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Rousseff Increases Brazilian Women’s Property Rights in Divorces

March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, the first woman to head the world’s sixth-biggest economy, plans to increase women’s property rights in cases of divorce to mark International Women’s Day.

Women who earn as much as 1,866 reais ($1,060) a month and are enrolled under the government’s homebuilding program will be entitled to ownership of the house in divorce settlements, according to a decree published in an extraordinary edition of the Official Gazette. The measure will require congressional approval, Rousseff’s spokesman, Thomas Traumann, told reporters yesterday.

In her first speech following her Oct. 31, 2010, election victory, Rousseff pledged “to honor Brazil’s women” and to bridge the gender gap in the country. Rousseff in a nationally televised speech yesterday said that 40 percent of Brazilian families are headed by women, up from 25 percent a decade earlier.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that every woman still owes something to herself and every man owes something to the woman who’s next to him,” Rousseff said. Women on average earn 28 percent less than men in Brazil, according to a survey published yesterday by the national statistics agency.

Wages, Property

A Senate committee on March 6 approved a bill that fines companies that pay women less than men for the same work. The Senate may now choose to send the bill to Rousseff or to a floor vote.

Men and women in Brazil have equal rights under Brazil’s constitution, so Rousseff’s decree could be challenged in court, said Vania Marquez Saraiva, a partner at Brasilia-based law firm Azevedo de Araujo & Saraiva Advogadas Associadas.

According to current law, a husband and wife each have an equal share of any property they acquired as a couple, Saraiva said. Under Rousseff’s decree, men will only have the right to keep the family’s home after divorce if they retain custody of the couple’s children.

Rousseff has 10 women in her Cabinet, including her Chief of Staff Gleisi Hoffman, twice as many as her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

She also appointed Graca Foster as the first woman to run the country’s biggest company, state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA, and Magda Chambriard as the first woman to head the country’s oil regulator agency.

Brazil last year overtook the U.K. to become the world’s sixth biggest economy, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund published in September.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carla Simoes in Brasilia Newsroom at csimoes1@bloomberg.net; Andre Soliani in Brasilia Newsroom at asoliani@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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