Skip to content

Austerity and gender in Brazil: insights from the international literature

Download the WEA commentaries issue ›

By Ana Luíza Matos de Oliveira1 and Magali N. Alloatti2

Since 2015, austerity has been adopted in Brazil and has been confirmed by several constitutional reforms. It is defined as an economic policy based on the reduction of public spending and the role of the State in its functions to induce economic growth and promote wellbeing (as defined by Rossi, Dweck & Oliveira (2018). In this communication, we explore the theoretical links between austerity and gender in current specialized literature and examine if this relationship is well established in the Brazilian context or not.

On December 12, 2020, we conducted a search on web of science using the keywords gender* and auster*. The search automatically rendered 352 articles, of which 166 were open access. Most of the 166 open access articles were written by authors located in Europe: 77 in England, 22 in Spain, 10 in Portugal, 9 in Scotland, 8 in Greece, 8 in Sweden and 6 in Finland.

We analysed the articles manually by their titles, abstracts, and keywords, singling out those pertinent to our subject. The 25 selected articles were categorized by the main area in which they focus, highlighting possible literature gaps regarding Brazil.

Health indicators and Healthcare

Grotti, Malakasis, Quagliariello & Sahraoui (2019) discuss how austerity policies have had concrete effects on maternity care offered to migrants in a context of austerity-driven under-funding, temporary solutions become entrenched. Thomson, Niedzwiedz & Katikireddi (2018) explore a very frequent subject in the literature: the links between austerity and the worsening of healthcare indicators, especially related to mental health and suicide rates. A key finding is that since the onset of austerity policies in England gender gaps in mental health have widened. In this regard, Brazil has faced a reduction of its budget directed to the public health care system, which can foster a similar dynamic of temporary solutions becoming entrenched (Grotti, Malakasis, Quagliariello & Sahraoui, 2019). As indicated by Guidolin (2019), the Brazilian Public Health System (SUS) has been facing chronic underfunding.

Labour market

Alcañiz & Monteiro (2016) find that the adoption of austerity has affected women where a degree of segmentation and segregation of the labor structure, the presence of traditional gender roles and the retrenchment of the welfare states and of services that help ‘defamiliarization’ occur. Guerrina (2015) argues that austerity measures have posed a serious challenge to the reconciliation of work and family life in Europe. Benefits targeting women’s access to the labour market have been amongst the first to be cut, relying on the family (women) to deliver welfare provisions. Also, Perugini, Žarković Rakić & Vladisavljević (2019) find that austerity favours gender discrimination, as budget cuts to care services are likely to feed expectations of lower availability of female labour. These characteristics and trends are significantly present in Brazil and, since 2015, budget cuts have been made in Brazil to areas which support a work-family life balance (Inesc, 2020).

Antón & Bustillo (2015) examine the larger gender wage gap in the private sector and argue that the downsizing of the public sector might widen gender inequalities. A similar argument can be made for Brazil, as women are the majority of public servants (Atlas do Estado Brasileiro, 2021).

Anastasiou, Filippidis & Stergiou (2015) argues that austerity resulted in more pressure on women to work for less or enter professions with lower earnings. Barba & Iraizoz (2020) find that women are more vulnerable to a recession for being predominantly engaged in part-time or temporary jobs, informality, and self-employment, as well as often more dependent on state income support and social services. On the same note, Tepe-Belfrage & Steans (2016) and MacLeavy (2011) show how more stringent conditionalities in welfare entitlements pushes women into economic dependence from a partner. Also, Sánchez-Mira & O’Reilly (2019) find that the re-emergence of traditional male breadwinner households in many countries is often the result of female unemployment, especially for less educated women.


Martínez, Dueñas & Meireles (2020) analyse public spending cuts on gender inequality and the feminization of poverty in Mexico and Brazil. In both countries, austerity policies risk making women more vulnerable in relation to men. Montgomerie & Tepe-Belfrage (2016) discuss how narratives around the causes of poverty in times of austerity in the United Kingdom make the poor responsible for their misery, especially by targeting single mothers. Rossilli (2018) argues that the economic crisis and austerity policies have contributed to increasing the number of poor people in the EU. Moreover, she shows that the number of women at risk of poverty and social exclusion is higher than that of men in 2015. Once again, although Montgomerie & Tepe-Belfrage (2016) and Rossilli (2018) do not discuss the Brazilian reality, in this case the adoption of austerity policies has been clearly followed by an increase of the feminization of poverty (Inesc, 2020) and especially affects Black women (Nassif-Pires, Cardoso & Oliveira, 2021).

Retrenchment of public policies

Bohoslavsky & Rulli (2020) argue austerity curtails the guarantee of social rights which are proportionally more important for women, children and disabled people. Girón & Correa (2016) highlight that austerity pushes women into taking on care burdens to cope with losses in functions of the state.

Murphy (2015) argues that austerity disproportionately impacts (low-income) women, as they are more present in the public sector, use public services, and claim social welfare payments. In agreement to this are Rubio-Marín (2016) and Sanders, Annesley & Gains (2019). Elomäki (2019) argues that governance reforms – framed as neutral and technical solutions – are often harder to overturn, since they are a more silent form of austerity compared to spending cuts.

In Brazil, women, especially those in low-income groups and rural areas, have had their lives impacted and shaped by budget cuts and the retrieving of public policies. The multidimensionality of their impact includes the reduction of social benefits, the crippling of the Programa Bolsa Família (direct cash transfers), national and regional programs that supported access to aliments, institutions that supported social reproduction, among others (Oliveira, Passos, Guidolin, Welle & Nassif-Pires, 2020). Also, women are not part of the decision-making process in Brazil, especially when it comes to the retrenchment of public policies. They are, however, most workers in the public sector, affected by those cuts, and also very dependent on public services (Dweck, Silveira & Rossi, 2018).

Social reproduction

Daskalaki, Fotaki & Simosi (2020) examine how austerity relies on shifting public provision of reproductive work to the private sphere. Gálvez & Rodríguez-Modroño (2016) argue that women take on additional responsibilities in care work due to welfare cuts and privatization while they face discrimination in the labour market and restricted access and resources in decision-making centres. Finally, Power & Hall (2018) argue that governments are increasingly advocating policies of ‘personalization’, ‘choice and control’ and independent living: care responsibilities are being further entrenched as private responsibilities, while Tarrant (2018) points out that gender equality is a process that cannot be individualized if it is to be sustained. In Brazil, the sexual division of labour is very present with a disproportionate overburden for women regarding unpaid domestic and care work, so although the reviewed literature refers to other national and regional contexts, similar links and considerations can be applied to understand the Brazilian reality.

Gender-based violence

Sanders-McDonagh, Neville & Nolas (2016) analyse how the reductions to welfare provisions and entitlements have a detrimental effect on women’s equality and safety. They conclude that the lack of services for victims is state-sanctioned violence. Since 2015, Brazil’s instruments to fight gender-based violence have been suffering budget cuts including assistance to victims and their families. Thus, the country is solidifying its records on femicide (Folha de São Paulo, 2020), the “last stage” of gender-based violence.

The literature review indicates many detrimental effects of austerity on women, particularly the most vulnerable, mostly in Europe. However, the channels through which austerity impacts gender inequality in Brazil are similar to what the literature describes for the Global North. Nonetheless, in a country with such low public provision of social policies, austerity presents an even bigger challenge to gender equality, as well as amid the ravaging of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Alcañiz, M., & Monteiro, R. 2016. She-austerity. Women’s precariousness and labor inequality in Southern Europe. Convergencia, 23(72), 39-68.

Anastasiou, S., Filippidis, K., & Stergiou, K. 2015. Economic Recession, Austerity and Gender Inequality at Work. Evidence from Greece and Other Balkan Countries, Procedia Economics and Finance, Volume 24, 41-49,

Antón, J. I., Bustillo, R. M. 2015. Public-private sector wage differentials in Spain. An updated picture in the midst of the Great Recession, Investigación Económica, Volume 74, Issue 292, 115-157,

Atlas do Estado Brasileiro. 2021. Atlas do Estado Brasileiro. Retrieved from:

Barba, I., & Iraizoz, B. 2020. “Effect of the Great Crisis on Sectoral Female Employment in Europe: A Structural Decomposition Analysis,” Economies, MDPI, vol. 8(3), pages 1-24, August.

Bohoslavsky, J. P., & Rulli, M. 2020. Assessing the Gender-Sensitivity of International Financial Institutions’ Responses to COVID-19: Reflections from Home (with Kids) in Lockdown. Feminist legal studies, 1–9. Advance online publication.

Daskalaki, M., Fotaki, M., & Simosi, M. 2020. The gendered impact of the financial crisis: Struggles over social reproduction in Greece. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.

Dweck, E., Silveira, F. G., Rossi, P. 2018. Austeridade e desigualdade social no Brasil. In: P. Rossi, E. Dweck, A. L. M. Oliveira (Eds.) (2018) Economia para Poucos: impactos sociais da austeridade e alternativas para o Brasil. São Paulo, Editora Autonomia Literária.

Elomäki, A. 2019. Governing Austerity: Governance Reforms as Facilitators of Gendered Austerity in Finland, Australian Feminist Studies, 34:100, 182-197, DOI: 10.1080/08164649.2019.1644607

Folha de São Paulo. 2020. Feminicídio cresce no Brasil e explode em alguns estados. Accessed 03 May 2021.

Gálvez, L., & Rodríguez-Modroño, P. 2016. A Gender Analysis of the Great Recession and “Austericide” in Spain. Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais [Online], 111, DOI:

Girón, A. & Correa, E. 2016. Post-Crisis Gender Gaps: Women Workers and Employment Precariousness, Journal of Economic Issues, 50:2, 471-477, DOI: 10.1080/00213624.2016.1179049

Grotti, V., Malakasis, C., Quagliariello, C., & Sahraoui, N. 2019. Temporalities of emergency: Migrant pregnancy and healthcare networks in Southern European borderlands, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 222, Pages 11-19.

Guerrina, R. 2015. Socio-economic challenges to work-life balance at times of crisis, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 37:3, 368-377, DOI: 10.1080/09649069.2015.1081223

Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC). 2020. O Brasil com baixa imunidade. Balanço do Orçamento Geral da União 2019. Brasília Accessed 29 January 2021.

Martínez O., Dueñas I., & Meireles M. 2020. Austerity Policies, Public Expenditure, and Development from a Gender Perspective: What Is the Status of Mexican and Brazilian Women? Panoeconomicus, 67(3), 385-403. doi:10.2298/PAN2003385M

MacLeavy, J. 2011. A ‘new politics’ of austerity, workfare and gender? The UK coalition government’s welfare reform proposals, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, November, 355–367,

Montgomerie, J. & Tepe-Belfrage, D. 2016. A Feminist Moral-Political Economy of Uneven Reform in Austerity Britain: Fostering Financial and Parental Literacy, Globalizations, 13:6, 890-905, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2016.1160605

Murphy, M. 2015. Gendering the Narrative of the Irish Crisis, Irish Political Studies, 30:2, 220-237, DOI: 10.1080/07907184.2015.1022866

Nassif-Pires, L., Cardoso, L., Oliveira, A. L. M. 2021. Gênero e raça em evidência durante a pandemia no Brasil: o impacto do Auxílio Emergencial na pobreza e extrema pobreza. Nota MADE USP, 10. Accessed 03 May 2021.

Perugini, C., Žarković Rakić, J. & Vladisavljević, M. (2019). Austerity and gender inequalities in Europe in times of crisis, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 43, Issue 3, May 2019, Pages 733–767,

Power, A. & Hall, E. 2018. Placing care in times of austerity, Social & Cultural Geography, 19:3, 303-313, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2017.1327612

Rossi, P., Dweck, E., Oliveira, A. L. M. 2018. Economia para poucos: impactos sociais da austeridade e alternativas para o Brasil. São Paulo: Autonomia Literária.

Rossilli, M. 2018. La povertà delle donne nell’Unione Europea. Storia Delle Donne, 13(1), 39-61.

Rubio-Marín, R. 2016. Women in Europe and in the world: The state of the Union 2016, International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 14, Issue 3, July, Pages 545–554,

Sanders, A., Annesley, C. & Gains, F. 2019. What did the coalition government do for women? An analysis of gender equality policy agendas in the UK 2010–2015. British Politics, 14, 162–180.

Sánchez-Mira, N., O’Reilly, J. 2019. Household Employment and the Crisis in Europe. Work, employment and society, Volume: 33 issue: 3, page(s): 422-443.

Sanders-McDonagh, E., Neville, L., & Nolas, S.-M. 2016. From Pillar to Post: Understanding the Victimisation of Women and Children who Experience Domestic Violence in an Age of Austerity. Feminist Review, 112(1), 60–76.

Tarrant, A. 2018. Care in an Age of Austerity: Men’s Care Responsibilities in Low-Income Families, Ethics and Social Welfare, 12:1, 34-48, DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2017.1413581

Tepe-Belfrage, D., & Steans, J. 2016. The new materialism: Re-claiming a debate from a feminist perspective. Capital & Class, 40(2), 305–326.

Thomson, R., Niedzwiedz, C., & Katikireddi, S. 2018. Trends in gender and socioeconomic inequalities in mental health following the Great Recession and subsequent austerity policies: a repeat cross-sectional analysis of the Health Surveys for England. BMJ Open, 8, e022924.

1 FLACSO-Brazil. Economist, PhD in Economic Development.

2 Associated researcher at the State Observatory for Migrations, Santa Catarina, PhD in Sociology.

From: pp.6-8 of WEA Commentaries 11(2), July 2021


Download WEA commentaries Volume 11, Issue No. 2, July 2021 ›

Respond to this article

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Please note that your email address will not be published.