In Brazil, Women's Changing Roles, Attitudes Leading to Smaller Families

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 30.08.2011

bjbjLULU GWEN IFILL: Now we have another story in our series on global population issues.
It's a partnership with National Geographic Magazine, which has been reporting on this
topic throughout 2011. The September issue examines the declining birth rate in Brazil.
Our report is from special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Psychoanalyst
Maria Correa de Oliveira says Sunday brunch in her Rio de Janeiro apartment with husband
Paolo and their two children is a favorite ritual. It brings back fond memories of her
own childhood. MARIA CORREA DE OLIVEIRA, psychoanalyst (through translator): When I was a child,
every Sunday, my father would make fried eggs and bacon for all six of us kids. FRED DE
SAM LAZARO: There are two big differences. She grew up in a much larger family, and the
Sunday ritual always began with church in this predominantly Catholic nation of 200
million. Fewer people go to church in the modern Brazil, which is now predominantly
urban. Correa de Oliveira says there's simply no space for large families like the one she
grew up in. The extended family all live in Rio and often gather for dinner. It is prepared
in the kitchen of their mother, Madelena. She had six children and wishes she had had
more. MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA, mother (through translator): I had one girl, two girls, three
girls and then I wanted a boy. So I thought, he should have a friend, but, instead, I had
two more girls. I stopped after the sixth child. There were complications. My doctor
said that I physically could not have any more children. In that sense, I was pardoned
from the church from having any more children. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, her six children
have a total of just seven offspring among them, a poster family for one of the swiftest
demographic shifts in history. Brazil's birth rate is now lower than the U.S. rate of just
over two children per woman. Jacqueline Pitanguy is a leading women's rights advocate. JACQUELINE
PITANGUY, women's rights activist: When -- Brazil, from six children per woman in the '60s, we
have now 1.9. There has been a dramatic decrease in the numbers of children that each woman
has throughout her life. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says the shift is the result of a dramatic
change in the role women play in society. It was symbolized most visibly by the election
of Dilma Rousseff in 2010, the first female president of Brazil. Brazil's women's movement
began in the 1960s and was closely allied with groups that resisted the military dictatorship
at the time. Pitanguy says it paved the way for new progressive policies by the late '80s.
JACQUELINE PITANGUY: The new constitution that came when the country was democratized
recognizes the role of the state in allowing couples to make free decisions concerning
their reproductive lives and the duty of the state in providing information and the means
to have this done. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She says 80 percent of women of child-bearing
age use contraception. At the same time, a robust economy has needed their labor. Today,
women make up 40 percent of the country's work force up and down the economic ladder.
The majority of college graduates in Brazil are women. MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator):
For example, my granddaughter wants to be a chef. It never occurred to me when I was
a child to be a chef. But I always did encourage my daughters to have a profession and to work.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Today, the women around her table range from screenwriter and physical
therapist to systems analyst and business consultant. Women can aspire to any career,
but few aspire to have large families. The demands of career far outweigh those of a
once-influential Catholic Church, which has long opposed all forms of artificial contraception.
MADELENA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator): I do know a number of Catholic families who
have just one or two children. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What's noteworthy about Brazil's declining
fertility rate is that it's happening not just in the growing, prosperous middle-class
areas, but also in the poorer sections of what remains a very unequal society. Despite
the economic growth, about a quarter of Brazil's population remains below the poverty line.
Many live in the rural Northeast, but millions have crowded into slums, or favelas, in cities
like Rio and Sao Paulo. They suffer from high crime and still lack some of life's basic
needs. But they do have health services, including information about and access to contraception,
including sterilization. These women live in a Rio favela, where they work for a sewing
cooperative called Coparaha. Liliane Moreira da Silva has three children, trying unsuccessfully
to have a son. She couldn't control the gender balance of her kids, but she can control the
decision to have them, she says. LILIANE MOREIRA DA SILVA, mother (through translator): You
only get pregnant if you want to, because we have free access to any sort of family
planning. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Lucelia Carvalho, who is 34, has a six-month-old daughter. Boy
or girl, she plans to have only one more child, unlike her grandmother. LUCELIA CARVALHO,
mother (through translator): My grandmother had 10 children, but didn't have a radio or
television. It's not just television. There are commercials, all kinds of information.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In fact, television, including the wildly popular soap operas, or novellas,
have been a major cultural influence in defining the ideal Brazilian family, says Jacqueline
Pitanguy. JACQUELINE PITANGUY: In the '70s, these soap operas started to be aired in national
chains throughout the country. And they were, you know, associated with the modernity. And
modernity was associated with couples with two or three children. And this is very important
in terms of a symbolic message, you know? WOMAN (through translator): It works both
ways with the novellas. It goes in both directions. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We visited Elizete Magalhaes
living room one evening. The novellas are a stable she can't resist, she says, engaging
and captivating, even though, in some ways, discomforting. ELIZETE MAGALHAES, Brazil (through
translator): In my day, we used to play with dolls. Now kids are playing having boyfriends
and girlfriends, like they see on TV. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Psychoanalyst Correa de Oliveira's
life and family may look much like the soap opera ideal. She and her husband just celebrated
25 years of marriage. Still, she wishes her children could have a simpler, carefree life
that she enjoyed. MARIA CORREA DE OLIVEIRA (through translator): What I observe in my
work with children and parents is the difficulty in transmitting to the new generation the
sort of values that we grew up with, the respect for authority, on how to behave. If religion
isn't the axis from which we're getting our values -- and I don't necessarily think it
should be -- what is replacing it? Where are we getting our values? FRED DE SAM LAZARO:
For their part, Catholic Church officials decry the shift among young people to what
they see as extreme materialism. Father Anibal Gil Lopes is with the Rio Archdiocese. REV.
ANIBAL GIL LOPES, Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro: They want to have cars, houses, objects, but
they don't want to have children or a family. Then this means a change in, I would say,
in a philosophy, how you see life, the meaning of life. This weakens a nation. FRED DE SAM
LAZARO: This weakens a nation? He fears Brazil is headed to an imbalance in its population
like that seen in many European countries. REV. ANIBAL GIL LOPES: Confrontation -- social
confrontations in Europe derives, is due to the fact that the old population cannot be
supported by the work of the younger people. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: There are not enough young
people? REV. ANIBAL GIL LOPES: Exactly. There are no people to work and pay taxes. FRED
DE SAM LAZARO: Ney Costa who heads a family planning advocacy group, says the current
birth rate is still much higher than in European nations. He says Brazil can prepare for its
more gradual shift. DR. NEY COSTA, Brazil (through translator): The medical field has
grown and evolved. But there are more specialists in such things as geriatrics. And these sorts
of things are helping support the older population. Brazil is far from the crisis that Europe
is living. And the good news is that we have time to prepare and implement more policies
and mechanisms to sustain this new Brazil. FRED DE SAM LAZARO: He says Brazil has a chance
to be the first large nation to get close to a population balance, although demographers
say, right now, its birth rate is slightly below replacement. GWEN IFILL: Fred's reporting
is a partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Under-Told Stories
Project at Saint Mary's University in Minnesota. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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