Flight to the Cities

Brazil’s women fight age-old machismo and new urban violence

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The rapid migration to Brazil’s cities has loosened traditional cultural holds on women. In 1967, barely a fifth of Brazil’s women worked outside the home; now more than 70 percent do. Women’s political organizations, which have grown dramatically since the end of the dictatorship in 1985, have won benefits such as paid leave for childbirth and time off for breast-feeding. But abortion remains illegal, and reports of crimes against women and children have risen.

Maria dos Anjos Ferreira, 29, was abused by the two men who fathered her four children. The first died; she left the second after five years. She and her children now live with a girlfriend. Soon, Ferreira hopes to move in with and marry her new boyfriend.

MARIA DOS ANJOS FERREIRA: My first husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He hit me a lot, and he burned me on my face with a lit cigarette. We had a very bad relationship that lasted for a long time. When I was hit by my husbands and I went to the police, they told me to hit back. There doesn’t seem to be any protection of women, especially in violent situations. Men can’t live without women, and yet we are treated terribly.

Women are ignored in most parts of the world, or criticized for wanting to better themselves. I think of my children all the time, of what they can become and how I can help them not to follow in my footsteps. I want them to have a good education, to study so that they will not be in the situation I am in now. I also want to find work.

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