Exclusive analysis by AzMina Magazine shows that between 2019 and the first half of 2021, the bazilian federal government failed to invest almost R$ 400 million in combating violence, encouraging autonomy and women’s health in Brazil
Undoubtedly, this is an example of the use of journalism as a tool for monitoring public policies. Our findings were used by parliamentarians, who republished it on their social networks, charging the federal government for the lack of action in the fields of gender and women’s protection. AzMina has a wide network of publishing partners and our complaint also featured articles in national media such as Folha de S.Paulo and also in places such as O Estado de Minas.
The database built for the report was also made available so that readers, specialists, or other journalists could make use of it for other investigations.
The report was also one of the finalists for the Claudio Weber Abramo Prize for Data Journalism, the highest award for data journalism in Brazil.
To build this database, we gathered data from three different public budget platforms in Brazil: Portal da Transparência, SIGA Brasil and Sistema Integrado de Planejamento e Orçamento (SIOP). At first, we were testing the platforms to find out more about the specific budget for women across different federal government portfolios. Before we knew that the platforms had conflicting information between them, we coded a scraper using Python to return what we thought was a comprehensive database of budget entries. As it turns out, the first results we got were not only incomplete but made us understand that the work was never done before because it cannot be automatized – it had to be done reading entry by entry and re-checking the information. So we did exactly that: we learned how to navigate the different portals and checked hundreds of pages for each of the budget actions we mapped that were linked to the overall budget for Brazilian women. We closed the time window from 2016 to 2021 to encompass the last three governments and populated a table with the results. In total, 10 budget actions were found to be active during this timeframe. Then, we proceeded to analyze their specificities and all the steps – from conception to approval in Congress and, finally, executions – to understand where did the money go.
We also used the Brazilian version of the FOIA – LAI (Lei de Acesso à Informação) – to find pieces of data missing from the government platforms. By placing multiple requests, we were able to identify that the ‘Protejo’ program and the Women of Peace Project were being scrapped and left with almost no money to continue operating.
Finally, with the database ready and checked, we used Flourish to visualize the information.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Our first conversation about this story was about precision. We both questioned ourselves on how we would come up with a methodology that was strong enough not only to accurately find the information we needed but to counterattack possible flak. As freelancers, we wanted to make sure we were anticipating potential assaults and protecting ourselves and the newsroom we were writing for.
With an entire team of women journalists behind this investigation, we knew how exposed we were to attacks by pro-government tropes. We were also sure that transparency was a key factor in our safety strategy. We focused a lot of time not only on the methodology and gathering the data but on fact-checking and challenging the database we created. In the story, you can trace every step of the investigation and even recreate that. Towards the end, we encourage the readers to do so by making the database publicly available. We also made an effort to make it all accessible to the general public – hence why we decided to go for a filtered table in Google Docs instead of a more sophisticated structure.
Precision was definitely the biggest challenge of this project. After the publication, I am happy to say that our expectations were positively surpassed. Instead of the attacks we were preparing for, we were met with a high level of interest for the story, which is proven by the number of news outlets that republished the investigation and the huge amount of people, especially women, it reached.
What can others learn from this project?
Among many things, this project teaches the value of having a gender perspective inside the newsrooms, especially in the Public Policy and Budget beats. This database was put together from the questions brought up by and with the curiosity of women journalists. It also teaches how impactful data journalism can be by using techniques that are easily understood by the public. By focusing on transparency and replicability, we were able to reach a large audience and bring important information to the public attention.