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Bolsa Familia in Brazil

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Brazil has created an anti-poverty program, Bolsa Familia “Family Grant,” which gives cash money to mostly women. Since its implementation in 2003, around 11 million families, a quarter of Brazil’s population, have joined the Bolsa Familia program. This program is the largest of its kind and is based on a conditional cash transfer.

If a family earns less than 120 reais ($68) per family member each month, the mothers are given debit cards and up to 95 reais ($35 to $70) each month by the federal government. As part of the program, their children are required to attend school and receive vaccinations. If a family does not meet these conditions, their payments are suspended after several warnings.

Similarly, microfinance programs in Brazil give women loans to empower them and alleviate poverty. Although evidence from several studies supports the idea that microfinance empowers women, these microfinance programs have not succeeded due to their reinforcement of “informality of labor and the creation and persistence of gendered discourse that places greater burden on women.” The microfinance loans, despite the programs’ positive intentions, may place women under greater stress. Instead of pursuing activities that may benefit themselves and their families, these women can become trapped by the programs, and become less independent as a result.

The microfinance programs give loans and credit to primarily women because they believe that females are more reliable than men, and that they will use the money on food, education and family; women will not squander the money on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

However, are women truly more reliable than men? Although researchers argue that women repay loans faster and save more money than men do, this may be due to popular perceptions of the female gender. Women are believed to be more honest, sensitive, caring and nurturing due to their gender and traditional female roles of childrearing and domestic chores.

There are two main concerns about the program. First, corruption and fraud could prevent beneficiaries from receiving 100% of the money. Local officials could also report inaccurate information on eligibility to receive kickbacks. Second, these programs are meant to be a “temporary boost” to aid the poorest families in Brazil. Critics worry that it could turn into a permanent program upon which many families will remain dependent.

While the microfinance programs have failed, Bolsa Familia has seen early success. The program has reduced income inequality across the country, encouraged the growth of small businesses and increased the rate of economic growth. The cash money allows women to be more financially independent from their husbands and to have a larger decision making role in the household. After 10 years of the Bolsa Familia program, researchers have found that the program is empowering women and changing traditional gender roles in Brazil.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Deseret News National, Economist, Prospect Journal
Photo: Keck Journal