Chapeu de Palha
Secretaria Estadual da Mulher Pernambuco

The Problem

Before the initiative began, rural women in the sugar cane zone of Pernambuco had limited opportunities. Women either worked on the sugar cane fields, rising in the early hours to cook food for their families before setting off to work in the scorching hot sun, or had a life that revolved around husband, house – including often not only housework but also subsistence production and the care of small livestock - and children. Levels of domestic violence were very high: women had few exit routes, nor sufficient recourse to justice to address the embedded culture of violence against women. Levels of literacy amongst women were very low, and women suffered poor health and limited access to health care, exploitation at work and domination at home, oppressions exacerbated by pervasive racism.

Prior to the Chapéu de Palha programme, few economic empowerment initiatives reached Pernambuco’s rural women. Those training courses that were provided by the government were largely inaccessible to women, either because the entry requirements were so high or because of internalised barriers to women training to do jobs that were considered to be those done by men. It was difficult for women farmers to gain access to technical assistance from agricultural extension workers, who were always men and who reproduced the androcentric bias that made women’s productive work invisible, and who failed to value or support women producers’ initiatives. Little effort was made to enable women to gain access to the service sector. A combination of institutionalised machismo and the machismo of their partners acted as a potent barrier to women’s access to training, to learning about new technologies, and to access to credit.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Chapéu de Palha is an innovative programme run by the Secretariat for Women’s Policies of the State of Pernambuco (SecMulher). Launched in 2007, the programme builds on an existing safety net programme developed to keep hundreds of thousands of families from hunger in the period between the harvests in the sugar cane plantations that provide one of the few sources of employment in the poorest parts of the state. It provides training for women to exit jobs that have changed little since the days of slavery, and to enter a rapidly expanding labour market in construction that is providing employment opportunities that women have historically been unable to access. Trainees are paid a stipend and provided with childcare, transport and food to enable them to participate in the courses. Initial success led to the initiative being expanded to the areas of the state where there is intensive irrigated horticulture. To date, almost 39,000 women have graduated from the programme.

Using the infrastructure developed by the safety net programme to reach distant rural areas, the programme has been able to extend capillaries for the empowerment of some of the state’s poorest rural women. Its innovations are three-fold. First, by inserting a capacity development component that delivers training in rights, citizenship, personal and professional development as a precursor to employment training, the programme has sought to amplify its empowering effects – with impressive results. Second, the programme has negotiated with state training institutions to lowering the entry requirements for vocational courses, giving women opportunities to learn the construction skills (plastering, soldering, plumbing, electrics) that are currently much in demand in the state, thus challenging limiting notions that keep women out of “men’s jobs” and providing women with a broader range of employment opportunities. Third, through partnership with civil society organizations, the programme has helped to amplify and strengthen a network of women’s organizations throughout the poorest parts of the state, whose role in implementing policies for women extends beyond this programme to raising awareness on domestic violence, and mobilising women to claim their rights.

Key to the success of this initiative has been a dedicated sectoral ministry for women, established in Brazil in the Lula administration headed by a visionary State Secretary for Women who has transformed the way in which State government addresses women’s issues in her four year tenure, together with her dedicated and creative team at SecMulher, a State Governor with a passion for women’s rights and equality, and institutionalised partnerships with civil society women’s organizations whose proximity to women, skills in working with women’s empowerment and commitment to women’s rights have made an immense contribution to the work of the Secretariat. For SecMulher, the programme offers a connecting thread that provides a way of addressing the deeply embedded patriarchal character of gender relations in the state, harnessing together economic empowerment with transformative social policies to bring about significant changes in women’s lives and future prospects.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Chapéu de Palha programme was originally conceived as an emergency programme to assist the families of sugar cane workers who faced starvation during the period between the sugar cane harvests. When he came to office, the Governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos, saw the potential that the programme offered to pursue a broader development agenda. He remodelled it, inserting in it a component that would enable the programme to address the needs of rural women and work towards greater gender equity. He asked SecMulher to implement a programme for women, which became known as Chapéu de Palha Mulher. He was present at the opening ceremony for the programme, and has lent support for the initiative as it has expanded in scope and scale. His role has been crucial in recuperating an image of public servants as those whose work serves the public good.

SecMulher established partnerships with rural women's movements, local feminist NGOs and organizations concerned with the promotion of gender equality to discuss strategies for implementation. What was to be done was planned collectively. Working with these NGOs brought the important advantage of being able to embed the programme in the local networks established by the NGOs’ work with rural women and their communities. For SecMulher, this also provided an opportunity to work with organizations that worked with women but not necessarily from a women’s rights perspective, to encourage them to take a more gender-equality focused approach.

Other institutions were involved in designing the training element of the programme. Feminist organizations brought popular education practices that transformed the public policies course into a learning experience that addressed personal as well as professional barriers to women’s realisation of citizenship. Rather than SecMulher putting on their own vocational courses for women, working with the national training institutions – SENAI and SENAC – gave women access to high quality training, and the SecMulher access to institutions in which embedded prejudices about women’s capabilities were as much a barrier to entry as qualifications that rural women’s historical disadvantage made it difficult for them to have attained.

Recognising the importance of engaging rural women’s social movements in shaping policies not only for women but across the sectors affecting their lives, SecMulher created a Commission for Rural Women in 2008, which was formed of representatives of rural social movements and of sectoral institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform, and including representatives of the Landless People’s Movement (Movimento Sem Terra) and movements of rural women’s workers.

Also involved in the implementation of the programme are sectoral departments at state and municipal level, municipal organizations concerned with policies for women, federal institutions and banks, and any other organizations concerned with rural development in Pernambuco.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The main objective of the initiative is to transform the prospects of rural women in Pernambuco by equipping them with the personal and professional skills to bring about positive changes in their lives. The initiative arises out of a recognition that rural women live lives not only of exclusion, discrimination and exploitation, but also of reclusion. Always the care-givers, never those who are cared for, rural women have suffered centuries of being invisible to the state. This initiative recognises them, and, seeing them as citizens, reaches out to enable them to access the means to empower themselves. It does this through three principal strategies, each emerging from dialogue between social movements representing women, women’s organizations with decades of experience of working with rural women, State and local government.

First, the initiative seeks to improve women’s perceptions of their lives and capacities, transforming their sense of themselves. A key entry point is a course on public policies, which women must complete as a precursor to vocational skills training. The course addresses issues of gender, race, ethnicity and power, and introduces the concept of public policies that are aimed at achieving greater gender and social justice. The objective is for women to recognise that they have a right to have rights, and to know the rights they have as citizens. The course is delivered in an interactive format by trainers from women’s organizations with considerable experience of popular education methodologies. It builds on women’s experiences, creating a space in which women gain greater understanding of their own and others’ situations.

Second, the initiative creates real opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. Negotiations carried out by the SecMulher have resulted in public training institutions lowering the bar for women’s entry, on the grounds of their historical disadvantage. Access to these institutions enables women to gain high quality vocational training that will enable them to compete in the labour market. Recognising the practical barriers experienced by women in accessing education, Chapéu de Palha provides transport, food and childcare. Women take vocational courses in skills such as soldering, plumbing, electrics and plastering, challenging limiting beliefs amongst themselves, their teachers and their communities that these are “men’s jobs” and women are unable to do them.

Third, the initiative has sought to rapidly institutionalise support for women graduates and to create a network that can sustain the changes that the programme is bringing about. More than a thousand graduates from the public policies course have been trained as educators, forming part of a network of community-based agents. A similar number have been trained as ‘recreadoras’, who keep children entertained and cared for while women take the courses. Provisions for the courses are sourced locally, where possible from women’s micro-enterprises. Stronger women’s organizations have worked alongside newer, less experienced organizations, helping them to gain experience and capacity. SecMulher has helped municipal councils establish their own secretariats, strengthening the capacity of the state at the local level to deliver on policies for women.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The initiative began in 2007, when the Governor of the State of Pernambuco asked the State Secretary for Women’s Policies to take part in the remodelling of an older emergency programme for sugar-cane workers that offered cash for work during the hungry season, to turn it into a programme that would address issues of gender equality.

The State Secretary had a history of working with rural women, and saw this as an opportunity to develop a programme that would contribute to addressing a long-standing demand from rural women's movements for employment opportunities. The Movement of Rural Women Workers of the Northeast (MMTR-NE) had established a course for rural women in 1995 that had developed pedagogic techniques and material for working with rural women, published as a resource guide for trainers called Caminhos de Sabedoria (Pathways of Wisdom) in 2006.

Representatives of MMTR-NE were invited by the SecMulher to advise on content and methodologies being developed for the courses and assess the plans for mobilizing women and networking with women’s organizations, and the vision for accelerating the process of empowerment of rural women.

On the basis of the principles that were established as an outcome of these discussions, the SecMulher created the Commision on Rural Women and began to implement the Chapéu de Palha programme, initiating the formation of the network of Agentes de Políticas Públicas para Mulheres Rurais through putting on the courses in public policies, using the MMTR-NE book, Caminhos da Sabedoria and a complementary resource guide created by the SecMulher called “Mulheres Semeando Cidadania” (Women Sowing Citizenship), which focused primarily on public policies, rights and citizenship.

At the outset, the initiative consisted of a course of 120 hours, through which to train 1,093 community-based support workers to facilitate the implementation of public policies for rural women in 36 municipalities in the sugar cane region of the state – a region where some of the poorest, most marginalised and most excluded women live. The course would cover aspects such as the identity of rural women, gender equality, race and ethnicity, the role of the state, civil society and sectoral public policies. In so doing, it would both attend to women’s immediate needs and transcent the emergency character of the existing Chapéu de Palha programme.

In 2008, the project took stock of positive results and difficulties encountered and used this to construct a project for the following five years with the objective of increasing the number of women being trained and the number of municipalities involved. It also sought to extend the course beyond public policies to vocational training and personal and professional development. Those who had been trained in 2007 returned for another term, and a further 1,020 women were trained.

The following year, the network expanded to a further seven municipalities in the region of intensive irrigated fruticulture. The number of women attending increased, as did the diversity of vocational courses. To enable women to participate SecMulher sought financial support from the State government for the women, and a means to provide care and recreation for their children. The initial steps were taken to implement another activity, Programme Converge Action, extending the activities of the network to the 17 municipalities with the lowest human development indices of Pernambuco. Using the same methodology for courses of Chapéu de Palha, this programme began in 2010 with 649 women and their children and ‘recreadoras’.

In 2011, the network of community-based support workers was extended to include women fisherfolk who also suffer from the contingencies of seasonality. Last November, a state law was passed that guarantees assistance to these workers. At the moment, the programme is carrying out training of educadoras and recreadoras for courses that are planned to start in 2012.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
From the very start of the programme, one of the main difficulties has been reaching women to enable them to register for the courses. In its days as an emergency programme, Chapéu de Palha was aimed at men who were enlisted via the rural workers’ unions. The Secretary for Women’s Policies negotiated with the co-ordinator of the programme to permit rural workers to sign up their mothers, daughters and sisters in their place. This was a constraint in reaching women. In addition, the grant given to participants continued to be in the men’s name. Women’s formal inclusion in the programme marked an opportunity to make them visible to the state, resulting, in November 2009, in a law that gave the grant to women. Some of the women met resistance from their male partners and husbands, although many also report positive changes in their intimate and domestic lives as a result of the programme.

Another challenge came in adapting the bureaucratic instruments of the state to the objective of working with women’s organizations that were committed to gender equality. This demanded efforts to negotiate the intricacies of state bureaucracy to enable those organizations to be contracted to work with the programme, avoiding having to hire companies or institutions with more interest in money than the kind of educative activities that are so important in work with rural women.

Further obstacles came from women’s historical disadvantage in relation to access to jobs and education. Here, as elsewhere, work done by women is the least well remunerated; and in this part of Brazil, women’s literacy levels are low. The first obstacle to overcome was the low educational level of the beneficiaries. Many women did not have the requisite number of years of education to attend training courses. Also the venue for the courses, chosen to be as close as possible to where women live, did not always match the requirements of entities responsible for training. It took a series of co-ordination meetings to reach an understanding, requiring accommodation on either side.

In 2009, the Ministry of Women faced another challenge in getting the programme up and running in the region of irrigated horticulture. The main problem faced was that unlike in the sugar cane area where there is a history of organizing and strong feminist organizations, in this region there was little experience in training and organizing women. To overcome this, SecMulher invited the NGO from the sugar cane area to train co-ordinators, educadoras and recreadoras in gender equality, as well as the pedagogic methods they used for working with rural women. Despite initial difficulties, the commitment of the women’s organizations involved in the process has led to considerable successes.

A major challenge remains the inclusion of qualified women in the labour market. Even where their qualifications are the same as those of men, they suffer prejudice on the part of employers when it comes to competing with men in areas of work considered traditionally the preserve of men. The State Secretary has embarked upon negotiations with major companies to seek measures to address these barriers, and as more women are trained and compete for jobs, attitudes are slowly changing.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The initiative was resourced by the State of Pernambuco via SecMulher. Funds were also raised from Federal Government to support the formation of a network of community-based support workers for the implementation of public policies for rural women and from UN Women to appoint technical advisors.

The total investment made in the programme by the State Government between 2007 and 2011 was in the order of 20 million Brazilian reais, which is approximately US $10.6 million.

Responsibility for provision of infrastructure lies with the Chapéu de Palha team or their municipal partners. The programme has used logistics creatively to establish and sustain partnerships. Courses are put on in various locations: union offices, church halls, municipal schools and community centres. Through this, the programme transcends its governmental limits and becomes part of everyday life. The bakery owner who bakes the bread for snacks, the cleaner in the school where the course takes place, the moto-taxi driver responsible for transporting the women, the stationers who supply the materials for the courses, the children who participate in recreational activities, in all, the routine of the municipality comes to be affected positively.

Many of the professionalization courses are administered by the entities that deliver them. Rural women participate in the same courses, with the same number of hours, and receive at the end the same certificate as any other person who wishes to enter the labour Market. This is important as quite aside from the symbolic value of this certification, women become effectively competitive in the labour market. There is a variety of courses: plumbing, gardening, electrical installation, crafts, food processing, brick masonry and plastering, among others.

Alongside professionals who deliver the vocational courses, human resources associated with the programme include co-ordinators, educadoras and recreadoras, who are mobilized by local women’s organizations. All undergo training by the SecMulher that addresses issues of equality on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and deepens their knowledge of public policies.

What has been possible through this initiative is to make claims on the resources of the state for women’s empowerment, ensuring women’s inclusion in state budget resources for the short, medium and long term. In this way, the initiative has brought about recognition of the role and duties of the state in addressing the historical disadvantages faced by women, and the value of partnership with civil society and the private sector in transforming women’s opportunities.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Sustainability has been at the heart of the programme since the start. Its mode of working through partnerships and networks has involved and influenced a wide variety of institutions, from the national Sistema S training institutions to local women's centres. The approach has been to enlist, engage and build capacity at every level, so that the programme leaves lasting capacities behind in the institutions with which it interacts. It has created a space for the construction of new social and political relations between rural women, the government and non-governmental feminist organizations, providing the basis for a lasting impact.

The initiative has been scaled up every year since its inception in 2007. By 2011, Chapéu de Palha was run in 78 of the 184 municipalities of the state, 53 of which are in the sugar-cane region. 1,111 “educadoras” and 1,088 “recreadoras” were trained, linked to 40 feminist or women’s organizations. A total of 38,625 rural women and 12,905 children participated in the programme. Without taking into account the staff involved in delivering vocational training and the team from the State government, a total of 53,729 people were directly involved in the programme in 2011. It is quite possible to conceive of it becoming a national programme. There are plans underway to create a Centre for the Acceleration of Rural Women’s Development for the State of Pernambuco that will provide a permanent base for training rural women.

The SecMulher has been able to secure the inclusion of resources for women in the general budget of the State in the short, medium and longer term. This has contributed to making the state deliver on the obligation of public authorities to make reparation for the historical disadvantage experienced by women. Transforming centuries-old culture is not something that can happen overnight. But it is possible to identify distinctive signs of women’s empowerment in women’s participation in participatory policy spaces in the municipalities – in the sectoral policy councils and participatory conferences - and the way in which women are able to address the challenges they face in their everyday lives. These are sustainable impacts.

Whilst there is a confluence of supportive factors in this case that are quite unique, there are aspects of the initiative that can be replicated. In particular, the innovation of linking cash transfers to employment training programmes that involve a preliminary course in rights and citizenship is worth exploring as a model for other contexts given the accelerator effects observed here on women’s empowerment. Chapéu de Palha has served as a focal point around which the SecMulher has been able to integrate different sectors and the services that they offer. Out of this has grown a strategy for rural development that puts gender equality at its heart. This approach to 'gender mainstreaming' offers considerable potential for replication in other contexts. Other facets are worth replicating, including the way in which the partnership, networking and capacity development approach taken by the programme can create capillaries that permit interventions to have far greater span, sustainability and scope.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The Chapéu de Palha initiative shows how a creative and dedicated team of public servants can use economic empowerment as an entry point to transform centuries-old forms of discrimination and exclusion, making lasting change happen in the lives of women, men and children. The lessons it offers are transferable to contexts in the global south as well as the global north.

Chapéu de Palha demonstrates that social programmes with a cash transfer and skills training component can serve as an entry point for transformative interventions that challenge gender stereotypes and go beyond targeting women in their reproductive roles. It shows that social protection can have empowering effects where interventions are designed to focus on women themselves – on raising women’s self-esteem, enabling them to broaden their horizons, learn new skills and gain tangible opportunities to generate a regular, independent income in their own right. Including training in public policies, rights and citizenship as a compulsory component of vocational training, and by providing such training as part of micro-credit, conditional cash transfer and other economic empowerment initiatives, can accelerate their empowering effects. Combining the personal with the professional in employment training can help to ensure sustainability and efficacy, and can have markedly positive results on women’s capacity to learn and to use what they learn to make changes in their lives.

Quantitative and qualitative evaluations with the women beneficiaries of the programme have been extremely positive. Perhaps most striking is the way in which the programme has changed its beneficiaries. It has enabled women to gain greater self-esteem, to believe that they had a right to have rights, to expand their horizons and to gain greater clarity about what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour towards them consists of – that is, to acquire a stronger sense of the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and the capacity to be able to act on that recognition if partners, husbands and employers transgress those boundaries.

The principles informing the Chapéu de Palha go beyond approaches to social protection and economic empowerment that infantilise or instrumentalise women. The programme treats women as adults, and as citizens. This creates the basis of a new relationship between public servants and citizens: one in which public servants are able to gain a sense of giving service, as well as one in which citizens are able to be aware of their entitlements and see their fulfillment as their right. Rural women have been invisible to the state: living in reclusion, lacking service provision, marginalized, excluded. The programme has made them visible as citizens with rights. Being seen by the state has given rural women recognition that they previously lacked, and with it a sense of the right to have rights.

A simple but obvious lesson from the programme is that in order for poor and marginalized women to participate, they need to be provided with the means to do so – childcare, transport and something to eat. By paying attention to what women need to be able to take part, the programme has also demonstrated to them that they matter. This provision had other knock-on effects, creating employment and opportunities for working with children to challenge and transform limiting beliefs about women.

Finally, the programme shows that when accompanied by capacity development within civil society, training institutions and the state, and fostering networks of women’s organizations at the local level, such interventions can build longer-term basis for empowerment. Moreover, through these partnerships, the programme has been implemented in a way that has ensured transparency and accountability, thus circumventing clientelism.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Secretaria Estadual da Mulher Pernambuco
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Cristina Buarque
Title:   State Secretary for Women's Policies  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Rua Cais do Apoio 222, 5 andar, Bairro de Recife
Postal Code:   50.030-905
City:   Recife
State/Province:   Pernambuco
Country:   Brazil

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