It is often seen how some sectors of Brazilian society historically display a paternalistic behavior. When I was studying abroad at the University in Rio de Janeiro, our Portuguese teacher explained us that such behavior comes from the times of colonialism. The Portuguese colonizers had a very paternalistic approach to the natives. Some ancient texts from the fist travelers that arrived in Brazil that I read for my Brazilian Literature class exemplified this fact. One of the first texts from those times describes how the sailors and the captain welcomed natives into their boat, offered them clothes, food and when they fell asleep on the floor they raised their heads to place a pillow under them.
This attitude was prolonged through the years, though it evolved according to the changing circumstances. In the times of slavery, masters use to have a paternalistic approach to slaves (but this did not necessarily save them from abuses or cruelty). When slavery was abolished, paternalistic attitudes were used to approach those who ‘are in need’ meaning the poor or poorer, or those who serve just in general. Our Portuguese teacher suggested us to pay attention to the way in which our host families treated their housekeepers, if they had them. She admitted that her own mother was very paternalistic towards her housekeeper. And so I did pay attention, while I was still living with my host mother, and my teacher was right. My host mother had a housekeeper who was a young girl and had a baby. She would bring the baby over while she worked around the house, and my host mother would buy toys, clothes and things for the baby, intruding verbally and materially in the child’s education and on the way his mother was raising him. This she would not do as a mere favor but she held a protective attitude towards the girl, acting as a mentor and a ‘father’ but at the same time constantly reminding her which was her place in society, below her.
A problem with this paternalistic attitude is that it often leads to disempowerment of the “fathered” one. That housekeeper would rely on her employer to provide her with things that went beyond her salary and her job, discouraging her to take responsibilities on her own and become an independent and an entrepreneur. One perceives a general attitude of those who have more feeling that they must protect those who have less, but not through empowering them but just through fulfilling some of their needs so they can comfortably remain in that disenfranchised position.
This, translated into a greater level, can be perceived at the institutional level in some public policies or government programs. I had a conversation with a waitress when I attended a seminar on “Human Rights in the Universal System of the UN” at the University of Law of RJ. She harshly criticized protectionist government policies. She believed that policies that are based on getting government money because of having many children just act as an incentive for poor women to have more children. And she added that, then, more children living in problematic situations leads to more criminality. “These women have lots of children and while they may be able to fulfill their basic needs, as they grown older and they start wanting more stuff it becomes harder to provide for them. They see the girl or the boy who is an only child and has all these branded clothes, and they also want branded clothes. What are they going to do? They want to get the money for their branded clothes somewhere.” She herself had lived in a community close to this reality, “I’ve seen those kids die in traffic.” She said. She added that those policies also are a disincentive for people to work “because they don’t mind getting by with little.” There are several protectionist measures promoted by the government that remain very controversial in public opinion. But paternalistic behavior is even present in the private sector. For instance, some private companies hold jobs that have part of the salary coming on a card which can only be used in the purchase of food at the supermarket, a measure that has some positive outcomes but that can also be seen as controlling the way the worker’s choose to spend their own money. However these are ideas promoted, in the end, by the government.
Then is when I came across the term “Social-productive inclusion.” The reason why many of these policies in Brazil, while being sometimes too restraining, are having very positive effects is because first, they are linked to conditionality and second, they are accompanied by a strong emphasis in productive and social inclusion. What is this?
Conditionality occurs when there are a series of conditions in order to obtain a reward or financial support. Here, it is not enough to have a low rent in order to get financial help. Bolsa família, for instance, it is only awarded when all the children are going to school, some “bolsas” can only be withdrawn by, some are only given if the receiver is enrolled in formative courses... and so on. The financial support is also usually small, thus not working really as a prolonged financial support but temporarily as an amount enough to give people a ‘break’ and the possibility to devote time into forming themselves and improving their live conditions. Again, despite sounding miraculous in theory, it must also be noted that bureaucracy tents to be inefficient in institutional contexts here and thus it is questionable how reliable the records of those who attend school, or those who attend courses are. For this reason, in practice this conditionality idea may not be one hundred percent effective.
Social-productive inclusion occurs through tasks that are meant to empower sectors of the population that are excluded, diminished and marginalized. Most of the focus of the program that I work with has been not to provide the people in the communities with whatever they demand, but to show them where and how to find what they want on their own. On Monday I attended another FIV meeting in Vidigal where they reunited the health committee to discuss what hey wanted to demand from the state. While some things must be provided, because difficult access to the community makes, for instance, an Emergency Unit inside the community something indispensable, other part of the conversation was directed towards inclusion, showing them where in the city they could go and exercise their right to health services. For example, while it too financially challenging and ultimately unviable to build a hospital inside the community, it is our work to provide the citizens with the conscience, the confidence and the information to know that they can go and must be taken care of in the nearest public one, despite it being on the “asphalt” or on one of the richest areas of the town. Another meeting I attended was with SEBRAE, an organization that has been working for years joining and supporting local artisans. The representative made it very clear for the artisans that had gathered in the meeting, “we are not giving you money” he said “all we can give you is our time and our knowledge. I will come over here any day Monday to Sunday and give a group of you and each of you personally advice on how to formalize your business, how to professionalize production, what to produce or where to sell it in between other things.” But in order to attend those meetings and courses people need a break from their financial complications that often choke those that need the same courses and meetings. There is where the financial support from the government complements all these initiatives.
However, the paternalistic ghost is always above their heads because it is not only working from the top to the bottom with protectionist programs, but also from the bottom to the top with people that look for a fatherly figure in the government. The evolution towards a set of programs and policies that empower society through empowering the individual is a very slow and progressive one that, if it exists already, it is at a very early stage. I have often came across people who still do not believe that they can achieve things on their own, but I have also met many people who have recently realized that they can. Once more, a hopeful picture.