Brazil’s educational system is globally recognized for its low quality, structurally and in terms of results. The Economist Intelligence Unit 2012 report ranked Brazil’s education as thirty-ninth out of forty-five countries¹ and a more recent study ranked Brazil thirty-fourth (out of out thirty-six countries) in the expected number of years in education for 15-29 year-old women². This has an economic cost and violates the Brazilian constitution. (Article 205—Education, a right of everyone and the obligation of the State and the family, will be promoted and encouraged with the cooperation of society, aiming at the full development of the person, his/her preparation for the exercise of citizenship and his/her qualification for work) The absence of an education that stimulates dreams and develops skills, leaves millions of potential talents undiscovered and each individual at the mercy of an unequal society. The history of Mari is one of success, despite a flawed system, and is proof that education can transform lives.
Mari, thirty-two year old born in Espirito Santo, barely escaped her ‘destiny’. “Among the women in my family, I’m the only one in my age group that is not married, has a college degree and a profession.” Her mother works as a cleaning woman and always has, her cousins too. Briefly, she followed the same career path. This does not mean that her family did not value education. Her mother did not complete elementary school and always told Mari that she had to finish high school. However, more than that—a college degree—simply didn’t exist as a possibility. Additionally, during high school not a single educational professional spoke Mari and her friends about the possibility of college. So Mari did what she knew was possible; she finished school and entered the family profession—cleaning other peoples homes. “I finished high school and started my first job as a cleaning woman. At that time, for my reality, I was earning a good living so I thought it was ok. I did not (see the) need to study more. I worked and thought everything was fine till I reached the moment of exhaustion. There comes a time of physical and emotional exhaustion. It’s difficult.”
A friend encouraged her to look for another profession, convinced that she had the potential to do something else. She got a job as a telemarketer. “I started working in as a telemarketer. For me it was positive; it was great. It was a job that didn’t exploit me. I sat and spoke to clients, period.’ The same friend continued to encourage her to seek more. For the first time in her life, already in her twenties, the idea of college entered her realm of possibility.
Initially, college seemed otherworldly. “I did not know what was an entrance exam, or the difference between a college and university (or) why people did took prep classes.” It took her over two years to gather the courage to apply for college. Currently, she works as a social worker and dreams of doing post graduate students. Finishing college, without financial assistance, was her greatest success. It was also the beginning of her liberation as a professional and woman.
Education not only opened up her opportunities as a professional, but also as a woman. When she was young she learned that “women are responsible for domestic chores, whereas men works and comes home tired so he doesn’t have to do anything, even if the women work.” She tried to reject this culture during her marriage (which lasted for 6 years), but was not successful. “It was that relationship that caused me to be stagnant for a long time, because I was focused on being the woman who got home, made food and washed clothes for her husband. As much as I tried to share the responsibilities, it was never equal.” The inequality in domestic tasks was a symptom of a far greater danger in their relationship. Once again, Mari had inherited a family legacy. “My mother and I were victims of domestic violence. It was one of the difficult times we faced together and it’s one of the motivations that also strengthens and pushes me to fight against any kind of violence, especially against women.”
Her marriage ended before she went to college and that left her free to reflect on gender issues and find real female friends. She entered a collective of women called “National Front for Women in Hip Hop.” It was in that group that she found herself getting stronger. “I reproduced (the discourse) of only having male friends, of not liking friendship with woman because women are gossipy or cause problems, and I was able to demystify that (in the group).” The support of her female friends empowers her to look at herself and dream of the future.
“I see myself as a woman who went through several very difficult situations that have left some scars, and through these scars I see my transformation. Life has taught me to seek who I am and to love myself (and) to also understand and deal with my weaknesses. I identify my flaws, I have some things to work on. But (the important thing) is to love myself, accept me the way I am, accept my hair, accept my body, (and) position myself.” Her goal for the future is to continue learning and living with integrity and dignity.