. Most of all, they believe they are agents of change, they know what they want and they want to work in partnership to change things.

Women are indeed among the most effective agents of change. To do so, they need to be recognized and recognize themselves as rights bearers. It’s also necessary to guarantee their access to information, public services, health promotion and disease prevention initiatives, especially in the sexual and reproductive health area.

Besides, it’s essential to educate boys and girls to promote equality. This is an important step to enhance the chances of future for individuals, families, and communities.

Through inter-sectoral partnerships and the involvement of the international community it is possible to mobilize decision makers, experts, public managers, social movements  and the civil society for the importance of protecting and promoting the rights of women.

As a result of a cooperation agreement between the United Nations Population Fund, the government of Bahia state and the municipality of Salvador it has been possible to strengthen and integrate existing initiatives and programmes, creating more opportunities for women.

The initiative aims to strengthen institutional capacity in the areas of population and development considering the interfaces between poverty, sustainable development and social, racial, gender, generational and economic inequities.

It also focuses on building institutional capacity to recognize adult women, adolescents and young women as bearers of rights, including reproductive rights. And it invests in communication for behavior change, rights advocacy and the promotion of development initiatives based social justice and human rights.

Watch the video:

The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (1)

MK Malefane
Monday 25th January, 2010, 4:34pm

We request contact details of the organization in Bahia involved in the project. We would like to visit them when come to Salvador in February 2010

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Guest Editor

Etienne Franca

Journalist, UNFPA


Media Specialist dealing with communication and advocacy matters within the global Campaign to End Fistula. For more than 15 years, Etienne, a national of Brazil, has developed and implemented media projects, working with national and international media, government and non-government actors. Besides Doctoral studies in Political Science from Florida International University, Etienne holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Communication Journalism from the University of Brasilia.

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