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Gender balance reform long overdue in Brazil’s lower house

. Nov 19, 2020
Gender balance reform long overdue in Brazil’s lower house Men have dominated House seats in Brazil. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

Rodrigo Maia, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, has promised to sponsor a floor vote this week on a bill to institute gender quotas in municipal councils, state legislative assemblies, and the federal lower house itself. Mr. Maia stated that female representation has been “insufficient” in the country’s proportional elections. “Today, there are almost two thousand municipalities without a single woman in local councils”, he added.

The bill would reinforce incentives for gender equality in Brazil’s legislative bodies: laws already state that at least 30 percent of a given party’s candidates must be women, and that these candidates must receive the same proportion of the party’s electoral funds as male candidates.

</p> <p>As <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> showed earlier this year, however, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/03/08/women-representation-politics-united-nations/">women have still struggled</a> to run for office as parties try to circumvent this rule.</p> <p>Regardless, despite Mr. Maia&#8217;s lip service to the cause, the vote is unlikely to go ahead in the near future, as members of Congress rush to approve economic bills before the end of the year.</p> <h2>What is on the table?</h2> <p>The bill, <a href="https://www.camara.leg.br/proposicoesWeb/fichadetramitacao?idProposicao=1724716">numbered 134/2015</a>, stipulates increasing quotas for women in legislative bodies over the next three congressional terms. The quota would begin at 10 percent for 2022-2026, increasing to 12 and 16 percent in subsequent sessions. If these thresholds are not met, parties that have gained seats in the House would have to redistribute them to their female candidates with the highest number of votes.</p> <p>In practice, this means that victorious male candidates with the lowest number of votes would be replaced by the unelected female candidates who received the most votes. The proposal was approved by the Senate in 2015 and has been awaiting a vote in the lower house since 2016.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Incremental steps toward gender equality</h2> <p>In the past decades, Brazil has made important advances in terms of individual and institutional female representation in Congress. A total of 77 female lawmakers now occupy seats in the lower house, up from 51 in the previous congressional term.</p> <p>In 2013, federal lawmakers combined the existing <a href="https://www2.camara.leg.br/a-camara/estruturaadm/secretarias/secretaria-da-mulher/procuradoria-da-mulher-1/procuradoria-da-mulher">Women’s Prosecution Service</a> and the Coordination of Women’s Rights (which represents the female caucus in Congress) into the so-called <a href="https://www2.camara.leg.br/a-camara/estruturaadm/secretarias/secretaria-da-mulher/o-que-e-a-secretaria-da-mulher">Womens’ Secretariat</a>. This decision gave the female caucus formal representation in the lower house, with a member from the group taking part in weekly meetings of party whips that help decide on the voting agenda. Even some larger and more influential caucuses — such as the agribusiness caucus — lack this prerogative.</p> <p>However, historical inequality persists. As the figure below shows, 92 percent of the 3,198 lawmakers who occupied seats in Brazil’s lower house between 1999 and 2018 were male. The same can be said for leadership positions, with only 7.7 percent of said representatives being women in the same timespan. The all-important House Speaker role has always been given to a male lawmaker, ever since the country returned to democracy in 1985.&nbsp;</p> <p>If enacted, bill 134/2015 could have a significant impact toward gender parity not only in the lower house of Congress, but also in state assemblies and city councils. To illustrate the gap in state and municipal legislative bodies, only 163 of the 1,060 state lawmakers <a href="https://www.estadao.com.br/infograficos/politica,representacao-feminina-nas-assembleias-nao-passa-de-15,1018236">elected in 2018</a> were female.</p> <p>Indeed, the chances of a vote taking place this week are slim. Wednesday&#8217;s voting session was moved back to today, and representatives are expected to focus on two items completely unrelated to the gender discussion: bill 4199/2020, which regulates cabotage, and executive decree 933/2020, which extends temporary employment contracts of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra). Even with Speaker Maia demonstrating his support, gender quotas are likely to remain off the legislative agenda.

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Beatriz Rey

Beatriz Rey is a research fellow at the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University and a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

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