Category Archives: Society

Long life to Brazilians

São Paulo, Sunday afternoon/ Blablaurgh/Flickr

The land of youth, beauty and barely-there outfits is getting old. Brazilians are living at least three years more than ten years ago. IBGE, the federal  bureau of statistics, released today a study showing that the life expectancy at birth is 72.86 years, superior to the world’s average of 67.58 years. In Brazil, both men and women are living longer but, as it happens elsewhere, there is a huge gap between them – men live, in average, 69.11 years. Women, 76.71. In 20 years, the elder population should be as numerous as the younger one (read about the decrease in the country’s fertility in a previous post).

Of course, Brazil is still behind developed countries, such as Japan, Switzerland, France or Italy, where life expectancy is beyond 81 years. But, according to the IBGE, the country should reach that milestone in 30 years.

The institute also informs that child mortality is  falling. Since 1970, it fell from 100 to 23.3 deaths per thousand babies born alive. This means more than 200.000 deaths of children were avoided in the last decade.

Finally, young men are still at very high risk of dying violently. Every day, 68 men between 15 and 24 years old die of what the IBGE calls “external causes” – accidents and homicides. This makes a total of 272,000 in one decade. The number of women dying of similar causes is up to nine times smaller.

Most of these numbers – apart from the one associated with violence, which is an old tendency – portrait a country that is changing very, very fast. I bet with you a caipirinha that in a few decades Brazil will have a dramatically different demographics .

Obama and the pirate’s parrot

Cheese!/Internet dairy by Flickr

There is a word in Portuguese to define the couple that crashed into Obama’s party and that appears smiling victorious by his side. We call them papagaios de pirata (pirate’s parrots). It is a reference to the bird that, despite its secondary role in the piracy endeavors, makes sure to appear on the picture with the boss.

In Brazil, there is a fully developed culture of papagaios de pirata. The king of them all is José Alves de Moura, also known as the Beijoqueiro (the Kisser). This cheerful middle-aged gentleman became famous in the 80’s, when he would make flash appearances whenever someone famous was around. He stole a kiss from Frank Sinatra during a show in Maracanã, the huge soccer stadium in Rio. He did the same to Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian superstar, and Tony Bennett, and to several politicians and to the soccer players Garrinha, Zico and Falcão. By the way, when he showed Falcão his love, he was arrested by the police and heavily beaten, something frequent after his performances. His most famous feat was kissing the feet of pope John Paul II, despite the very intense security apparatus.

It is said that he still lives in Rio and can be seen kissing people on the streets, proposing marriage to those who pass by and preaching against the drugs. When he is not in the psychiatric aisle of some hospital.

I bumped into a few serious Pirate’s Parrots in my day. One was former Congressman Moisés Lipnik, a man of big physical proportions but little political expression. The room leading to his office was a big display of him in all sorts of mixed company: writers, Telly Savallas, former presidents…Another big-time Pirate’s Parrot was the owner of Eron hotel, in Brasília. The walls of the main restaurant of the hotel, elegant in the past, were literally covered with images of him hugging politicians and starlets. It was picturesque but not necessarily digestive.

The episode involving Obama and the couple of parrots tells me this type of social climbing – if I can call it that way – may be found anywhere. It is not just a product of our tropical enthusiasm for celebrities.

Brazil will pay high price for climate change

Storm over São Paulo/Fabiano (LycoSp)/Flickr

Brazil will lose between US$ 417 billion (in an optimist scenario) and US$ 2 trillion of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year by 2050 thanks to global warming. This means, in the worst scenario, the GDP might be reduced in 2.3% by the middle of the century. This is one of the scary conclusions of a report just released by several Brazilian universities and the main specialists in climate and agriculture of the country. They worked for two years in a document that evaluates the possible impacts of the raising temperatures and climate instability. “It is like wasting a whole year of growth during the next 40 years”, says the study.

Among their main conclusions:

  • The temperature may rise 8°C (46.4°F) by 2100 in the Amazon region and it may undergo a radical transformation, becoming more like a savanna. The south, the southeast and the east parts of the basin might lose 40% of their forests.
  • The Northeast of the country (including the states of Bahia and Pernambuco) are also very vulnerable. Agriculture and cattle farming will have important losses because of the lack of rains in a region that is already very arid.
  • The hydro power dams – main responsible for the generation of electricity in the country – will be less reliable.
  • Agriculture shouldn’t have major problems in the southern states (including São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul).
  • Soy, corn and coffee production will have to reduce their cultivated areas (34%, 15% and 18%, respectively), while sugar cane plantations will not decline.
  • When the level of the oceans elevates and the weather gets more violent, the losses along the Brazilian coast should range from US$ 79 billion to US$ 120 billion.

The study stresses that the poorest regions of the country should be the most affected.It also lists a series of measures that could minimize those risks. Among them, incentives to alternative energies and carbon markets; investments in genetically improved plants, adapted to the growing droughts, and in improved irrigation techniques; and coastal management.

Besides the dark conclusions, the study is surprising because of the quality of the organizations involved. From Universidade de São Paulo and Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) to the World Bank and a few non-profits, such as the brilliant Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Inpa).  It is the final proof that climate change and the environmental matters really are attracting the attention they deserve.

Brazilians are getting married later

Brides behind bars/by !!!! scogle/Flickr

The number of weddings grew 35% in the last decade, even if Brazilians are choosing to get married later in life. A study released today by IBGE, the official statistics bureau, shows that a growing number of women is getting married between 25 and 29. In 1998, only 19.4% of all the brides where in that range of age. In 2008, they were 28.4% of the total. On the other hand, the percentage of brides between  15 and 24 is falling. Still, 16.3% of the girls getting married are 15 to 19 and 29.7% are 20 to 24. Men are also getting married at older ages. Most of them (32.% are between 25 and 29).

It is very easy to understand this tendency and its consequences when you review how two other indicators evolved:

  • Education – Brazilian kids are studying more. In 2007, only 17.7% of the teenagers between 15 and 17 were not studying. Compare this to the 40.3% dropout index registered in 1992. Illiteracy is still there (10% of women, 10.2% of men) but it is shrinking.
  • Birth rate – Brazilians have less babies. In 1940, women would have 6.16 babies in average. In 2000, only 2.38. It’s barely enough to maintain our  population of 192 million souls. And the birth rate continues to fall. Even in the countryside the fertility rate is pretty low – 3.5%.

The equation is very easy to guess: + education = late marriages = less kids.

I wonder what other consequences this could have. More weddings probably mean less informal unions and a fairer division of assets after a separation. Also, when people get married later and postpone procreation, they can accumulate more and this might lead to wealthier families .

No matter what, these are great news that I will celebrate kissing  my husband – whom I married very, very late in life.

Racism, the Brazilian way

Neguinho da Beija-flor, famous samba composer from Rio
Neguinho da Beija-Flor, photo alexdecarvalho/Flickr

In Brazil, unlike other countries, different ethnic groups interact a lot – sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.  This interaction leads frequently to mixed marriages and a blend of genes and cultural heritage.

This healthy mix gets more evident when geneticists investigate our origins. Neguinho da Beija-Flor, a famous samba composer from Rio, is mostly white, genetically – even if his nickname stresses his very dark complexion. On the other hand, Daiane dos Santos – Olympic gymnastic gold medalist recently involved in a doping scandal – represents what could be a “typical” brasileira: 39,7%  African, 40,8% European and 19,6% Native Brazilian.

Both celebrities had their genes analyzed in a study promoted two years ago by the British news conglomerate BBC with several prominent Brazilians of different backgrounds.

This mix didn’t, necessarily, produce a racial democracy. In an interview to the BBC on this subject, sociologist Ronaldo Sales, from Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, in the city of Recife, points out that miscegenation doesn’t create a homogeneous mixed race group, but a hierarchy – the whiter you are, the better your chances of social integration.

The underlying racism is particularly evident in bank branches. Most of the banks that operate in large cities install revolving doors, conceived to block the passage of costumers holding metal objects or bulky volumes. The following video, just released by Circo Voador, a very engaged theater and cultural movement in Rio, shows how this mechanism is used to avoid the entry of black Brazilians in banks. Two guys try to enter the same bank, dressed similarly, carrying the same bag. One is black, one is white. Guess who entered immediately and who had to remove his tee shirt and drop his belongings before being sent home, without entering the bank?

Have you ever experienced racism in Brazil?

Less undernourished, more overweight

Brazilian women stay slim, while men are getting fatter and fatter. Mal-nutrition and child mortality are falling, but diabetes is on the raise.

Brazilian health report
Campaign in Olinda, Pernambuco, against kidney diseases

This is one of the conclusions of a study released today by the Brazilian Health Ministry, portraying the state of the population’s physical condition.
The conclusions are, for the most part, positive. Here, a quick summary of the main conclusions:
• Weight – Around 43% of those over 18 living in state capitals are overweight. The reality in smaller cities and in the countryside is similar. The Ministry blames unhealthy eating habits and the reduction in physical activities. Boys from 10 to 19 years-old increased their Body Mass Index in 82.2% in only 29 years. The girls of the same age had a growth of 70.3% in their BMI. The good news: women kept their weight stable since the 90s. Obesity is specially intense among poorest populations.
• Height – Brazilians are growing fast – women twice as fast as men. The average male raised 1.9 centimeters (0.75 inches) and is, in average, 1.70 meters (5.57 feet) tall. The average woman grew 3,3 centimeters (1.29 inches) to 1.58 meters ( 5.18 feet).
• Diabetes – The growth of obesity is raising the number of deaths of diabetes, mainly among men older than 40. On the other hand, less women under 20 and 39 are diabetic.
• Cardiovascular health– Less Brazilians are dying of heart diseases. It fell 20.5% between 1990 and 2006. The Health Ministry believes this is because the population is more educated and there is a growing effort to prevent those diseases.
• Mal-nutrition – The number of undernourished kids under five fell 50% in  in 10 years – from 13.4% of the total to 6.7%, in 2006. According to the Health Ministry, mal-nutrition might be totally eliminated in Brazil in a period of 10 or 15 years.
• Diarrhea – The number of kids under one year old that die of diarrhea – normally related to the fact part of the population doesn’t have access to treated water and is exposed to uncollected sewage – fell 93.9% in 25 years. It used to be the second main cause of infant mortality in the country. Now it is the fourth (most deaths are associated to congenital diseases or postpartum problems). In 1990, the index of child mortality used to be 47.1 deaths per thousand babies born alive. In 2007, it was around 19.3 deaths – a reduction of 59,7%.

This is a very interesting evolution. Nevertheless, it is hard to understand how the cardiovascular diseases were controlled, while overweight and diabetes are not. Could you come up with some logical explanation?

5 million workers under age

child labor and slavery in Brazil

One hundred and eleven years after Brazil abolished slavery, the number of workers deprived of their freedom is still huge. They raise cattle, produce charcoal, sugar cane or timber. Some of them, most undocumented Bolivians, work in basements of small apparel factories in São Paulo and other metropolis.
According to the latest official statistics, the country also counts at least 1.2 million young workers between the ages of 5 and 13 – even if Brazilian law forbids those under 14 to work. If you add teens up to 18 years-old, you will have more than 5 million underage Brazilians in the market place. A huge percentage of them receive no salary.
This number includes teens “adopted” informally to work as housekeepers and submitted to very long hours. It also includes many sexual workers. Brazil’s highway police recently identified more than 1,800 truck stops around the country where minors offer sexual services .
A report released in September by the US Department of Labor, aiming to shed lights on “exploitative working conditions in the production of goods” in 77 countries, concludes that there is fair evidence that several Brazilian industries are responsible for perpetrating these irregular labor practices.

But the report also acknowledges that the government “has taken an exemplary, multifaceted approach to the elimination of child and forced labor”. It has “improved its legislative framework, enforced these laws effectively, established targeted action plans to combat child labor, forced labor, and trafficking in persons”, among other initiatives.

Last October, Brazil and a few other countries signed an agreement to work together to eradicate child labor by 2020, with the support of the International Labor Organization.

The Brazilian government also created the so-called “Dirty List” (Lista Suja) of forced labor cases, including the names of companies and property owners who use workers under forced labor conditions. In my former job, as a Social and Environmental risk analyst for Banco Real, one of the main financial institutions in the country, we wouldn’t offer credit to companies included in the Dirty List without promoting extensive auditing of their labor conditions and verifying their compliance to a series of laws.

There are, in fact, evidences that all these federal initiatives are pretty effective.

Between 2003 and 2008, almost 27 thousand people submitted to forced labor were released. Child labor has been steadily declining (in the early nineties, there were around 8 million under age workers in the country). One of the reasons is that the Brazilian economy and middle class are growing. Many families that had to find their kids a job now afford to keep them in school.

It is still not good enough. Civil society and the government have to increase their engagement in this combat against labor practices that are both shameful and deeply rooted.