Home Institution

Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Brazil: Culture, Development, and Social Justice


Maternal morbidity is one of the leading causes of death amongst women in Latina America. Lack of access to Reproductive Health services has incited a continental epidemic amongst adolescent women - and should be considered a public health crisis. Yet, there is little being done by the governing male bodies to secure access and the Right to Reproductive Health services. This is not only a means of re-enforcing gendered inequalities- but also class, and racial disparities. Reproductive Health in Brazil and Northeastern Brazil in particular, serves as an allegory for socio-economic, gender, ethnic, and racial inequality in the region. The socio-economic inequality between races in Brazil is an important factor linked to access to Reproductive Health care access. The ethnic and racial make up of the Northeast is key in placing fertility and Reproductive Health of the Northeast in the greater socio-economic and cultural context of Brazil. Over three-quarters of the northeast’s population identifies as non-white, compared to just over half of the population of the southeast. In 1996, 18% of adolescent females from the northeast had been pregnant at least once, compared to the 12% of adolescent females from the southeast. Of these adolescents from the northeast, 51% reported that their pregnancy was unplanned. The percentage of births among adolescents increased from 12% to nearly 19% between 1986 and 1996. Interestingly, during this same period of time, birth rates dropped for women ages 25-39 . All these numbers indicate that over all, adolescents are not accessing the Reproductive Health services they need, and further, that non-white adolescents from the northeast are at higher risk for unwanted pregnancies. The Reproductive Health disparity between the Northeast and the South not only illuminates a socio-economic disparity- but also marks a drastic disparity between the Reproductive Health services Black and White women receive. Structural racism is not the only issue Black Brazilians confronts. Simply just addressing the matter as a socio-economic injustice does not reflect the complexity of the issue. A Universal Health Care system is a pre-requisite for dealing with Health disparities- but there have to be specific initiatives that also address the social and personal racism. For the purposes of this investigation, I will be looking at a public health planejamento familiar program, in a rural town just outside of Salvador, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Black. I will specifically try to focus in on how Black adolescent women are accessing Reproductive Health services. What is the public health system doing [or not doing] to provide services for these women? How is the racial inequality being addressed within planejamento familiar?


Inequality and Stratification | Maternal and Child Health | Public Health | Women's Studies


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