The Conscientização of Teenage Mothers in Brazil: Genderizing Freire for Mobilizing Marginalized Young Women

By Amy Hong.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The benefits of using gender-sensitive Freirian ideas of conscientização to transform development policies around poor young mothers in Brazil merit further exploration. Beyond Bolsa Família–which risks reinforcing unequal gender norms–microfinance and sex education, we should consider the potential of aiming to make young mothers acutely aware of the sociohistorical, economic and geopolitical context in which they act. Who is to say they have nothing to gain from learning about the structural inequalities that mark their reality and about the pitfalls of global capitalism? How do we move beyond viewing them as victims of poverty and patriarchal subcultures to potential agents of societal transformation?

A tremendous paradox persists in the message transmitted by development policies regarding motherhood: on the one hand, we remind young mothers that they have the indisputable right to decide their reproductive futures. Meanwhile, given the population concerns that underlie the work of organizations like UNFPA, we urge them to ‘manage’ their reproduction, i.e., to reproduce less. As such, these policies ultimately treat them as instruments of reproduction.

To genuinely bring about these mothers’ ‘empowerment’–the catchword of development practice–I use Freire’s ideas about conscientização to critically rethink our ways of politically mobilizing them.

Keywords: Empowerment, Brazil, Motherhood, Paulo Freire, Mobilization, Development, Young Women

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 738.074KB).

Amy Hong

MSc Candidate in Human Rights, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK

A California native, I was born in 1986 to Vietnamese immigrants who met at a Thai refugee camp in 1978. After graduating from New York University–where I studied Spanish literature, sociology and journalism, and completed a thesis based on ethnographic research in an Argentine shantytown–my passion for social justice has driven me to pursue various projects around the globe. My experience includes designing a community outreach project with young mothers in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, a traineeship in the European Parliament, an initiative to support the Roma in France, and a consultancy at the United Nations Population Fund in New York, where I worked in maternal health. Currently, I am reading for an MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics. My ultimate goal is to direct my engagement with theory and academia to promoting changes within international development. In my spare time, my activities include singing, hosting dinner parties, laughing hard and loud, and being inexplicably clumsy.

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