When we think of the tragedy of hunger, the images that immediately come to mind are of thin and weak bodies, beaten and bent by the humiliation that the violence of hunger exposes. However, in Brazil in 2021, when we think of the thousands of people who suffer from food and nutritional insecurity, we can give these bodies a kind of face: the faces of women, especially those from the Northeast, mostly mothers, black and brown, some with children aged 0 to 3 years. The degree of increased hunger includes familiar faces, family members, neighbors, acquaintances, or ourselves. It is certainly someone who is reading this article.
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This information is provided by IBGE and the covid-19 National Survey on Food Insecurity in the Context of the Pandemic in Brazil, published in 2021 by the PENSSAN Network. According to the study, 52% of Brazilian households are in a situation of food insecurity and 9% (19.1 million people) are in a situation of hunger, a factor that is aggravated in rural areas. With the covid-19 pandemic plaguing the country since 2020, the North and Northeast regions had the highest rates of job loss, fall in family income, indebtedness and cuts in spending.
The unemployment rates of young women with children up to 3 years old reached 54.6% and the unemployment rate of women who do not live with children in this age group is 67.2%. These data are presented in the study Gender Statistics: Social Indicators of Women in Brazil, IBGE (2021). According to the same report, black or brown women with children had an occupation level below 50%, reinforcing the understanding that poverty and hunger have a very well delineated gender profile and the main victims of this systemic violence are women , notably black and brown mothers from Brazil, especially northeastern and northerners.
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Unemployed women and hungry families
According to a survey by the PENSSAN Network, in the Northeast, more than 7 million people live with hunger, another almost 9.5 million people are moderately food insecure and almost 23 million were classified as having mild food insecurity. Of the heads of household interviewed in the Northeast region, 57.5% are female heads of household, predominantly black and brown, highlighting the low or no education level and the high degree of unemployment, autonomous or informal workers. This is the highest percentage of women heads of households in the regions of Brazil. Northeastern women are the most affected by food insecurity and hunger in the region, while they are, in most cases, the only source of family income.
For the National Survey of the PENSSAN Network, regional inequalities regarding access to food are a reflection of many other inequalities, highlighting that the rate of hunger in the Northeast is higher for rural peoples. In 2020, the food insecurity rate reached 70% in the Northeast, affecting farmers, riverside dwellers, quilombolas and indigenous people (REDE PENSSAN, 2021). In the semiarid region, the results are doubly violent: hunger is accompanied by drought. According to the Brazilian Semi-Arid Articulation (ASA), at least ¼ of the population is hungry: there are at least 3 million people in a state of serious food insecurity, especially during the pandemic. In an interview with Brazil in fact, the national executive coordinator of the Brazilian Semi-Arid Articulation (ASA), Valquíria Lima, affirms that the growing numbers of people going hungry in the semiarid region are not only a reflection of the pandemic, but also of the interruption of public policies aimed at the semi-arid region.
In addition to the pandemic, making life difficult for people and claiming the lives of many others, the measures taken by the Federal Government were at least delayed, most inefficient, not to mention the many irresponsible and deadly. The continuous increase in food and basic food prices (which has already reached more than R$ 600.00), according to a study by the Inter-Union Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (Dieese), the delay in the decision and consequent concession, in addition to the low value of Emergency Aid, brought and still have immediate impacts on part of the population, such as increased hunger and food insecurity in the country.
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Most days it may not even have anything
So imagine a home where an unemployed mother, black or brown, watches her empty stove, her empty refrigerator, while she thinks about what she’s going to get for her children at lunch or dinner. Some days there’s couscous, other days there’s porridge, there’s rice, but most days it may not even have anything, or just because someone donated it. Multiply this mother and these children by thousands in Brazil, they are the majority in the Northeast and many of them are in rural areas. They are in the middle of a pandemic and Emergency Aid is not enough to pay for gas, buy food, pay rent, electricity, water or other essential expenses. Many of them did not have access to Emergency Aid and if they have access to Bolsa Família, it is still not enough in most cases. Hunger in Brazil has a woman’s face.
However, as stated by the National Survey on Food Insecurity in the Context of the covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil, “Although seriously impacted by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the worsening of Food Insecurity (FA) in Brazil is part of a process that the deterioration of the living conditions of a significant contingent of the population and the increase in social inequalities was already underway” (REDE PENSSAN, 2021).
Dismantling of public policies affects women
Following the pocketbookist logic of dismantling public policies from the countryside to the city, which has directly affected women, the federal government’s spending on policies aimed at women has the lowest level since 2015. The details are Universa, which obtained the survey with exclusivity made by Inesc (Institute of Socioeconomic Studies) in 2020, noting that in 2021 the investment tends to be even smaller. During the Bolsonaro Government, the Secretariat for National Policies for Women was linked to the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, headed by Damares Alves.
According to Inesc and Universa, policies such as the Casa da Mulher Brasileira were the main target of the cuts, receiving only 2.6% of the authorized budget for the year 2021. These cuts directly impact the transfers made to the states and municipalities and , above all, in the increase in violence against women during the pandemic.
It is at this point that hunger in Brazil completely takes on the face of a woman, as, in most cases, women victims of domestic violence are economically and financially dependent on their aggressors, unassisted by the State and in a situation of vulnerability due to hunger, whether by physical or psychological violence.
Fortunately, a case that brings hope to this sad situation was drawn in Ceará: the City Council of Fortaleza approved on August 5, 2021, the Ordinary Bill No. 447/2021, which institutes the Social Rental Maria da Penha. The Social Rent must grant a monthly amount of R$420 to women victims of domestic and family violence for a period of up to 12 months and may also be renewed for another two years. The amount is less than a basic food basket, but it can save many Fortaleza women from degrading situations of domestic violence and hunger. It’s a start. Projects like these can be “copied”, reformulated and adapted in various government spheres across the Northeast. You have to press on.
Thus, contrary to the Federal Government, states, municipalities, socio-territorial organizations and movements and the organized population are designing alternatives to fight food insecurity and hunger, in addition to all the social ills that trigger them or aggravate what is already inhuman . We are still far, very far from an ideal scenario for fighting and fighting hunger in Brazil, but small actions can give us a less sad perspective of the Brazil of abandoned women, black and brown northeastern mothers who live with hunger, whether in the countryside or in the city.
*Master’s student in Territorial Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (IPPRI/UNESP).
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s vision does not necessarily express the editorial line of the Brazil in fact.
Source: BoF Paraíba
Edition: Heloisa de Sousa