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Luisa Pascoareli – WNN Features

Slum living in favela Paraisopolis, Sao Paulo, Brazil

High-rise luxury apartments with amenities like a beautiful swimming pool and tennis court can be seen separated by one wall, right next to, the sprawling slum known as ‘Paradise City’ – favela Paraisopolis – in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Image: Tuca Vieira/David Fenng

(WNN) Sao Paulo, Brazil: The city of Sao Paulo is a crowded city of over 11 million people. It is a city of many contrasts where those who live an affluent life often intersect daily with those who have little to nothing. Sprawling slums, known as ‘favelas,’ can be seen next to luxurious neighborhoods.

Numerous high-rise blocks in downtown Sao Paulo have also been occupied by up to 4,000 squatters at one time, as people live on the edge of life where desperation is large and opportunity is small. Sao Paulo is a city like all cities in the world though where women at every level want to help their families by getting jobs.

Recent World Bank research through a new “World Development Report 2012 – Gender Equality and Development,” shows that between 1998 and 2008 about 552 million women joined work forces around the world. But this overall rate of female labor force participation rose only a slim 50.2 to 51.8 percent between 1980 and 2009, while the male rate actually fell from 82 to 77.7 percent.

Currently 4 in 10 workers worldwide are women.

But according to the Director of Poverty Reduction at the World Bank, Ana Ravenga, “Women still receive lower payments, have smaller businesses than men, are in higher numbers in unpaid jobs [72 percent in Brazil] and face more difficulty getting credit.”

Although the scenario seems very far away from ideal there are some new initiatives that are helping to change this outlook in São Paulo, Brazil. One of them is a unique project called “Mãos de Maria,” that has been created to help women who live inside the second biggest slum in São Paulo.

This is the slum known as favela Pariasópolis, literally translated as ‘Paradise City,’ has 1oo,000+ inhabitants. Almost half, 47 percent, of the inhabitants are women. The Mãos de Maria project has been training women since October 2009 enabling them to join the work force and to enter professional careers.

Recently women have been given the opportunity to become bread and pastry chefs with the creation of a new artisanal bakery sponsored by Mãos de Maria in September 2011. One of the favela Paraisópolis residents, Ivoneide Gonçalves da Silva, participated in the classes although she was already selling pastries out of her home. “I did the course because I needed to have a certificate in case I would work outside the community,” she said. “But during the classes I could learn news stuff with the teachers and the other women,” added Gonçalves.

Gonçalves currently makes $400+ Brazilian Real ($221 USD) per month, an amount that is seen by many advocates as wages that are still far too low, but it is also seen as a strong positive movement in the right direction for women who often have been sidelined by Brazilian society.

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