ONTD Political

Poor Brazilian women see job prospects widen
Source - BBC News
By Julia Dias Carneiro
BBC Brasil, Rio de Janeiro
12 August 2011 Last updated at 19:38 ET



Barbara Jose Baptista: Proud of her roots and proud of her achievements

Barbara Jose Baptista grew up watching her mother, Odilea, go out to work as a maid, just as her mother before her.

For poor Brazilian women with little or no schooling, domestic service has long been seen not just as natural, but almost inevitable - one of the few employment options open to them.

But Barbara, 24, was determined to make her mother proud - and not follow in her footsteps.

"I didn't follow my Mum's path but that is because she always gave me support and encouraged me to seek a profession that would give me a better standard of living," says Rio resident Barbara.

"Being a maid pays your bills, but you can't progress or learn things."

Barbara's only regret is that Odilea, who died in 2005, did not live to see her graduate in biotechnology and embark on a master's degree that she hopes will eventually lead to a position in cancer research.

Valued at work

Stories like Barbara's are increasingly common as Brazil's economy grows, the number of people living in poverty declines and education levels gradually rise.

Even with a basic education, job opportunities in supermarkets, telemarketing, cleaning companies, restaurants and offices beckon for women who would previously have worked as home helps for a middle-class family.

"They may even earn less (than being a maid), but they have benefits and more job security, and, above all, prospects of growth," says consultant Renato Meirelles, from the Data Popular research institute.

Young people, he says, are increasingly put off the idea of being a domestic servant.

Situations may vary but according to sociologist Luana Pinheiro, the maid-boss (most often maid-madam) relationship is essentially one of submission.

"Although the workload is heavy, the job is simple, so it is never really valued," says Ms Pinheiro, from the government's Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea).

Angela Conceicao Vaz began working as a domestic servant for a family in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 13 but she always knew she wanted something better.

She attended evening classes to complete her basic education, followed by courses including computing and English.

Now aged 35, Angela has been working as secretary for a telemarketing company for 14 years and owns her own home.

Her eldest daughter, 17, is planning to go to university, and her 12-year-old daughter attends a private school, with Angela paying half the fees.

"They are working for a better future. I am so proud," says Angela.

Rising costs

With fewer women becoming maids, wages - although still low - have been rising.

Salaries vary but are based on the minimum wage which is 545 reais a month ($350, £215).

Many middle-class Brazilian families have been used to having a maid to cook, clean and wash for them, but rising costs mean employing a servant is becoming an unaffordable luxury for some.

And that could mean profound changes - for individuals and society.

Mariana Lago, whose parents always had a maid, admits that she had never done much housework before she got married.

After she and her husband, Thiago, had their first baby they could not afford the cleaning lady any more.

It has been "hell" to cope with domestic chores, work and motherhood, says Mariana, a literature teacher.

"We try to stay organised and keep the house reasonably liveable. But laundry starts piling up, and suddenly the bathroom is so dirty you have to stop everything to clean it."

With a second baby on the way, they have decided to move to a neighbouring city, Niteroi, both to escape rising property prices in Rio and to be able to afford a daily cleaner.

"A maid will be essential for us to take care of the children and keep on working," Mariana says.

'Liberation'

As well as changing individuals' habits, analyst Luana Pinheiro believes the shortage of maids will compel the government to devise child care policies and ways of supporting women in the job market.

The female labour force in Brazil developed with domestic workers at its base, says Marcelo Neri, an economist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV).

"When women's presence in the labour market grew, women were backed up by domestic maids, who allowed them to leave the house and go out to work."

And many maids themselves also have some kind of help at home to take care of their children or household while they are working.

"The changes we are witnessing in the market will lead to the liberation of domestic maids from unqualified jobs," says Mr Neri.

Barbara, who lives in a poor area in the suburbs of Rio with her aunt, herself a maid, is proud of her humble beginnings - and her success.

She believes she can be a model for others who have not had the same encouragement to aspire to study and seek out better career prospects.

"I'm happy to share this with others, this sense of achievement," Barbara says.



Odilea belonged to a generation of women who had little choice but domestic service.

Domestic workers in Brazil

--Six million are maids, cleaning ladies, caretakers
--93% are women
--62% are black
--Average age in the sector rose from 35 to 39 in last decade
--Number of maids aged 18-24 fallen by half - today are 9.9% of total
--28% have formal contracts (majority have informal agreements)
--75% finished primary education
--23% completed secondary school
Source: Data Popular


i_amthecosmos 13th-Aug-2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
Let me play the world's tiniest violin for the professional woman who has no idea how to keep house.

Except, my house is a wreck and I have no room to talk. :)
mieronna 13th-Aug-2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
You know, it was my first reaction to that part of the article as well, but then I thought - isn't that a very good example of not valuing household labour (hard, time consuming and requiring effort of mind as well as body) which is and has been a big problem for women the world over?

It's as if I expected somebody to automatically know how to do household chores and provisioning, which kind of implies I thought it was *easy* - which it isn't and instead is certainly something that has to be learned to do effectively.

Meh. Still don't know what to think...

And also, would my initial reaction have been different if the person making that statement had been a man and not a woman? I sadly think so.
i_amthecosmos 13th-Aug-2011 09:29 pm (UTC)
Exactly right. I have physical and mental health problems that make housework a very low priority. And I have plenty of time, thanks to getting my hours cut. There's a reason there's so many books and websites out there dedicated to helping people learn the best way to clean their house!

And yes, men often get a free pass. "The second shift" is a real problem the world over.

My mother thinks my husband is wonderful, because he does his own laundry and washes the dishes. He's entirely oblivious to dirty floors and counters though, and doesn't understand why they bother me. (I feel guilty because of the house not being clean. He has no such problems-I saw his apartment before he moved in!)
moropus 14th-Aug-2011 04:33 am (UTC)
Its not that people "don't know how" to do housework, its that they are too busy or too sick or just don't want to and can afford help.

Even if this woman actually doesn't know how to clean her house after she goes to her job and raises her kids, so what? Everybody can't know everything.

When guys pay people to do things to their car, nobody minds, but when and where I grew up, "men" "had" to take care of everything on their car themselves. They could ask a friend, but if they paid, they had failed "manliness." And at least half these guys could afford to pay.

Now that women are doing the samething, paying others to do their traditional work, people are objecting in the same way, only harder.
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