Taking Women to the Theater in Brazil

The League of Jewish Women of Brazil (Liga Femenina Israelita do Brasil) has a long-standing tradition to celebrate International Women’s Day. In March 2018 we brought a group of 35 women to the Municipal Theater, to thank them for their work as volunteers helping children and needy mothers in the communities of Cantagalo, Pavão-Pavãozinho.


Lilian Bosboom reports that this tradition of taking women from poor neighborhoods to the theater began with Ester Schwartz, the longest serving president of LFIB. She explained that her motivation was egalitarian and sincere; she felt that it was wrong for her to enjoy the benefits of society when the poor could not do so.


Brazilian society is built on wealth, privilege and social classes distinctions. The poor had no acess to the arts in general and people of color were not admitted to the theater. Today things have improved somewhat for poor Brazilians and minorities, thanks in part to Ester Schwartz.


She was the first Brazilian woman to open people’s minds towards a more egalitarian society in Rio de Janeiro. When she first took these desinfranchised women to the theater, she was confronted by the theater workers and the doorman refused to let them into the building. Today we would call this racism or discrimination.


Although the government provides subsidies to take the poor to the theater, unfortunately, they do not go. Lilian once brought a group of black women to the Municipal Theater to see a show and they said that without her they would never have had the courage to enter the building. This is partly because of historical colonialism and racism, but also a lack of adequate education opportunities and the government’s failure to expose public school kids to the arts and music at an early age. Ester Schwartz understood the importance of the arts in people’s lives and she encouraged the women of the LFIB to be courageous in standing up for access.


As President of Liga, Lilian has created a project to continue Ester´s legacy. “The Ester Schwartz Project” has brought women to the theater, movies and concerts on International Women´s Day for the past 3 years. They brought a group of elderly women to a local theater for the first time in their lives.


These women after working all their lives and having retired, now take care of their grandchildren, because many young women in the needy community have children at a young age and the fathers are conveniently non-existent. Here you see them in their community carrying donations of food on their heads, and below, well dressed and having fun in a theater lobby.


Lilian was inspired by Ester Schwartz to work for the LFIB, and she is constantly inspired by seeing the happiness that this project brings to poor women when they enjoy a trip to the theater – something that most of us take for granted.