Brazil elections: Fighting to put women’s rights at the forefront

Women say they are left out of October’s elections, both in campaign promises and on the ballot.

Women''s rights Brazil
Women hold a banner reading 'Women struggle for democracy' during a campaign rally of presidential candidate Fernando Haddad [Andre Penner/AP Photo]

Sao Paulo – Erica Malunguinho is one of the 27,000 Brazilians running for office in Brazil’s October election. She is part of the 31 percent of candidates who are women, four percent who are black and 0.19 percent who are transgender.

“I decided to run because I had no other choice”, she said.

“People like me, we have no other choice than to confront the system. More than a need to stay alive, we have a need to be in positions of power,” Malunguinho, who is running for state deputy in Sao Paulo told Al Jazeera.

Women, and especially black women, are historically misrepresented in Brazil. Although they make up more than half of the electorate, only 31 percent of the total candidates for this year’s elections are women, barely the minimum 30 percent quota set by Congress in 2008.

In May, the Supreme Electoral Court amended the Electoral Law to require political parties to spend at least 30 percent of their campaign funds on its female candidates. The amendment came after the Public Defender’s Office found that thousands of female candidates received no votes in 2016, indicating they may have simply been names on the ballot. 

Despite the government’s efforts, women and analysts said women continue to face discrimination, persecution and disrespect in Brazilian politics.

Esther Solano, a sociologist from the University of Sao Paulo, calls Brazilian politics a “white boys club”.

“Brazil is still a very patriarchal, misogynist country, in which women are still thought to belong at home, taking care of the family.” The same goes to politics, she said. 

Erica Malunguinho said she choose to run because she had no other choice [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]
Erica Malunguinho said she choose to run because she had no other choice [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Of the 81 current senators, only 13 are women. Fifty-four of the 513 members of the Chamber of Deputies are women.

Malunguinho blamed this on the system itself.

“Misogyny is a form of oppression and in politics it tries to remove women from these spaces. The system is so organised, it has its own mechanisms to erase anyone it doesn’t want”, she said.

‘Life and death’

In March, Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco was killed in a drive-by shooting, prompting mass protests and international condemnation.

Born in a Favela, Franco was a prominent black activist, advocating for the rights of minorities and poor communities. Six months after her death, two former police officers were arrested on suspicion of being in the car from where the shots were fired, the case remains largely unsolved, with some officials saying her death was politically motivated.

“What happened with Marielle shows she was an inconvenience,” Diana Mendes told Al Jazeera. Mendes is part of the Black Women Decide movement, which calls for women of colour to run for office and participate in politics.

“As a woman, as a black woman, I know I’m not safe”, she said. “The reason we talk about race when we talk about politics it’s because it is a matter of life or death.”

Marielle Franco's murder prompted mass protests and international condemnation [Leo Correa/AP Photo] 
Marielle Franco’s murder prompted mass protests and international condemnation [Leo Correa/AP Photo] 

Mendes said this is why black women need to have more representation in the political sphere.

According to the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), black and mixed women represent 27 percent of Brazil’s population, but make up just 16 percent of the number of candidates running this year.

Mendes said it’s a “myth” that there are fewer female black candidates because they simply don’t want to run. She points the financing obstacles, along with the lack of TV and radio campaign time and overall lack of support from the parties. 

Diana Mendes said she does not feel safe as a black woman in Brazil election [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera] 
Diana Mendes said she does not feel safe as a black woman in Brazil election [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera] 

The challenges don’t stop on election day, according to Andreza Collato, the head of the National Office for Policies for Women.

She said she frequently hears of verbal abuse, lack of access and attempts to silence women in the National Congress or the Senate.

“The disrespect against women persists,” Andreza told Al Jazeera over the phone. “Men still see women as their property, with the duty of domestic chores.” She said although unacceptable, that’s the reality of the Brazilian culture.

Women’s rights hardly mentioned in campaigns

Solano said male candidates are starting to understand the importance of the female vote, “which explains why almost all of them have picked a woman as their running mate”.

But women’s rights are far from being at the centre of their campaigns. Most presidential hopefuls barely mention women in their platforms, and many who do have only offered vague proposals. 

Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party candidate and runner-up in most polls, plans to tackle unemployment among women and increase female participation in politics. He has been criticised, however, for not mentioning abortion and high rates of femicide.


Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who currently leads the polls, only mentions women once in his electoral programme, promising harsher sentences for convicted rapists.

His conservative stance has gained him a considerable amount of support, especially among evangelicals, but his controversial views also gave him the worst rejection rates from women: 54 percent said would not vote for him, according to the latest polls by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (IBOPE).

In 2014, during a heated debate in the Chamber of Deputies, Bolsonaro told a colleague who called him a rapist for inciting violence against women: “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it”.

After his remarks, the Supreme Federal Court formally accused Bolsonaro of “inciting rape”. In August, the court order him to pay a $2,500 fine and make a public apology.

In 2015, he said “women should be paid less [than men] because they get pregnant”.

On Saturday, thousands are expected to protest Bolsonaro’s candidacy and call for a greater emphasis on women’s rights.

“Even women who are not feminists feel the need to have politicians who represent them and who don’t mistreat or humiliate them”, said Juliana de Faria. She’s the founder of Think Olga, one of the biggest feminist think-thanks in Brazil and one of the many calling for protests against Bolsonaro. 

Juliana de Faria [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]
Juliana de Faria [Mia Alberti/Al Jazeera]

Faria told Al Jazeera Bolsonaro is “legitimising violence”.

“If the president does it, then people will feel at ease to do it”, she said.

Bolsonaro’s campaign did not respond to Al Jazeera request for comment. Bolsonaro, who has been hospitalised since being stabbed earlier this month, told local media on Monday that he has “never incited hate”.

“They said Bolsonaro hates gays, black people, women. Show me an audio or a video where I’m attacking someone”, he said.

Women like Malunguinho, de Faria and Mendes, among others, believe it will take years for women to be respected and treated the same as men in Brazil.

“But we have the faith to keep cultivating,” de Faria said. “So one day there will be a garden, and it will prosper and grow even if we’re not there to rip its fruits and flowers”.

Source: Al Jazeera