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Machisma: Girl Power in Brazil


Last month’s edition of National Geographic Magazine included a fascinating story by Cynthia Gorney on the lowering of the national fertility rate in Brazil. Fertility rates are deceptively simple statistics. Though they seem to be relevant only to population studies, they point to much larger forces. Fertility rates can tell you a lot about the status of women’s empowerment in a country. They can tell you how strong its health infrastructure is, and its pharmacy system. Because poor women are often the most structurally oppressed demographic in a given society, a fertility rate is a measure of how well a health system can connect to its most disenfranchised peoples.

Best of all, the article is a blast to read. Gorney writes:


“That new Brazilian fertility rate is below the level at which a population replaces itself. It is lower than the two-children-per-woman fertility rate in the United States. In the largest nation in Latin America—a 191-million-person country where the Roman Catholic Church dominates, abortion is illegal (except in rare cases), and no official government policy has ever promoted birth control—family size has dropped so sharply and so insistently over the past five decades that the fertility rate graph looks like a playground slide.

And it’s not simply wealthy and professional women who have stopped bearing multiple children in Brazil. There’s a common perception that the countryside and favelas, as Brazilians call urban slums, are still crowded with women having one baby after another—but it isn’t true … In a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, an unmarried 18-year-old affectionately watched her toddler son one evening as he roared his toy truck toward us; she loved him very much, the young woman said, but she was finished with childbearing. The expression she used was one I’d heard from Brazilian women before: “A fábrica está fechada.” The factory is closed.”

Read the full article here