Women still struggle to be elected in Brazil

. Mar 08, 2020
Women still struggle to be elected in Brazil Photo: Ines Sacramento/Shutterstock

In October, Brazil’s 147 million voters go to the polls to elect mayors and city councilors for the next four years. And while 52 percent of citizens in the country are women, ballots will be overwhelmingly dominated by male candidates. 

A new study shows that women’s struggles to get elected to public office start long before the campaigns—the roadblocks start within their own parties, regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum.

“Women become ‘extras’ in their parties because they don’t get enough resources to finance their campaigns,” journalist Karolina Bergamo told The Brazilian Report.

She is a member of the <em>Vote Nela</em>s, a collective aiming to make women candidacies more competitive. “There are issues they face just for being women, such as harassment or not being taken seriously.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/UN-WOMEN-1024x658.png" alt="UN WOMEN" class="wp-image-32569" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/UN-WOMEN-1024x658.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/UN-WOMEN-300x193.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/UN-WOMEN-768x494.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/UN-WOMEN-610x392.png 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <p>Ms. Bergamo helped put together the “<a href="https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A8e67b48a-3c2a-4959-ad86-7d382ce4e3ea">Candidates’ Journey</a>” report, which interviewed 34 women from all over the country who ran for public office in 2016 and 2018—ten of whom were elected—in an effort to help candidates in the 2020 election avoid the same pitfalls.</p> <p>The survey shed light on old sexist beliefs in Brazil, such as that women &#8220;don’t like&#8221; or &#8220;don’t want to get involved&#8221; in politics. It showed that personal factors, such as taking part in student organizations, being volunteers or working in the public sector play a large role in women’s decision to run for office.</p> <p>Data shows that women who run for office feel more empowered—whether or not they get elected. A <a href="https://nacoesunidas.org/onu-lanca-rede-latino-americana-para-promover-participacao-das-mulheres-na-politica/">UN report</a> says “when there is no diversity for decision-making, it is likely that public interest is translated into policies that represent only one group to the detriment of others, creating mistrust and detachment of the democratic system.”</p> <h2>Dummy candidates&nbsp;</h2> <p>In an attempt to open up more room for women, Brazilian electoral legislation demands that at least 30 percent of a given party&#8217;s candidates are women, receiving the same proportion of the party&#8217;s electoral funds. However, some parties still try to circumvent this rule, selecting non-competitive candidates—often relatives of party members—simply to meet the minimum quotas. The campaign funds allocated to these fake candidates are often used to finance male candidates.</p> <p>In 2019, President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2019/02/11/how-fraudulent-schemes-boosted-the-presidents-party/">former party</a>, the Social Liberal Party, was accused of using <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/02/13/dummy-candidate-scandal-cabinet/">dummy candidates to embezzle money</a> from a publicly-financed electoral fund during the 2018 election. The party selected unknown female candidates to appear on the ballot and, while their campaigns received disproportionately massive funding according to the books, the money was used to help elect the party&#8217;s (male) leaders.</p> <p>In September 2019, Brazil&#8217;s Superior Electoral Court decided that parties which use female dummy candidates could have their <a href="https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/judiciario/tse-decide-que-candidatura-laranja-de-mulheres-gera-cassacao-integral-da-chapa/">entire ticket made void</a>.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1532182"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>To change or not to change?</h2> <p>In August, congresswoman Renata Abreu proposed a bill to change the quotas in the electoral law. It would keep the 30 percent quota, but allows parties to leave the vacancies empty in case this threshold is not fulfilled by women.</p> <p>“The presence of women in parliament has increased, so it is unreasonable to believe there is a gender prejudice that is barring female candidacies to the point that they need extreme measures such as the ones in current legislation,” says Ms. Abreu.</p> <p>Female representatives fill 77 of 513 seats in the lower house after the 2018 election, a 51-percent bump from the previous electoral cycle. Still, they make up for only 15 percent of seats—a flagrant underrepresentation. On a national level, women held only <a href="http://www.tse.jus.br/imprensa/noticias-tse/2019/Marco/numero-de-mulheres-eleitas-em-2018-cresce-52-6-em-relacao-a-2014">16.2 percent of all elected offices</a>.</p> <p>The United Nations&#8217; 2019 <a href="https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2019/women-in-politics-2019-map-en.pdf?la=en&amp;vs=3303">Women in Politics Map</a> ranks Brazil 149th out of 188 countries when it comes to female presence in the presidential cabinet—the worst for a South American nation. Brazil fared a little better in female representation in parliament, but still ranks only 133rd, tied with Paraguay and Bahrain.</p> <p>For Ms. Bergamo, ending female quotas is not the solution to the problem. “There is inequality from the get-go. Women need tools to reduce the disadvantages they face until they are over. There must be progressivity: you invest in quotas for a while and, after some time, you won’t need them anymore,” she said.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1532094"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1532102"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Patriarchy strikes back</h2> <p>The survey also found out that campaigning takes a deep emotional and physical toll on women—who face harassment and frequently must accumulate the responsibilities of a candidate with their jobs, while running their household, too.</p> <p>“It was unanimous. All surveyed women mentioned the physical and emotional weight of a campaign. It makes a lot of difference for them to come home and have a husband or family that helps with household duties and child care, but normally they had to deal with that themselves. When we talk about women in politics, we are often talking about working three or four jobs,” says Gisele Agnelli, a member of <em>Vote Nela</em>s.</p> <p>The political scenario replicates other sexist facets of Brazilian society, such as the fact that women remain the most responsible for <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/02/17/economy-minister-paulo-guedes-domestic-worker-brazil/">domestic work</a>, or the gender pay gap.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, the survey found that women managed to find support—whether by teaming up with other female candidates or in political movements, such as feminists collectives who try to increase female participation in politics, or groups supporting political renovation in Brazil, said Ms. Agnelli.

Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Most recently, she worked as an Editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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