Technological modernity excludes men and women from economic activities.  It incorporates more the woman in the cities than in rural areas.


Written by Rosa Ester Rossini.

Translated by Paola Verri de Santana.


The technological modernization in process has created huge transformations in the labor world.  In Brazil, with the gradual shift from formal jobs to flexible occupation, the rise of outsourcing and the informal sector, women are pushed away from the formal labor market.  The increase in female work in the 1990s induced by a decrease in fertility, spreading urbanization, better female education levels, and several other factors, has not avoided the exclusion of women from the labor market. While female activities are predominantly urban, agriculture is becoming essentially dominated by men. This happens due to the fact that agriculture has become a highly mechanized activity and women do not operate sophisticated machines.

Key words: technological modernization, female labor, social exclusion.

The discussion about nowadays trends in mankind’s future, when women are the forgotten majority, is limited to techniques and technologies issues.

The projections are limited to a fraction of the worldwide population that already lives in welfare.

Unfortunately, the majority of the population expected to be born this Century will never use a computer, receive a health treatment in a specialized hospital or travel by plane, because we live in an world of exclusion . (Dupas 1999; Rorty 1999). These populations can be considered lucky if they get the opportunity to learn how to read and buy some medicine.


In such world of exclusion it will be easy to see that a poor person in Brazil (or in any other Latin American country), will not have the same treatment against AIDS as a person from a developed country. Nobody has written that a child born in a Third World Country will have the same opportunities as one born in Holland or Sweden. Not all children will have access to a computer.


Those people who have already benefited from luck, will continue to have more luck.  It is possible that there will be more equality and luck in First World industrialized countries.


Today, humanity is engaged in what may be the greatest scientific adventure of the twenty-first Century: The Genome Project.  It is possible that everybody will get benefits from it, because knowledge about genetic code’s organization can make the cure of diseases and the increase in life expectancy available to all humankind

The future women wish for is one of equality, and gender equity in all aspects of life.

The chance to make such transformation possible depends on dreams, hope, and self-confidence.  Above all, it depends on solidarity and social hope so that  sooner or later  equal opportunities are given to everybody.  (Santos 1996; Rorty 1999)


The technological modernization in process, that saves work, creates the basis for restructuring the production of goods and services, and work processes and organization. Its consequence to the organic composition of the capital, by the technification, leads, on a large scale, to the exclusion of women, old (and prematurely old) people and young people who should be entering the labor market.  (Cacciamali 2001)

Employment is gradually being replaced by occupation, making formal jobs become rare.

The informal labor market and outsourcing become predominant.  The flexible and informal work, which is occupied ever more frequently by women, becomes an important activity generator.  The countries of the economical periphery, like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and India have already, in their metropolitan areas, more than 50 per cent of its employed labor force in the so-called flexible sector.  The absence and loss of labor rights are intensified.  Those rights like vacations, 13th wage, social security, health care and hospital assistance, were once attained by unions’ struggles.  Early retirement, forced by the lack of job opportunities, “volunteer dismissal”, or job dismissal, are increasing. (Cacciamali 2000).

The population is being obligated to create its own work and acquire its social production scheme.  Besides, this informal sector, although considered an important employment/occupation generator by the governments, is considered marginal because escapes from fiscal requirements. (Wajnmann 1997, 98; Bruschini 1998).

All of these factors, included in the deep changes on human work pattern of the turn of the Century, introduce important changes that increase the real social exclusion or, at least, explain the sensation of increasing exclusion people feel.  Today, unemployment is the most visible factor of the structural changes in the labor market.  (Cacciamali 2001).

Table 1 - Brazil

Unemployment Rates, By Gender.

Metropolinan Regions and Federal District 1996-99 (%)









São Paulo





Porto Alegre





Belo Horizonte















Distrito Federal





Source: Anuário dos Trabalhadores DIEESE/SEADE, MTE/FAT and regional agreements. PED - Pesquisa de emprego e desemprego (Employment and Unemployment Research) - DIEESE/ 2000-2001, p. 108.

If the right to decent work is no longer considered a right the society must assume, providing jobs enough to satisfy in quality and quantity people’s needs, one of the fundamental human rights is jeopardized, 50 years after its promulgation. (Dupas1999).

For changes to start, it is time for transnational corporations (that have made capital more concentrated and productive chains fragmented with an eye only for profit) stop to think about ethics. (Souza 1997,1998).

The world suffers a lack of schools, housing, health care (since stress and depression are intensifying), security (violence and consume of drugs are rising), food, etc.  To satisfy these basic needs a political decision from the government is necessary , which seems increasing unlikely.


The question of labor, its future, its statutes, and yet its place, is not (and must not be) the privilege of the country’s managers of social and economical policies, because its reverse means unemployment and unoccupation.  (Souza 1997).  It is necessary to think about people. 

Globalization, which is characteristic of the present moment, is a perverse process, which has the geographic space and the technical-science as fundamental conditions.  Globalization, therefore, is not restricted to the matter of knowledge about the market and the economy, but comprises the knowledge about the world, whose existence is directly connected with people and territory. (Souza 1998, 1997; Santos 1996).

Therefore, contemporary problems, especially poverty and social exclusion, will have a solution on political, ethical and philosophical spheres.

Neoliberal States have a policy of downsizing state-owned companies, accelerating privatization. The enterprises are protected by the State with a fraction of the capital that should be sent to social budgeting.  This is what the Brazilian Federal government has been doing during the last years, supporting private banks and financing private enterprises.

Enterprises seek profits.  In such race, they depend on technological innovation that causes job rotation and reduction.  Added to this, there is the implementation of new modalities of labor contracts, an increasing number of self-workers, and unregistered contracts.

The question of employment reflects a political, ethical and philosophical world view. (Souza 1998, 1997).


The so-called “socialization” of activities in the companies, and the adjustments made by some activity sectors lead to less need of labor force.  In fact, this rationale results in:

§         Reduction of wage-laboring

§         Increase of outsourcing

§         Increase of the informal sector

§         Increase of women relative occupations

§         Increase of male and female unemployment

§         Increase of older people unemployment

§         Increase of  youth non-occupation

(Cacciamali 2000, 2001).

The labor market has been unable to create positions in the number and rhythm demanded by the active population available to work. The official statistics have been manipulated in a way to inform the existence of 20 per cent of the population out of work.  Furthermore, 57 per cent of Brazilian population received less than three minimum wages, in 1999.  (The minimum wage in Brazil was equivalent to 73 US dollars, in June 2002.)

Table 2 - Brazil

Distribution of Occupied People in Brazil, by Income Level and Gender, 1999. (%)

Income Level






Up to 1 minimum wage




1 to 2 minimum wages




2 to 3 minimum wages




3 to 5 minimum wages




5 to 10 minimum wages




10 to 20 minimum wages




More than 20 minimum wages




Without income1




Without declaration








Source: Data: IBGE. PNAD  (National Research of Domestic Sampling); DIEESE . Anuário dos Trabalhadores. 2000/2001. p. 79.

1. People who have received only benefits were included.

Observation: The rural population from some states is not included, such as Rondônia, Acre, Amazonas, Roraima, Pará, and Amapá.

In the last two decades, there has been a significant increase in emigration of people from Brazil to work abroad .  The historical tradition has changed since male migrants are not predominant anymore, as a recent research has shown. Men and women are now well balanced in this migration.  An unequal exchange is happening: migrants who go abroad predominantly have only high school degrees and will often take jobs that do not require this educational level and that are rejected by so-called First World people because they are hard, heavy and dangerous. On the other side, the enterprises which were recently privatized and bought by international groups have demanded authorization from the Brazilian government in order to allow their technicians to get  in Brazil.  These workers are well assisted, receive high salaries  and perform activities for which Brazilian professionals are perfectly able.

From this point of view we observe a tendency to:

·        increase the number of days people remain unemployed/unoccupied;

·        increase the number of days people look for jobs/occupation;

·        increase the number of people in temporary, informal jobs;

·        increase technical grade courses;

·        increase the number of people in the informal sector;

·        increase the number of people working in household jobs;

·        increase migration

The market is looking for creative, versatile, adaptable people, and women are the FUTURE.


The historical growth of female participation levels and trends in the labor market in Brazil are a very significative phenomenon.

Until the 70’s the women participation rate did not went over 20%; in 1997, this rate jumped to 47% and tends to grow continuously. By 2001, it is estimated that this rate will be 51%. (Veja Magazine, 1991, p.14).

As far as PNAD (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílio “National Research by Household Samples”)  data is concerned, this weak women participation in the labor market, due in part to the methodology used and the poor conscientization women have about their work, which lasted until the early 80’s, starts to change in the mid 80’s, and consolidates itself in the 90’s. Due to an enormous number of factors, the growth in the activity rates is more intense for women in a more mature age (Wajnman, 1997, 1998).

The attempts to identify the determinant factors for the process of growth and change of patterns of female activities tend to focus on both demographic and social-economic and cultural changes, which would be altering behavior patterns of married women with children towards a compatibilization between household activities with those of the labor market. Besides the structural factors, which identify female activities as a strategy for protecting the family income but do not explain the long term trends, it is important to note:

·        the urbanization process;

·        the decrease in fertility;

·        the educational level of women;

·        changes in the domestic arrangements;

·        domestic care schemes;

·        public policies that enabled the women to enter the labor market, etc.

(Wajnman, 1997, 1998; Abreu, 1994; Bruschini, 1998)

The growing industrialization of goods and  services, from food to child care, may have created better possibilities for  women to engage in productive activities.

A less usual way of discussing the growth in female participation is to link the growth of the informal sector observed in the labor market to the opening of new space for female activities. Thus the changes in the worker profile requested by the market may  be favoring the demand for women, as it opens opportunities for a more flexible, intermittent, shorter in work hours  and clearly outsourcing work profile. The absence of formal job contracts is proportionally higher among women. The rate is calculated as the proportion of self-employed and informally employed over occupied workers.

In the 90’s, the rate of female activity remained in slow growth, while that of men declined from 79,8% in 1991 to 76,6% in 1995 (Wajnman, 1997, 1998). Men and women lose permanent job positions.

In the state of São Paulo, the informal sector concentrates a great number of men and women. Household services take predominantly women, although there is already a trend towards male occupancy in these activities. Add to that a strong female participation also in public services where the teaching activities are highlighted. In the occupations related to construction, heavy handiwork, and metallurgic industry, male occupancy prevails (see table 3).


Occupied Population Proportion, by Occupational Groups and Gender

Occupational Group



Street hawker



Wholesale and retail commerce



Construction industry



Financial services , insurance and brokerage



Personal care occupations



Home services



Hotel, bar, and restaurant services



Public services



Sports and culture industry



Clothes and shoes manufacturing



Fishing, forestry, and extraction occupations



Food and tobacco industries



Pottery, rubber articles, concrete  and wood industry



Electronics industry



Print, press and paper industry



Metallurgic industry



Textile industry



General production occupations



Handiwork workers






Source: IPEA: Inserção no mercado de trabalho: diferenças por sexo e conseqüências sobre o bem-estar. “Insertion in labor market: differences by gender and their consequences to welfare state”. Based on Monthly Employment Research (PME – Pesquisa Mensal de Emprego) information, 1996, 1997, and 1998.

Women, as a whole, have shorter work hours than men. There are some reasons for that, such as: the time of preparing class lessons in not computed, to those who are teachers; nor the number of hours spent to take care of babies, children, and private household services done by women.

Summarizing, some tendencies can be seen in Brazil, in particular, about people’s participation in workforce, especially in the early XXI Century. They are listed below:

·        important increase in self-employed participation (such as: product sales, household services, etc.);

·        increase of employers and small businesses;

·        high number of household services employees without a legal job contract, with declining income;

·        increase in household services workers contracted in a daily basis, with increasing income;

·        increase in female public services workers - teachers;

·        reduction in the number of people formally employed (especially in the industry);

·        heterogeneous labor agreements, use and compensation;

·        70% of all occupied women are without job contracts;

·        workforce intermediation and qualification programs, and micro-credit;

·        increase in unemployment rates and in low grade and unqualified work (for both men and women);

·        constitution of jurisprudence  about the activities of self-employed people as well as small  entrepreneurs;

·        fight for wider coverage of the unemployment benefit.


The current technical-scientific-informational period has created changes in the agricultural activities arrangements, in the case of sugar cane, and the workforce. Due to  recent studies and their applications related to the genetics and scientific engineerings, these changes are clearly visible.

Using the laboratory-developed sugar cane species, it is possible to achieve up to 10 cuts, while in the recent past only a maximum of 3 cuts was economically viable. The harvest no longer begins in June. It starts in February, even if it is only to start a new sowing period. This means that it is possible to harvest sugar cane all over the year. With the use of irrigation, especially during dry periods, through a central pipe that irrigates one hectare of land every 24 hours, it is possible to eliminate the effects of the severe weather.

Sowing and harvesting the whole year, irrigating and increasing the productivity, intensifying mechanization of harvesting, sowing and management of crops, the agricultural calendar itself is completely modified. Of course, there is a period of higher activity concentration, when the male workforce participation becomes stronger and evident but, in general, there is work all over the year. Despite significantly reduced, worker migration for harvest periods is still a male characteristic, which causes a considerable decline in female participation in these activities.

The prohibition of sugar cane fields burning  in a perimeter of one kilometer  around cities , in a effort to avoid polluting even more the environment, although the legislation is not always obeyed, has been forcing the sugar refineries owners to invest on research in order to create alternatives for making good use of materials and reducing waste.

“New” forms of residue use were developed and nowadays are being utilized, for example: “hotels” for cattle fed on a sort of cake made with cane-trash.  Near to a sugar refinery pastures are created (in small lots of one hundred meters wide by 2 or 3 km long) and rented to farmers that use them for fattening animals or to escape from the dry season.  Another form of residue use, is to produce electric energy.  This is the Rosario Valley Usine case, for instance, where such energy provided is enough to keep it working.  The surplus energy is sold to Orlândia (a city with 60.000 inhabitants) which is illuminated in harvests period during six months per year.  Sugar-cane residues are also thrown on the soil or distributed in the plantation through a network of canals.  This practice’s impacts on ground water were not evaluated yet (Rossini, 1999).

With the technological modernization in sugar-cane culture, we notice some facts happening: relative reduction of female labor force; number of men participating in labor force goes down; family sizes are smaller; fertility has fallen down; increasing women participation as family heads; increase in migration; precocious pregnancy; reduction in purchase power for both men and women; increase in voluntary tubal ligation; pressure from employers for ligation and demand for a negative health certificate for pregnancy; almost daily consumption of poultry; increase in cases where the refinery provides food for the workers. The distribution of very sweet milk with coffee and fruit juices in the beginning of the work day, and of an afternoon snack, is done to increase the energy level of the workers thus increasing productivity. Utilization of this practice may cause a relative fall of payment per production, considering that this payment is established based on the average global production.

The predominant residence is in urban areas.

It is evident that male workers are hired  to operate machines. Women were not yet found dealing with sophisticated machines. So, at this time, the technological modernity in the agriculture has been only accelerating the masculinity: in other words, work in capitalist countryside is male-centered.

Women achieved some degree of participation in the social movements, during the camping phase of the struggles for land . After this phase was over, men “took power”.

Finally, it becomes necessary to say that there is no global space, but only spaces of globalization, and reduction of differences is almost an utopian possibility.

The world, however, is only a range of possibilities, whose effectiveness depends on the opportunities offered by the places. (Santos, 1996)

For everyone, particularly for women, we are dealing with the search of opportunities offered by possibilities to reach a future we dream of , with the objective of satisfying all kinds of needs  - material and immaterial, in this world of exclusion: be it political, of social participation, of citizenship, and, above all, lack of ethics towards women by the State and the enterprises.

We are the future. The millennium started in 2001 promises to go further than what was dreamt of in science fiction.  It is necessary to find out the new, adapt it and transform it.  Maybe the way to follow is solidarity amongst people, and above all towards women.


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