Perspectives Of The Future
Brazil faces many challenges in the age of globalization. Old problems have gained new dimensions, and many new ones have been added to compound an already complex situation. Among these difficulties, the crises of the welfare state and its repercussions on social and family life, such as the institutionalization of individual and group necessities, deserve further attention. Furthermore, Brazilian social policies have not addressed factors that promote exclusion or limited access to social benefits. There is a great degree of inequality between the rich and poor, and the concentration of liquid wealth in the hands of few remains an important social issue. The middle class continues to shrink, and poverty continues to increase. Carvalho (1995) appropriately named this process social apartheid. Its impact on family structure, function, and roles needs to be researched.
The indigenous population. Brazil has neglected to care for its original inhabitants. The Indian population has dropped to 510,000 including those located on reservations and in cities. The majority of Indians (58%) live in the Amazon region, divided into 230 nations (UnB revista 2001). During the 1988 constitutional revision, the Indians fought for recognition of ethnic differences and for better access to land, healthcare, education, and other social benefits. After a successful campaign, the Indians gained full civil rights as citizens (Ramos 2001).
The African population. Africans have been victims of policies that maintained their exclusion. The Republican project sustained racism, ideas of inferiority, and the biological determinism of colonial times, and prohibited Africans from property ownership. The implicit belief was that Africans lacked the ability to become educated and socially successful (Neder 1998). During the constitutional revision the black movement organized politically to ensure their rights. As in the case of the Indians, much needs to be done to repair the losses brought about by the continued denial of Brazilian-African civil rights and by the minimization of their contribution to the economic, social, political, and cultural fabric of the nation.
Traditional vs. modern family structures. The diversity of family life in Brazil has yet to be represented in the legal discourse about the family. Leila L. Barsted (1987) focuses on the distance between law and social reality. The family form generally considered is nuclear, patriarchal, hierarchical, and monogamic. It reflects a vision of the dominant elite and the value the elite place on family lineage. Although Brazil revised the Constitution in 1988, civil, penal, criminal, and family law codes date back to 1916. Conservatism is apparent in issues of women's legal rights and citizenship. The 1988 constitution did grant legitimacy to informal unions and to children born out of them. Men and women that opt for consensual relationships now have the same rights and obligations of those legally married. Gay and lesbian families have not yet been socially recognized. In the early 1990s, Congressperson Marta Suplicy advocated for formal unions between gay partners. After much debate and revisions the resolution passed, due largely to pressure from gay and lesbian groups and from intellectual circles.
Attention must be given to the paradox created by the existence of opposing forces in society. Gizlene Neder (1998) argues that acknowledgment of these forces has two major impacts. First, it necessitates a rethinking of the notion of family to include other family forms besides the traditional Brazilian patriarchal family. These other families have always been present in society, but until very recently have been ignored. Second, it challenges the social-political establishment to take into consideration the complex racial and familial background of the country. Policies need to be sensitive to and respectful of the rich cultural thread. They also need to take into consideration differences in power and access to social resources.
In 1889, when the Proclamation of the Republic took place, issues of nationality and citizenship were discussed. This political event, like the constitutional revision of 1988, forced the nation to review ideas and concepts long held and unquestioned. This process of revision must continue to ensure that the Brazilian family can be thought of in the plural form. As Brazilian society faces transformations at the social, economic, cultural, legal, and ethical levels, family life must remain a fundamental topic of reflection and social concern. Plurality and differences must be respected, encouraged, and protected if the country wishes to value the lessons from its past in order to ensure a better future for all its citizens and families.
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