Mario Osava interviews Brazilian feminist Rose Marie Muraro
It is necessary to move from a “masculine” economy based on competition and a win-lose mentality to a “feminine” win-win economy based on the concept of collaboration, says writer Rose Marie Muraro, one of the pioneers of Brazil’s feminist movement and one of the 1000 peacewomen who where nominated in 2005 for the Peace Nobel Prize.
Muraro, the author of 35 books, continues to actively fight for her causes at the age of 79, and has announced a new book to be published in 2011, containing proposals for an economy based on cooperation and solidarity, including bartering systems and the incorporation of a gender perspective in development.
Another 1,600 works have been published under her editorial guidance in the Vozes and La Rosa dos Tempos publishing houses.
She was born nearly blind and only gained good eyesight through surgery at the age of 66. However, the fact that she was technically blind did not keep her from studying physics and economics, having five children with her husband of 23 years, becoming a driving force in Brazil’s feminist movement, or opposing Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
Nor did it stand in her way of becoming an advocate of liberation theology, the Catholic movement which calls for the Church to be more politically and social active on behalf of the poor, through Vozes, the Catholic publishing house that she co-directed with theologian Leonardo Boff.
Question: How do you explain the fact that although women now have more years of schooling than men, they continue to earn lower wages and are hit harder by unemployment and are more likely to work in the informal sector of the economy?
Muraro: That is improving; women are now earning almost 90 percent of what men earn. A major hurdle is the low level of female representation in the national, state and municipal legislative bodies.
Women tend to vote more for men. Presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff has more support among men than among women, according to the opinion polls. A campaign aimed at winning over women voters is needed.
Why don’t women bring to bear the fact that they make up a majority of voters?
Muraro: Because of the prejudice that they themselves hold: that women are inferior. A majority of women are still conservatives who defend the patriarchal system and see men as more experienced and fit to govern.
Furthermore, since it seems only “logical” that men stand a better chance of being elected, the parties assign them more resources. Women candidates are thus left with less campaign publicity and fewer funds in their campaigns.
But there has been a revolution since the introduction of the birth-control pill. Forty years ago only five percent of the members of Congress were women; today we have twice that proportion of female legislators.
Brazil still has one of the lowest levels, far from the 50 percent achieved by some northern European countries, but we are improving, thanks to the work by women’s rights activists.
It is interesting that we have two good female candidates running for president in the October elections, although Dilma Rousseff is in a better position to win because she is backed by a great man, who reduced poverty in the country, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (The other is former environment minister Marina Silva, the Green Party candidate.)
Brazil has a quota that reserves 30 percent of the candidacies of each party for women. Has this helped boost women’s participation?
Muraro: Very little, because the parties have not respected the law, and there is a lack of self-esteem among women who, considering themselves to be inferior, do not put themselves forward as candidates. There is also the question of the women candidates who are the daughters, wives or sisters of well-known politicians, and who do triumph — a kind of “distorted participation.”
Doesn’t that contradict the superiority of women in terms of years of study and the fact that they form a majority in secondary and university education?
Muraro: The thing is, education alone is not enough: what is needed is education with a specific gender perspective. No more distinguishing between “girl’s” and “boy’s” toys — boys should be able to play with dolls and girls should play football; girls and boys should play the same sports.
We have to modify “machista” education, which is competitive, and make it collaborative.
But teaching is in the hands of women, who dominate the area of education.
Muraro: Physically, but not mentally. Women teachers must be trained in education with a gender focus. The textbooks have to be changed. The vocabulary is infused with machismo, grammar (in Portuguese) tends to be made up of more masculine (rather than gender-neutral or feminine) terms, and you can imagine what that does to people’s minds.
It’s an enormous task which will take generations because cultural changes run deeper and are thus slower to occur. But the changes are happening. Thirty years ago I was fighting on my own, shunned. Now society throws down the red carpet for me.
There have been advances, not victories, because that word arises from a masculine sense of competitiveness.
You link gender equity with a radical change in the economy. Why?
Muraro: Yes, because the economy is still masculine, which means domination and competition, the mathematics of win-lose, the maximisation of interests. Women’s vision is the opposite of that: win-win, collaborative, the development of a solidarity economy, putting the individual, rather than profits, in first place.
How can that feminine economy take shape in concrete terms?
Muraro: In microcredit, for example, which is for the poor, and almost completely goes to women, who do not default on their loans. Or in experiences of a solidarity economy using a community currency. In Fortaleza (a large city in Brazil’s impoverished Northeast), a “favela” (shantytown) was transformed into a proper middle-class neighbourhood by means of a community currency.
The economy of “care” (of children, the elderly and the ill) is completely female, and is undervalued in the market. Women make up 90 percent of caregivers, according to the United Nations. When women are in power, the very nature of money changes.
That’s what I explain in the book “Reinventando o capital-dinheiro” (Reinventing Capital-Money), which is set to come out in the first half of 2011.
You also wrote “Diálogo para o Futuro” (Dialogue for the Future), together with U.S. economist Hazel Henderson, where you propose replacing concepts and measurements like GDP.
Muraro: GDP counts as wealth fictitious money and resources that are lost, such as oil that is exported and is non-renewable. It should also factor in the costs of pollution, deforestation, or soil degradation.
The destruction of the human species is caused by human beings themselves, who are caught up in hyper-consumption and do not want to pay the costs of pollution. I have been warning for 40 years that humanity will be judged by the environment, which will destroy our species when it rebels.
Does feminism also entail a different kind of science and technology?
Muraro: Yes, women have another way of doing science, more collaborative, focusing on science for life, on distribution for all; they would never patent cells like Craig Venter did (the U.S. biologist who headed the human genome project).
Why? Because women carry the fetus, feed the baby, care for everyone. Other United Nations figures indicate that 80 percent of the activity in favour of the environment is carried out by women, as is 90 percent of the activity against war and 70 percent of the activity against poverty.