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Brazil’s President draws fire for praising women’s supermarket skills on Women’s Day

Brazil's President Michel Temer gestures during a ceremony in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016.

UESLEI MARCELINO/REUTERS

As Brazilians took to the streets across the country to march for gender equality on International Women's Day, the country's President used the occasion to praise women's ability to spot errors in supermarket prices.

After commending the female ability to keep house and raise children, which he said is "surely" a woman's responsibility, Michel Temer turned to women's economic contribution.

"In the economy, too, women have a large role: No one else is able to point out mismatches, for example, in supermarket prices better than women," he said. "No one is better able to identify possible economic fluctuations in a household budget."

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Read also: 'Daughters of the Vote' fill seats in Parliament for International Women's Day

Mr. Temer became president last September after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, who was Brazil's first female leader. She was impeached for financial mismanagement, but many of her supporters called the impeachment a "coup," saying the move to oust her was driven by the desire of senior political figures to try to shut down investigations into corruption. After the impeachment, evidence surfaced showing Mr. Temer, her erstwhile vice-president and ally, had been actively working to oust Ms. Rousseff.

Once he took office, Mr. Temer appointed a new cabinet that contained no women. He scrapped the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights and some programs that had been aimed at building gender equality. (After an outcry, some of the ministry functions were resurrected in a new Ministry of Human Rights; after several high-profile rejections, Mr. Temer managed to find a woman to run it. Today the Attorney-General, a cabinet-level post, is also a woman.)

The 76-year-old Mr. Temer was accompanied at the IWD event by his wife, Marcela, 33, a former beauty queen who trained as a lawyer but has been a homemaker since their marriage. Shortly after he became president, she posed for the cover of a national magazine, which featured her with the headline "Beautiful, Modest and At Home," which many Brazilians decried as both regressive and off-key given the economic crisis that has women struggling to keep their families fed.

In his brief speech, Mr. Temer trumpeted recent signs of economic stabilization, such as a fall in the inflation rate, saying that "in addition to taking care of domestic affairs," women would have more opportunity to enter the job market. Some women run companies, he added; 16 per cent of Brazilian firms are headed by women.

The President, apparently unaware that his remarks might be seen as tone-deaf, took the opportunity to note that women are "treated as second-class members of society in other parts of the world."

Alexandra Moraes, a cartoonist and journalist, suggested that perhaps Mr. Temer accidentally brought a speech prepared by the man who was Brazil's first president in the 19th century. "I think Michel Temer used the Women's Day speech that Marechal Deodoro left forgotten in the drawer," she wrote on Twitter.

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Daisy Ventura, a human rights activist, tweeted that Mr. Temer had disrespected the Women's Day marches with a speech that was "an anachronism."

Mr. Temer said that a new national security plan by his government contains measures to reduce violence against women and that he was considering a fund specifically for such steps. "All this is the fruit of the women's movement, and, let's say, of the understanding of men," he said. A study released on March 8 showed that 503 women in Brazil suffer physical abuse every hour, and that two out of three Brazilians surveyed said they had witnessed a woman experiencing "physical or verbal abuse" at some point in the past year. The research, carried out by Datafolha for the Brazilian Public Security Forum, was funded in part by Canada.

First lady Marcela Temer made a less-than-two-minute speech at the Women's Day event as well: venturing into slightly more political territory than her husband, she noted that many women are currently living a "difficult reality" and said the state must "provide the conditions" for them to raise their children "in the best possible manner," according to Folha de Sao Paulo.

Brazil's economic crisis is having a disproportionate impact on women, with the female unemployment rate two percentage points higher than the male one.

Mr. Temer has his defenders. Sheridan Oliveira, a member of Congress from his coalition, spoke up in the lower house in his defence after his speech. "I would like to start by reminding you that a woman's place is where she wants to be," she said. "Feminism means even respecting a woman's right to be a housewife … Since when is the role of the housewife less valued?"

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About the Author
Latin America Bureau Chief

Stephanie Nolen is the Latin America correspondent for The Globe and Mail. After years as a roving correspondent that included coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stephanie moved to Johannesburg in 2003 to open a new bureau for The Globe, to report on what she believed was the world's biggest uncovered story, Africa's AIDS pandemic. More

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