Voices of impoverished Brazilian women: health implications of roles and resources

Women Health. 1996;24(1):1-20. doi: 10.1300/j013v24n01_01.


This qualitative study was based on individual interviews with 75 Brazilian women in an impoverished peri-urban squatter community (favela) in southeastern Brazil. The purposes of the study were to describe women's role involvement in domestic and employment contexts; identify stresses and satisfactions of maternal, spousal, and employment roles; and assess personal and environmental role constraints and resources from the perspective of women's health. The analytic approach to the interview data was qualitative content analysis, through which thematic categories of maternal, spousal, and employment role satisfactions and stresses were identified by the researchers. Women's unrelenting work in the face of harsh social and economic environments was a broad theme woven throughout the women's descriptions of their lives. The confluence of role constraints affecting the participants' lives included poverty, marginalization, abuse, and lack of support and recognition by partners and society. In order to overcome great adversity and meet heavy role demands, these women relied on self, faith in God, family, and health resources. Implications for women's health promotion are discussed.

PIP: This article describes a qualitative study of women's role in an impoverished peri-urban squatter community in Brazil. The convenience sample included 75 women, comprised of Roman Catholics (51%), Protestants (17%), Spiritists (17%), and unreligiously-affiliated (11%). 26 women were illiterate. 49 had some primary school education. 59% had income that was below the poverty line. 92% reported their income as inadequate. 17 households did not have piped water, and 5 households did not have electricity. None had telephones. Only 28 had refrigerators. Interviews were conducted at the local health post among a sample that was largely unexposed to the questionnaire survey process, which sometimes posed difficulties. Attempts were made to seek out divergent cases or experiences and alternative explanations. Findings indicate that all the women identified themselves as the member of the household responsible for domestic housekeeping, and all saw that role as their most time- and energy-consuming. Most had at least 1 child. 72% were married, and 16% lived with a male partner. 12% were single, widowed, or divorced. Most were dependent upon spouses for economic support. 29 women had some employment outside the home. Women reported the lack of child care as a major reason for not being employed. There were other barriers. The women valued their role as mothers, but work and worries were dominant themes. Women complained about their partner's alcohol and drug misuse, domestic violence, and a lack of appreciation or affection. Working women reported socioeconomic satisfaction and work overload. Women's living conditions were harsh. Women showed considerable inner strength and creativity in dealing with demands and stresses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brazil
  • Female
  • Health Resources*
  • Household Work
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • Poverty Areas
  • Poverty*
  • Role
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Women's Health*
  • Women, Working