Brazil’s October general elections are expected to have the biggest participation of women in the country’s history. And why not? Since the turn of the last century the majority of the population has been feminine. In the 1970s there was a mass movement of women into the labor market and universities.
In the 2008 elections there were 5 million more female voters than male – a difference of around 4% of the voting population – and voting is mandatory in Brazil. This year, two major candidates for the presidency will be women: chief of staff Dilma Rousseff and senator Marina Silva.
Unfortunately, dynamic as the numbers are, there has not been a surge in women elected to office in Brazil. In fact, on a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union of female representation around the world, Brazil is in 142nd place.
On the federal level, Brazil has only ten female senators out of 81, 45 female deputies representatives out of 513, two female justices on the Supreme Court out of 11 and, during his almost eight years in office, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has had six different women in his cabinet at different times being two at the moment.
It should be pointed out that the Brazilian Congress is run by a board that does not have any female members. Recently a constitutional amendment that would require at least one woman on the board and on all permanent committees died somewhere long before it got even close to a vote, according to deputy Luíza Erundina (PSB, São Paulo), who points out that in the 185-year history of the board in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies no woman has ever occupied a seat.
She also says that democratic representation is flawed when 51% of the population has only 10% of the seats in congress. At the state level, there are three female governors, 106 state deputies, 505 mayors and 6,512 councilwomen.
However, a recent small change of language in electoral legislation may bring about a big shift. As of now, political parties in Brazil must “fill” 30% of the positions in elections with women. In the past the law said the parties had to “reserve” 30%. So, they reserved the places but the ladies did not come. Now they will have to go after them.
There are also high expectations that with two women running for the presidency, there will be a different atmosphere, at least.
“They will have to discuss the gender issue and the formulation of government policies to improve the situation of women in Brazil,” declared Neuma Aguiar, professor of sociology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.