Lacking the Basic

How do women who are part of São Paulo’s Solidarity Economy live during the pandemic?

With events and craft fairs suspended, self-employed workers saw their incomes plummet

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
AMESOL members have put together a campaign to assist women who are part of the Solidarity Economy, and are currently in vulnerable situations - SOF

Rosana, Eliane and Dinha, all self-employed women from the city of São Paulo, are currently going through very similar scenarios due to the coronavirus pandemic. Workers who are part of the solidarity economy have seen their incomes plummet dramatically since the early days of March 2020.

Without any real policies to combat the pandemic, which could have prevented the proliferation of the virus, reduced the number of those infected and killed, and in part prevented the lives of millions of Brazilians from slipping into precariousness, the reality of those who live off sales and providing services seems stagnant.

These women belong to the Association of Women in the Solidarity and Feminist Economy of the State of São Paulo (AMESOL), an association that functions horizontally, through teams and work commissions – in areas such as finance, communications and infrastructure – which seek to share work loads and profits, in addition to providing technical training that women can use to improve their products.

The organization also acts from a political standpoint, understanding that self-management has everything to do with the feminist struggle, and its way of confronting labor models and the gender division of tasks.

Maria Fernanda Marcelino is an historian and member of the World Women’s March (WWM). She explains that the pandemic swiftly hit women in the solidarity economy.

“If you contemplate the fact that these women sold their products in open markets, at events, at gatherings and to a conscientious consumer network, based on fair trade, there was a brutal drop in these people’s incomes, right? The sale of non-essential products has declined sharply”, she explains.

“You no longer buy a doll, an ornament, bio-jewelry or accessories, right? These are the products that most of these women produce, linked to crochet, handicrafts, sewing, maybe a little bit linked to food”, the historian illustrates.

With the cancellation of events, women are no longer able to maintain their pre-pandemic incomes. “You sell over the weekend to eat during the week, and if you are not selling, you have no access to the most basic things. So there is a lack of resources for cooking gas, a lack of resources for water, electricity and basic food items”, concludes Marcelino.

"Today, my income is R $ 200 per month"

Macrame earring with wooden hoop / Screen capture/Brasil de Fato

Rosana Camilo is 42 years old and currently works as a day laborer, artisan and musician, exactly in that order, but it was not always so.

A resident of the São Bernardo do Campo municipality, located in the state of São Paulo, she has a degree in psychology and worked for some years as a community health agent, a position she had to leave due to severe depression at the time.

That was when handicrafts, which she was introduced to and began learning how to make in 2006, came back into her life ten years later. She makes earrings, bracelets, necklaces, all handmade with stones using the macrame technique, which means "knot", and comes from Turkish weavers who weaved ornaments into towels.

In 2016, she started investing in advertising through social networks and exhibiting her work at craft fairs. At the end of the following year, Rosana met the feminist movement and AMESOL, which invited her to showcase her art at the association's fairs. This was Rosana's first contact with the solidarity economy.

Until the start of the pandemic, this was her main occupation - since her husband was also employed - and her earnings were between R $ 700 and R $ 1,000 per month.

The pandemic arrived, her husband was dismissed in its first month and all the fairs were canceled. She, who participated in events every weekend, found herself desperate. A mother of three children, today she lives at home with her husband and their youngest son of 11.

As she had engaged in domestic work since she was 9 years old, during the quarantine she had to make this activity her main source of income.

More than a year after the pandemic began, the situation in her home is complicated. She has been producing by pre-order only, which has reduced her monthly earnings from handicrafts. Today, she takes home between R $ 200 and R $ 300 a month from her crafts.

She says that the Solidarity Economy campaigns have greatly helped increase sales during this period.

"With the pandemic, everything changed, especially at the beginning when I was not familiar with internet sales. I took a course on how to understand how we could improve this process on social networks, I learned the importance of good photos, well-written captions, interaction with followers, a whole universe of information that helped improve sales", says the artisan.

“I used to earn R $ 12 thousand a month and amid the pandemic I am living on donations”

Elaine Aparecida de Souza is 47 years old and is a corporate events producer in the food segment. Rather, she was. Like Rosana, Elaine now works in various professions in order to maintain her home and pay the bills. In addition to working with events, she also sells breads, sweets, cakes and is learning to sew.

She started working at the age of 14, selling sweets to supplement her family’s income. During law school, a friend invited her to visit and exhibit at the AMESOL fair, and that was where Elaine's history with the Solidarity Economy began.

Shortly after graduation, while studying for the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) exam, Eliane realized that she already had enough clients through which she could establish herself in the food business.

Working in events, gatherings, holiday parties and giving classes before the pandemic, Elaine earned R $ 12 thousand during the best months. This allowed her to save part of her earnings for emergencies.

"I had a reserve of money and it was with this reserve that we managed to get by for half the year [2020]", she says. The money was used to pay the household bills and doctor’s visits and treatment for her mother, who has been in need of care for two years.

Today, her income is 10% of what she got before the pandemic. She takes home between R $ 800 and R $ 1,200 per month, since all events are suspended and she is offering products that were not part of her portfolio. "I had to reinvent myself to try to win over a captive clientele. I adapted, started selling cakes and so on," she explains.

She explains that during this pandemic, many women started looking to food as a new source of income. Elaine's family has been receiving basic food baskets during this period of social isolation.

"I lost 90% of my income, I am living in a borrowed house"

Short cakes that Dinha sells for less than R$ 10 a piece / Screen capture/Brasil de Fato

Like Elaine, Edileuza Guimarães, or Dinha, also works in the food industry. She learned about the Solidarity Economy through a leaflet at the school where her daughter was studying, and since her mother's dream was always to set up a food cooperative, the pair invited three more neighbors to a lecture on the topic.

A resident of the city of Osasco, also located in the state of São Paulo, she says that before the pandemic, she and 12 women had set up a cooperative in their neighborhood that had an industrial kitchen, a cake shop and a restaurant.

The old industrial oven was the only thing left over from the best financial period they’d ever lived, and is still used today by women who continue to work with food services.

Before 2020, Dinha took home between R $ 3,000 and R $ 4,000 a month, managed to pay her bills and rent, but now she and her family live in a house provided by her brother-in-law as a favor.

With a 90% reduction in income, she asked her family for help after seeing that she was no longer able to pay the rent and buy the basic necessities her family required. Today she brings home less than a minimum wage a month by selling her products.

Emotions when talking about the Solidarity Economy

"The Solidarity Economy represents the poorest [in society]. It is about quality of life, it is about valuing the human being. It is about valuing life, valuing the well-being of the human being, valuing their struggles, it is about giving [people] rights, fighting for social justice, in the Solidarity Economy it is right for us to work the way we like and generate income in that way. [It is] Everything that the capitalist system is not", explains chef Dinha.

Rosana in turn, says that she found out who she was through the movement. “The Solidarity Economy generates in us a feeling of belonging to a place where we don't feel alone. Through its way of organizing production, consumption and distribution of wealth, centered on valuing the human being above capital (profit)”.

Maria Fernanda Marcelino, an historian and proponent of the Solidarity Economy, agrees with this assessment: "They are similar stories, they are stories of women who have to fight hard, they have to take care of their family. Through the feminist Solidarity Economy I learned to see this the other person’s perspective. We know that we can count on each other, exchange experiences, help each other. This is very powerful, very important ", she relates.

Edited by: Rebeca Cavalcante