Portrait of Afro-Brazilian Craftswomen. Dácia Cristina Teles Costa Criola Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

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1 Portrait of Afro-Brazilian Craftswomen Dácia Cristina Teles Costa Criola Rio de Janeiro, Brasil Prepared for delivery at the 2001 meeting of the Latin American Studies Association, Washington DC, September 6-8, 2001

2 Portrait of Afro-Brazilian Craftswomen By Dácia Cristina Teles Costa Foreword Criola, a non-profit organization with headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, was founded and is operated by black women. Through our activities over the nine years we have been in operation, we have had a direct impact on over 3,000 women, adolescents and girls, as well as on institutions involved in serving this population. We work to incorporate black women as agents for change by contributing to the development of a society based on values of justice, equity and solidarity, wherein the presence and contribution of black women is welcomed as a benefit to humanity. Over the years, the organization has received financial and political support for the implementation of our projects from various groups and institutions. Among them are the Heinrich Böll Foundation; AAPCS; National Coordination of DST; AIDS of the Ministry of Health; UNESCO and de Themis; the Ministry of Justice; UNDP; Ashoka Social Entrepreneurs; SKN; Frauen Anstifitung; Global Exchange; FASE; SAAP; and McKinsey & Co., as well as from a large part of the black community. Such projects are carried out by their founding members, with the assistance of collaborators and volunteers. The projects detected a need for work that directly addressed inequalities of gender, race, and social class through action with various social movements such as black women s movements, the women s movement, the black movement, 1 the movement to defend the 1 The black movement has adopted the term African descenden to describe persons having the same sociocultural and historical identity.

3 rights of children and adolescents, and the community movement and, in particular, the movements that addressed the effects of such inequalities on the black female population. In contrast, the general activity directed at women, blacks, adolescents, or the poor, was partial and inadequate in its comprehension of the condition of the black female population, and in its efforts to devise more effective proposals to address such inequalities. Criola thus defined its mission: to equip black women, adolescents and girls in activities to combat racism, sexism and homophobia and to improve the standard of living of the black population. To speak of Criola is to trace the history of women who have traditionally felt the weight of discrimination, but who nonetheless took the initiative to become involved in the fight against racism and to obtain and guarantee wider social rights. Introduction The goals of Criola s Art and Media Program is to create opportunities for black women and adolescents to enter the labor market and production; to promote collective labor organization and association; to provide vocational training and qualification through courses; and to extend access to credit. The agency seeks to provide an infrastructure for

4 operations and to facilitate dissemination of goods and services produced by black women in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region. Opportunities are provided where black women and youth can be trained and certified in various vocational areas, such as information technology, industrial cutting and sewing, as well as Afro-Brazilian printmaking, to name a few. In addition, a proposal is being developed to train women and adolescents to generate income through Afro-Brazilian tourism and culture, highlighting the part women played, lack women in particular, in building the country s cities and their contribution to Brazilian history, art and crafts. One of the activities carried out by the Program is the Criola Craftswomen Project, begun in Through various activities, this project seeks to assemble, advise and provide elements making it possible for craftswomen to develop joint production practices, procure raw materials at lower prices, trade and enter markets to sell their products. The project kept a register of craftswomen living in Rio Grande (a region that includes Rio de Janeiro, Niterói, São Gonçalo, and Baixada Fluminense), which was used to organize meetings where the women could receive training, exchange views and build group solidarity. A direct mail system was also organized to provide rapid information exchange concerning the existence of points of sale and other activities of interest to craftswomen. The objective of this work is to offer technical support for women participating in the program, so that they are able to improve the quality of their products and increase sales. With this technical and financial support, they will improve the quality of their work and,

5 through involvement in the crafts market, be in a better position to address issues of poverty. Part 1 Brazil in figures Population and racial composition According to preliminary results of the 2000 census, Brazil has a population of 169,544,000. Approximately 45 percent of the population is black, of which 5.39 percent is dark-skinned and 39.9 percent is brown-skinned (National survey conducted by Amostra Domiciliar - PNAD, 1999). The official method used to identify the racial/ethnic background in the Brazilian population is self-identification, which is based on skin color. This method is used by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics] (IBGE) in census interviews. Those surveyed may choose among the following classifications of color: white, black, brown, yellow (identifying persons of Asian origin) and indigenous (which includes various ethnic groups). The IGBE question on color is criticized by Brazilian black movement organizations because it underestimates the true size of the black population, masking the figures and making it difficult to ascertain the group s socioeconomic conditions. Such underestimates are a result of the difficulty some individuals encounter by defining themselves as black.

6 However, because the IBGE's method is the official method for determining race, it often used as a parameter in surveys and studies on topics related to ethnic and racial questions. In this paper, the terms Afro-Brazilian population, Afro-descendent population, and black population refer to the group of persons classified as black and brown. 1.2 Human development indices: the situation by race and gender According to studies conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which defines the Human Development Index (HDI) (comparing the quality of life based on statistics on access to education, life expectancy, and employment and income status), in 1999, Brazil took 74th place. If only the white population is taken into account, the country takes 43rd place, while if only the black population is considered, Brazil s place falls to the 108th (PAIXÃO, 1999). School attendance rates, broken down by ethnic group, were 4.2 years for the Africandescendent population and 6.2 years for the white population. Illiteracy rates were 9 percent for whites and 22 percent for African descendents (IBGE/PNAD, 1996). Ministry of Education figures for 2000 reflect that only 2.2 percent of university students were Black, while 80 percent were white. If the number of blacks in Brazilian universities were proportional to their percentage of the population, the percentage of blacks attending university would be 160 percent higher. Similarly, the Black and brown population together represents 45.2 percent of the Brazilian population, but the number of black and

7 brown university students together totals only 15.7 percent. If the number of university students were proportional to the Brazilian ethnic makeup, the number of blacks with higher education would be three times higher than it is currently. The IBGE figures show that the white population has higher rates of school attendance than the African-descendent population at all levels. The disparity is most marked among children ages 0 to 6 where there is an 8.4 percentage point spread (31.9 percent for whites and 23.5 percent for blacks and browns), and among adolescents ages 15 to 17, where there is a 10.7 percentage point spread (whites, 80.1 percent and black/brown, 69.4 percent). (SANT ANNA, IBGE figures, study of living patterns, ). According to year 2000 preliminary census figures, the Brazilian population is percent female. If the inequality index is adjusted for gender (IDG) and applied to the Brazilian population in general (incorporating both the white and the African descendent populations, thus cutting across gender and race) the following statistics emerge for 1999 (SANT ANNA, 2000): IDG Brazil = 67th place; IDG Brazil (Afro-descendent) = 91st place IDG Brazil (white) = 48th place According to PNAD (1999), black women total 36,300,000 and represent:

8 23 percent of the Brazilian population; 44 percent of the female population; 27 percent of the rural population; 22 percent of the urban population. In studying comparative data for white and black women, differences are most evident in literacy and school attendance rates; there is a 90 percent literacy rate for whites as opposed to 83 percent for blacks, and a 78 percent school attendance rate for whites as opposed to 76 percent for blacks. (SANT ANNA, IBGE figures, study of living patterns, ). Despite the differences in education between the black and white population as a whole, from 1960 to 1980, the number of black women enrolled in university grew three times faster than the increase in university enrollment of white women, or 7.33 percent and 2.53 percent times as many, respectively (Bento, cited in Lovell). The Survey of the Black Population on the Brazilian Labor Market, conducted by DIEESE at the request of the Instituto Interamericano pela Igualdade Racial [Inter- American Institute for Racial Equality] (INSPIR), produced a systematic study of variables on personal characteristics and working conditions, and compared the black and non-black population for each. Special processing of the PED was conducted for the São Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Federal District metropolitan areas. The survey data reveals that racial and gender bias exists in Brazil.

9 According to the IPEA data, black women's income is 40 percent less than that of white workers. In September 1998, white workers received an average of R$ for a 40- hour week. Black women's average income for the same week was R$ A similar comparison of black and white workers shows that the former group earns 46 percent (R$337.13) of white workers' income (SOARES, 1999). Income is the principal indicator of the nature of inclusion in the labor market. When populations are compared by gender and race, average figures in the regions studied speak volumes with respect to discrimination against blacks and women, clearly reflecting the existing occupational hierarchy. When the income of non-black men is used as a basis, black women earn between 62 percent to 70 percent of that basis. Black men earn considerably less, as their income ranges from 47 percent (Salvador) to 76 percent (Belo Horizonte) of the income of non-black men. However, there is nothing as marked as the condition of black women who are victims of dual discrimination, due to color and gender, and whose income ranges from 28 percent to 47 percent of the income of non-black men. In absolute terms, the discrepancies are even more remarkable because they reveal the face, color and gender of Brazilian social inequality, showing to a palpable extent the quality of life imposed on the families of these male and female workers.

10 According to 1998 PNAD figures, in Brazil, approximately 26 percent of all families, black and non-black, have female heads of household. They support their homes with salaries ranging from R$ to R$ to meet the needs of their children and family members. For an average family of four, this means per capita income ranges from R$68.00 to R$ Two facts may explain such inequality: the level of school attendance and, the types of jobs held. For the level of school attendance factor, there is no evidence of there a valid difference between the groups. For example, there is evidence that the rates of school attendance for women are increasing each year, sometimes even surpassing the rates of men in terms of secondary education. However, there has not been a commensurate decrease in the discrepancies. It seems that where blacks are concerned, racial prejudice takes precedence over qualifications. Blacks and women are minorities in the most highly-skilled occupations. Once again, the glass ceiling comes into play; these groups are present, but never seen, and job promotion is thwarted. At the same time, they represent an increasing proportion of individuals who are unstable, vulnerable, working in poorly paid jobs, unprotected by labor law. In the face of such evidence, one can only conclude that racial and gender bias compromises not only the quality of life and work of a majority of Brazilian workers, but also their position as citizens and human beings.

11 Part 2 - Social inequalities in Brazil In Brazil, social and economic inequalities take on new weight when added, for purposes of study and evaluation, to race and gender-related factors. Despite this social sector s scant visibility, the inequalities of Brazilian society are most keenly felt by black women. The few available figures provide information that sheds light on this situation. Many studies show the corollary to socioeconomic inequality is concentration of income, manifested in the numbers of the poor to be found in all Brazilian states. We, however, contend that by failing to take account of racial inequality, many studies are incomplete, as poverty statistics correlate closely with African descent. Behind this reality lies a process, and a historical explanation. Inequality of income in Brazil has several historical origins that have to do with the slave trade. However, such inequality has been internalized and accepted by Brazilians as the natural order of things. For example, many do not question the fact that unequal access to education systems leads to unequal levels of school attendance. Acceptance of discrimination as a natural phenomenon leads to obfuscation of the racial question. It becomes ever-present in all areas of social relations as well as in the working world. To change this picture, more effective state action is required, primarily through public policy. The parameters of a just and democratic society must be redefined. This can

12 only be achieved when race issues are included as thematic areas in defining a model for citizenship. This paper outlines action for non-governmental organizations to work with Afro- Brazilian craftswomen with the goal of reversing the socioeconomic impact of racial and social inequality. In addition, it is a proposal for addressing racial and gender discrimination. Part 3 Black craftswomen Craftswomen The beneficiaries of Criola are women who are black and poor and who have low levels of school attendance. They therefore suffer the consequences of the social inequalities present in Brazilian society. The work with these craftswomen reveals some old inherent contradictions. On one hand, the women have control of the entire process of product creation (they plan and control all stages of production), and are self-employed workers who are masters of their own work processes. On the other hand, in seeking consumers for their products, they experience the market-imposed problems posed by competition. 3.2 A 3 x 4 Portrait

13 The group has about 56 women, 25 of whom participate regularly in activities carried out by Criola. Project participants live in districts located far from central Rio de Janeiro, in the poorest parts of the city, characterized by a lack of urban social amenities and by violence. They travel considerable distances in the search of opportunities to display the products they produce. To sell their products, many of the women physically carry them in heavy knapsacks, with the belief, My luck may change and perhaps I will sell my wares at a good price. These women are all in economically-active age groups, ranging from 27 to 55, with an average age of 35. The craftswomen have low levels of school attendance: Most have not completed first grade; a few have completed second grade; only one-third have completed third grade. Such levels of school attendance are inadequate to meet current formal labor market requirements. They thus have subordinate, unstable, poorly remunerated jobs. For the most part, they work in the informal sector, under unhealthy, exploitative conditions. Because of their irregular incomes as craftswomen, many of these women also work in other activities in order to ensure a fixed monthly income (although this amount is still far below what is needed to meet their basic needs). Multiple jobs means an average work day may reach 14 hours to ensure a monthly income of one and one-half minimum salaries (R$230.00, or approximately US$93.88 per month). These women s salaries serve to supplement family income; however, for most of them, it is the only source of family support because many of them are heads of household and breadwinners.

14 The crafts the women produce reflect Afro-Brazilian culture. Most women produce clothing and accessories (jewelry, belts, bags, and headdresses), as well as ornaments, statues, sculptures, cloth, religious artifacts, toys, domestic utensils and perfumes. These items are produced in makeshift workshops located in the women s homes Because they do not have money to invest in improving their products and to save to improve and to build separate work spaces, their houses serve as spaces to create and store products. Production of objects generates income, although the products are not of competitive quality and sales are insufficient to ensure sustainability. Profits are generally about 30 percent above the estimated costs of production, although in some cases it may be possible to raise this margin to 50 percent over actual costs. At one of the group s meetings, one of the craftswomen remarked that a craftswoman s life is to have to sell dinner to ensure lunch. Her statement provided a rather direct illustration of the difficulties faced daily to ensure the minimum needs for survival. Products are sold at improvised locations (inter alia, in squares, at fairs and events, and to acquaintances) that are unsafe in that they do not provide infrastructure. In general, sales occur without official permission, as there is no recognition that these women do craft work. It is therefore necessary to develop markets in which to sell these women s products. Some craftswomen sell in fairs authorized by the prefecture of Rio de Janeiro. When the Copacabana Craft Fair gained official authorization, one of the craftswomen succeeded in registering and obtaining a permit after a long political and physical struggle,

15 which resulted in the other exhibitors refusal to regard as crafts the Afro-Brazilian teeshirts that she made. One direct result of such a situation is decapitalization, which affects the volume and regularity of production (despite product demand), as well as product value. It should be noted that the craftswomen with whom we work do not have resources to ensure regular, skilled production, primarily because they produce products that are relatively noncompetitive in the capitalist market. This has contributed to the fact that they are often unable to meet the financing agency requirements, which results in fewer opportunities for access to credit. The craftswomen most often combat against is intermediary, who lays hold to products and takes them to sell elsewhere without becoming involved in any way in production. Nonetheless, they often sell the products as though they owned them (there are some intermediaries who claim to have made the product) and, after a while, pass on a minimal percentage of the value charged for the piece. In some circumstances, craftswomen sell everything they produce exclusively through intermediaries, who sell the products at places and for prices unimaginable to the craftswomen, who are cast aside in the negotiating process and responsible only for supplying stock. This process moves the women out of their capacity as producers and into positions where they are essentially employees of the intermediary, who then markets the items. This situation arises out of the economic, financial and managerial fragility of these women in expanding their sales market.

16 What prompted the women s interest in working in handicrafts? There are several potential answers to this question: a chance for independence; not having to work for another; a need to supplement family income; the possibility for creativity; control over their person. Craftswomen are free to choose the hours and intensity of their work, the value of the product of their labor, etc. There is no all inclusive answer to the question, as various factors which justify the women's decision must be taken into account. Juxtaposed factors will be examined below. Despite the daily difficulties, the women choose to work as craftswomen, and treat it as a challenge, which they accept The project Production of Afro-Brazilian crafts in Rio de Janeiro is an activity rooted in the cultural traditions of that segment of the population. Many of the agents involved are women, whose activity supplements family income and serves to obtain items necessary to support the family. In that context, the stimulus we propose is significant in that its objective is to contribute to ensuring the women do not remain in casual employment due to a failure to invest (owing to lack of time and money) in an activity they know how to perform and that has the potential to ensure sufficient income to support the family. They work and produce in a way that by its nature is disparate, variable and, consequently, unstable.

17 The recovery of ways and experiences and an appreciation for certain crucial tools are essential in developing political projects designed to emancipate and ensure individual and collective rights (BOCAYUVA, 2000: 20). The act of creating and valuing the individual on the basis of collective practice is important to rescue and strengthen the self-esteem of a group that has historically been the object of countless attempts to suppress and conceal their oppressed condition and social disadvantage This situation has been continually reinvented and recreated in modern social relations. One form resistance has taken has been an appreciation of a still living culture, a binding element that contributes to the strengthening of group identity. Appreciation of manual activities takes on new meaning, as it is transforms, through creativity, work into art. Criola is developing the CRIOLA Arts and Crafts Center project designed to market Afro- Brazilian products. Its aim is to offer technical training (adapted to the market) and logistical and operational support so that these women take a more enterprising approach to marketing their products, with a view to appreciating the products essence. This was proposal, in 1999, won the First Ashoka/McKinsey Business Plan Prize. McKinsey continues to support CRIOLA through a consultancy. The project is currently in the fundraising stage of implementation. At times of production restructuring, it is evident today that modern productive society, which was built on values involving knowledge of craftsmanship, is ignorant of craftsmen, craftsmanship, the craft-making process and the mode of craft production.

18 Managerial capacity must be added to the knowledge of craftwork in order to insert craftswomen and craftsmanship into the world of production. This will facilitate the administration of their craft production, basic concepts of cost composition, basic general accounting and financial mathematics concepts, as well as certain concepts that globalizing and enigmatic entity production? the market? is becoming. This project seeks to equip these women to control the entire process of producing and marketing their products and, where necessary, to establish relationships for buying and selling appropriate to the capitalist system, thereby doing away with the traditional involvement of "intermediaries." 3.3 A consideration - the local scene for marketing Afro-Brazilian crafts Based on a quick analysis of the situation, we can observe a lack of comprehensive, systematic, well-planned government action capable of organizing the activity of various public agencies through a comprehensive plan which functions in an all-encompassing way and, moreover, is ongoing, despite changes in government. In the years of working with craftswomen, we have observed the lack of government action. This has several sources: lack of specific information and updated population surveys that might assist in the development of government programs, and lack of definitions that include craftwork in the modern world of work and production.

19 Funding is required to conduct studies and research that produce realistic data on Brazilian craft work. Based on the data obtained, the state may formulate very clear policies offering support and incentives to both the production and marketing of craft products, as well as to their promotion and dissemination. Such policies would thereby contribute to the public s cultural education and to the opening of marketing channels capable of promoting sustainability and raising craftswomen s income. Knowledge of the mode of craft production is required, knowledge duly organized and available to the interested public to assist other craftswomen, as well as new research and studies that will help develop new policies on craft activities and prompt action at regional and municipal levels. Accurate knowledge is required as this is a very disparate and varied form of work and production. Where Afro-Brazilian craftswomen are concerned, the key training element is the spoken word. Word of mouth is used to transfer technical knowledge and the stories that surround the particular product being created. Craftswomen s work also ensures an understanding of the entire process of production that the women know and dominate. The women control the mode of production as a whole, which encourages relative independence. Nonetheless, once subject to the rules of the market, the women no longer control the entire mode of production. Still, despite the entire process of restructuring production and changes in global economic relations, this is a practice that is alive and well with its own fascination. 4 Final considerations

20 Based on this brief discussion, this paper will now present some proposals that might be carried out by organized civil society and through the state action proposed for promoting craft activities. First, we list some challenges to be overcome, unrelated, in no ranking of importance: Afro-Brazilian craft production does not yet have a specific profile with the consuming public, so it is necessary to establish one. Investment funds are limited to financing production and not to the requirements of the (still limited) market. Limited financial investment in the products of this sector results in products that are not competitive, as many craftswomen do not have revolving capital to invest in product improvement; Craftswomen sell crafts individually, so there is a consequent increase in production costs which, together with the limited nature of the market, leads to prices in excess of expenditure patterns. There must be an increase in the intellectual or technical production of non-governmental organizations, university-affiliated researchers or scholars with knowledge of this important activity, who can to fill the gap caused by lack of state action in this area. Craft products must become seen as a driving force of social, cultural and economic development rather than a mere manifestation of folklore. Above all, it must become seen

21 as an activity with employment and income-generating potential for Brazilian society. Further, craftswomen must be offered opportunities to use technologies and to add other aesthetic and cultural values affecting their mode of production. The fact that craftsmen have traditionally been omitted from commercial agreements tends to reaffirm the belief held by many that craft work is somewhat out of step with modern times. This mode of production is a tradition-based activity that excludes planning, marketing and labor organization, and the flow of production functions from the work process, inter alia, the managerial process. This tends to corroborate the appearance of an anachronistic and/or folkloric activity. Craftswomen need training to obtain the skill necessary to manage their enterprises. And for these women, they are their own enterprise. Our intention is to see these women obtain the capacity to become micro-entrepreneurs as they have business potential. The proposal for involving these craftswomen in modern management methods is to ensure they are no longer out of step with market requirements. This discord is natural. Traditionally, the only training craftswomen received was direct, practical tradition-based training, which provided no opportunity to acquire the theoretical training that would assist them in managing their enterprises. Neither must we forget that the need to survive in this day and age greatly restricts the women s opportunities to gain such theoretical knowledge. Thus, the central aim of management training is to at least produce good business managers. The women need to be instructed in the proper handling of money (i.e.

22 separating household expenditure from that of the micro-enterprise). They must also learn to plan, organize and control production This means knowing how to calculate costs, prepare proper budgets, control product quality. They also need to be aware of marketing factors and familiar with the basic elements of a good buy. Awareness of the historical and cultural roots of the craft production process is another important requirement. While becoming familiar with the values typical of medieval corporate organizations, individual and group self-esteem is promoted - cooperation, companionship, solidarity, leadership, personal organization and organization within each group, formation of associations, participation in community life and communication, and also in training for life in society - true exercise of citizenship. The great challenge is to contribute to seeing that these women, through a process of collective reflection, come to conceive and define new attitudes and assumptions regarding their individual capacities, try out new roles and behaviors, appreciate their talents, and recognize their individual and group limitations.

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