Collective changeSeven women vs the patriarchy in Brazil
Being a female politician in Brazil can be dangerous: the few women who are involved in politics face threats, smear campaigns and violence aimed at pushing them out of office. To protect themselves, some run for office as a collective: If one candidate drops out, the others step in. Read More
In 2016, a group of seven women from Rio de Janeiro joined together to form a political group aimed at evening the playing field in the city’s political class and challenging the status quo in Brazilian politics. Their strategy: run for city council as joint candidates.
Running for office as a collective might raise some eyebrows everywhere else, but in Brazil it has become a common approach to improve candidates’ safety. “The movement started due to a great dissatisfaction with Brazilian politics, led mainly by white and privileged men,” co-founder of the Comunidade Colletiva collective Erian Ozório states.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Brazil is one of the worst countries in terms of women’s political participation, ranking third in Latin America in the lowest representation of women. “Our rate is approximately 10 percentage points less than the global average and has been practically stable since the 1940s,” Erian says.
A record of high-profile female politicians
Brazil does have some high-profile women in politics, including Benedita da Silva, the first female, Afro-Brazilian state governor of Rio de Janeiro and Tabata Amaral, who is one of Brazil’s youngest elected officials. Tainá de Paula is a city councilor in Rio and knows the challenges women in politics have to overcome all too well.
“The history of women in Brazilian politics is marked by women who have made history, but at the same time it is marked by very low representation. In the National Congress, women currently occupy about 15% of the seats and when we look at the municipalities, it is usually even worse. And black women, who are 27% of the population, only have 2% representation in Congress.”
In fact, when looking at the women who have made their way into political offices, one cannot fail to notice the hostile environment for women in Brazil’s political system across the state, municipal and national political spectrum, especially for women of colour.
“You can imagine how revolutionary and important it was to elect a female president ... the current system didn’t tolerate that.”
Women being pushed out of politics
In 2010, Brazil elected its first and only female president, Dilma Rouseff, who was subsequently impeached after accusations of administrative misconduct. Rouseff’s time in office was marred by insults suggesting she was just the ‘puppet’ of her predecessor President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and many peers describing her as incompetent. Dilma’s removal from office was seen by some Brazilians as an offense to the many women working in politics. Rio councillor Tainá de Paula says Dilma’s impeachment was a clear example of the broken system.
“For me, Dilma is a living example of how they try to remove women from spaces of power... It is clear that we are facing a government project that does not want women in power, that does not accept that women fight for rights that go against an entire patriarchal and racist structure that has prevailed in the country for years.”
In 2018, the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councillor and human rights defender Marielle Franco sent shockwaves across the world. Prior to her murder, Marielle had spoken out about police brutality and fiercely defended the rights of black, poor and marginalised communities throughout the city. This was another direct attack on women in politics in Brazil, as Tainá de Paula explains:
“To this day, with no answers from those who ordered Marielle to be killed, we have suffered the political and emotional consequences of this political femicide. A country that takes a president out of power, that murders female parliamentarians, that objectifies and sexually harasses female MPs, is extremely dangerous for women. But it will not shut us up or stop us!”
Safety in numbers
The murder of Marielle sparked protests across Brazil and the feminist movement became stronger and more organised. “It is dangerous to be a woman in Brazil. Just look at the rates of femicide, which are alarming,” Comunidade Coletiva co-founder Erian says. According to a study by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in March and April last year femicide numbers rose by 22 percent, with 143 women killed in acts of violence.
“However, we cannot remain silent as has been the case so far. On the contrary: We can expose this violence and never let it pass as if nothing is happening. The death of Marielle Franco woke up several segments of women in Brazil to the need for greater political participation.”
Like the Comunidade Coletiva collective from Rio de Janeiro, increasing numbers of women across the country are using the concept of collective mandates to become active in politics. Instead of choosing one candidate among them, they run for office collectively and will, if elected, share the political mandate. Shared mandates are generally known to offer a greater chance of election and funding. For female politicians in particular, they also serve as a protective mechanism. This is safety in numbers in its starkest terms. Or to put it in the words of Comunidade Coletiva co-founder Erian: It is far more difficult to silence seven women than just one.
“It will not shut us up or stop us.”
A revolution reinforced by the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro
Erian Ozório describes the current political situation as a “crisis of representation” worsened by President Jair Bolsonaro. Since the far-right leader came to power in 2018, the Brazilian population has become more politicised and the need for greater representation of black, mixed race and indigenous people, women and the LGBTQ community in politics is more frequently acknowledged.
After his victory, there was also a rapid increase in collective applications for the 2020 Senate and Mayoral elections. A study by the Centre for Politics and Economics of the Public Sector (Cepesp) showed that collective and shared candidacies increased from 13 in the 2016 election to 257 in 2020.
“Women are the best revolution that Brazilian politics could have!”
“Women are the best revolution that Brazilian politics could have. Men have historically locked women out of institutional policy. Something can be done and it seems that people are beginning to become aware of this reality.” Erian explains.
An awakened electorate could make success for collective mandates like Comunidade Colectiva more achievable than ever in the next election. “There has been a significant advance in elected black, brown and LGBTQ individuals, but female representation is still a challenge,” says Erian.