Government policies focused on care work, when combined with rises in education and national economic growth, produced a meaningful increase women’s labor force participation in Brazil. However, economic downturn and a recent shift towards a conservative, male-dominated government threaten to undermine these gains.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil | 2017

Between 2001 and 2011, the Brazilian government implemented policies to address the needs of mothers, improve women’s access to care benefits, and expand the availability of child care. These policies, when combined with national economic growth, policies to promote workplace equality, and increased educational attainment among women, helped Brazil reduce women’s unpaid care work by two hours per week on average and produced an increase in women’s labor force participation. These changes also helped girls, who surpassed boys in primary and secondary school enrollment.

Progress toward gender equity in Brazil is far from assured, however. An economic downturn in mid-2014 and the recent installation of a conservative, male-dominated government threaten to undermine the country’s efforts. Addressing deep-seated gender conservatism and further reducing and redistributing unpaid care work will require additional interventions in the years ahead.

Elements of transformation
By the numbers
workforce participation
World development indicators
Gender equality and economic growth in Brazil
World Bank | 2013
alleviation of unpaid care work
State of the world's fathers
MenCare | 2015
Independent analysis
Dalberg | 2017
Education for all 2000 assessment
UNESCO | 2000
What enabled these gains for women
Income support

The government’s Bolsa Familia (BF) program provides cash payments to poor families who make sure their children attend school and receive regular health check-ups. BF expanded women’s access to prenatal care and helped increase their autonomy in domestic decisions. In addition to BF, a number of governmental programs aimed to help rural women get access to land, credit, and government services. Scholarship has also revealed the importance of considering how program requirements affect women’s time and care work responsibilities.

Element: Financial inclusion

Workplace reform

Political momentum for women’s rights inspired several laws mandating gender equality in the workplace, including equal remuneration for work of equal value, an end to gender-based discrimination in hiring, and a ban on sexual harassment at work.

Element: Policies to promote workplace equality


Free daycare programs for children (ages 0-6) redistributed care work responsibilities and increased women’s labor force participation nationwide.

Element: Alleviation of unpaid care work

Parental leave

Improved maternity (from 120 to 180 days) and paternity (from 5 to 20 days) leave policies increased the likelihood of women entering and remaining in the workforce.

Elements: Alleviation of unpaid care work, policies to promote workplace equality


Public spending on education rose from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2001 to 6.1 percent of GDP in 2011, resulting in improved educational attainment for both women and men.

Element: Education

Accelerators involved

Brazil went through a period of rapid economic growth between 2001 and 2011. Per capita GDP rose from $3,000 to $13,000 as the country became the world’s sixth-largest economy. This economic boom led to over 20 million new jobs, higher employment rates, and greater incomes for both women and men. The resulting increase in women’s earnings encouraged families to decrease women’s unpaid care work responsibilities in a variety of ways, including redistributing care work among family members.

The Brazilian government created a Corporate Citizen Program (Programa Empresa Cidadã or PEC) to encourage large private employers to give employees better childcare options as well as extended maternity and paternity leave. Over 18,000 employers registered with PEC and implemented its policies.

The installation of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president in 2003 began a period of strong emphasis on gender equality and women’s rights in Brazil. Lula’s administration established a Special Secretariat for Women’s Policies and produced a National Plan for Women’s Policies to encourage gender-aware policy making and implementation at all levels of government. This attention to gender issues grew following the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010.

Promundo and other civil society organizations were instrumental in pressuring the Brazilian government to update policies in ways that advance gender equality.

Funding for improved transport networks and better access to water, electricity, and cooking fuels helped reduce women’s unpaid care work responsibilities. Public spending on education rose as well, resulting in improved educational attainment for both women and men.