Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Skip to content


Empowering women in north-east Brazil

Tearfund’s partner Diaconia helped women in Brazil to achieve economic success and gain a voice. Article includes tasty recipes!

2017 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Diaconia helped women form community businesses such as bakeries. Photo: Diaconia

Diaconia helped women form community businesses such as bakeries. Photo: Diaconia

A woman selling eels and other fish in Hsipaw, Myanmar. Photo: Andrew Philip

From: Entrepreneurship – Footsteps 103

Practical advice on how to run a successful business

Life can be hard in Brazil’s semi-arid region, especially for women. Lack of access to water and land means farming is often a struggle. Many men and young people migrate to towns and cities to look for work. The culture is dominated by men, and women traditionally have few opportunities for earning an income or having a voice.  

Tearfund’s partner Diaconia set up a three-year project to help the women in this area achieve economic success and become more empowered socially and politically. 

Uniting and empowering women 

Diaconia mobilised the women to come together in women’s community groups. Project staff trained the women in new agro-ecological techniques (sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of farming). They also taught them how to add value to their produce by making fruit pulps, sweets, cakes and bread. They helped the women set up community businesses together, such as bakeries. They also organised exchange visits between different communities so the women could learn from one another’s successes and failures. 

Diaconia staff gave the women thorough training in business management, production and marketing. They helped the women access the markets where they could sell their products most profitably, including agro-ecological fairs. They also helped link the women to two government policies: the Food Acquisition Programme and the National School Feeding Programme. Through these programmes, the government purchases food from family farms for use in state-run hospitals, care homes and schools. 

Through the training, Diaconia helped the women learn more about their rights and encouraged them to get involved in public decision-making. Women began joining local community associations and workers’ unions, often taking leadership positions. In many cases, this improved the organisations’ performance. 

Relationships transformed 

The project has seen a remarkable improvement in women’s empowerment. Their income has increased significantly, and some families have been able to buy items such as fridges and motorbikes. A few have been able to pay for their children to access higher education. 

The fact that women are now contributing to the household income has changed relationships within families. As the men saw the benefits to their family, they began to support their wives in their new ventures. While the women were on exchange visits learning from other communities, their husbands took over their daily chores around the home – despite some reluctance at first. 

All this did not come without a struggle. ‘At first it was very difficult because there was a lot of machismo,’ says Maria Dilvânia Fernandes. ‘Husbands did not want their wives to attend the women’s groups or training courses. But we did not give up. Those who could participate in the meetings demanded freedom and equality for the others.’ 

Case study compiled using information kindly provided by Diaconia. 

Email: [email protected] 

Creamy papaya cake 


  • 1 cup of sugar 
  • 1 cup of oil 
  • 2 cups of wheat flour 
  • 1 cup of papaya juice 
  • ½ cup of condensed milk 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder 


In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together with a spoon. Put the dough in a greased and floured tin and bake for 40 minutes at 180 degrees until golden. 

Sesame biscuits 


  • 1 cup of roasted and ground sesame 
  • 1 cup of sugar 
  • 250g of cornflour 
  • 250g of wheat flour 
  • 100g of margarine 
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1 teaspoon of salt 
  • sesame seeds for decoration 


Beat the margarine and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, sesame, cornflour, baking powder, salt and wheat flour. Mix to form a firm dough. Roll out the dough and cut into squares, sprinkling with sesame seeds to decorate. Bake at a moderate temperature. Makes 500g of biscuits.

View or download this resource

Get this resource

Similarly Tagged Content

Share this resource

If you found this resource useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

A free digital and print magazine for community development workers. Covering a diverse range of topics, it is published three times a year.

Sign up now - Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.