Nearly 20 years after it became mandatory for political parties in Brazil to save at least 30% of their candidacies for women at every election , results are far from living up to expectations. Although more than 52% of the country’s electorate is made up of women, they still account for 10% of the positions taken at parliament, data from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) indicate.
A number of experts believe women’s underrepresentation in politics is more closely related to limitations imposed by the political parties than to electors’ distrust in female politicians.
Demographer Professor José Eustáquio Diniz Alves says women in politics are highly regarded by Brazilian voters. “The 2010 elections proved it, as we saw, among the nine presidential candidates, two women [Dilma Rousseff and Marina Silva] getting two thirds (67%) of the votes in the first round,” he argues.
He goes on to point out that countries with older democracy traditions, like the United States and France, have never had a woman as head-of-state. The problem, Diniz Alves claims, lies in the Brazilian legislative branch, where reportedly the participation of women is met with a lot of opposition from “the political parties, which are dominated by men, and do not want to give up their power. In other words, discrimination based on gender is not found among the electorate, but rather in the parties,” he remarks.
Today, Brazilian electoral legislation stipulates that a minimum of 30% of the positions filled by ballot should be taken up by female candidates. However, surveys conducted by organizations like the Center for Feminist Studies and Advisory Services (“Cfemea”) reveal that this allotment disappears after every election.
Sociologist Guacira César Oliveira, director of Cfemea poses a question: “The previous election was by far the one with the largest number of female candidates. But the outcome of this process, after 15 years of quota policies, amounts to nothing. We’ve had the exact same proportion of women elected as we did in the previous election, in 2010. How is it possible that the number of female candidates rose, but not the number of women elected?”
In her view, the underrepresentation of women is closely connected with an exclusive political system. “Women don’t have the right to invest in campaigning,” she says, adding that this situation is made even worse by women’s everyday life.
“They usually work two shifts [at home and at work],” she says. The sociologist further notes that the minimum quota has only been observed because of the law. Parties do not actually deem the candidacy of women relevant, Guacira Oliveira believes.
“No substantial changes have been made anywhere. The only novelty compared to the previous elections is found in the United Socialist Workers’ Party [PSTU], which dedicates 48% of candidacies to women at the Chamber [of Deputies]. The other parties have stuck to the mandatory 30%,” Guacira Oliveira complained.
The sociologist believes a drastic political reform is the only way to ensure the appropriate proportion of men and women in the legislative branch.
“In spite of all the street movements, the discussion on political reform at Congress has only served to make it even easier for parties to keep doing what they’ve already been doing. All reforms have been conservative, the last one especially so,” she remarks regretfully.
For this year’s general elections, women answer to slightly more than 30% of candidates, taking into consideration all the positions available – president, vice-president, governor, vice-governor, deputies and senators. In the race for a chair at the Senate, for instance, only 35 women are seen, among 182 candidates.
For President of the Republic, three women compete for the office: Dilma Rousseff, Luciana Genro, and Marina Silva. The most significant female representation (36.4%) is observed among running-mates. The run for the office of governor, in turn, is where the participation of women is at its lowest – 17 women, out of 169 competitors, according to TSE.
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