Gender Quotas for the Underrepresented? A Gender Parity Case Study: Brazil

By Maura Reilly on October 28, 2019

To achieve progress in women’s representation in many countries, including Brazil, a change in systems which enable and support the disenfranchisement of women and minorities is needed.

Brazil employs a gender quota of 30 percent for the under-represented sex, which has historically been women, for party electoral lists. While this quota has been in place since 1997, the number of women in elected positions has not improved by leaps and bounds so for the 2018 election, a new rule was introduced, 30 percent of public funding given to parties must be allocated to women candidates. Despite the political infrastructure for women candidates and a 5 percent increase in women elected during the 2018 elections, the number of women in power continues to lag behind that of men and Brazil’s gender parity is far behind neighboring countries. 

The 2018 elections, did however mark many a historic first for women in Brazil the first Indigenous woman was elected and women now make up 77 of the 513 members (15.01%) in the lower chamber and 12 of the 81 members (14.81%) in the upper chamber, while the percentage is still low it does still mark progress for Brazil. Joênia Wapichana is a woman of many firsts, in 1997 she became the first Indigenous woman to get a law degree, to argue before Brazil’s Supreme Court and in 2018 the first Indigenous women elected to the Cámara dos Deputados. Not only is Wapichana the first Indigenous woman to hold a seat in the Brazilian congress, when elected she ended a 32 year period with no Indigenous representatives, and was the only Indigenous candidate to win in 2018, out of a total of 132 candidates running for Governor, Senator, Federal Deputy and Vice President. On the importance of being an Indigenous, woman representative Joênia Wapichana said “we need representativeness in politics; the Indigenous rights are in grave danger in Brazil. Also, we need more women in politics.” The use of collective candidacies in the 2018 election also proved helpful for electing more women at both the local and national levels. Collective candidacies are an electoral innovation in Brazil, in which a group of candidates band together and run for the same seat, one person serves as the head and holds the seat, but the group commits to making all legislative decisions together. Bancada Activista a collective candidacy in São Paulo outperformed expectations, it is comprised of eight activists, 7 of whom are women and the seat is formally held by journalist Mônixa Seixas. Juntos was another successful collective candidacy and has a platform which represents women’s interest especially black, LGBTQ and other underrepresented intersectional women. 

Despite moderate success for women and large party turnover in the 2018 election, many of the election outcomes constitutes politics as usual for Brazil. The Wilson Center's analysis of the election illustrates that despite a high party turnover, with 51 percent turnover in the lower chamber and 85 percent in the upper chamber, “the average profile of an elected federal deputy continues to be make, white, married and highly educated.” The widespread online #EleNão (#NotHim) movement against the then presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The hashtag was used to galvanize support against Bolsonara following controversial and inflammatory comments about women, which included telling Congresswoman Maria do Rosaria (WP) “I wouldn’t rape you becaue you don’t deserve it;” saying about his children “I have five children. I had four boys, and in the fifth, I weakened and a girl came;” and stating he would not pay men and women equally because women get pregnant. However, the widespread hashtag movement failed to have its desired effect and Jair Bolsonaro won the Presidential election. 2018 also marked the first election cycle in which political parties had to allocate 30 percent of public party funding to women candidates; however, following the election and the lodging of formal complaints multiple parties including Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) a party which has an anti-corruption platform, are now under investigation for redirecting the funding for women candidates to male candidates

While some successes can be seen in the 2018 elections, Brazil continues to fail women by failing to represent them on an equal level as men. Yes 2018 marked an increase in women elected, the election of the first Transgender woman and the first Indigenous woman; but, Brazil ranks 134th in the IPU global rankings on gender parity in national legislatures, and “deeply entrenched attitudes help keep women out of politics in Brazil, despite progressive laws intended to change that.” To achieve progress in women’s representation in many countries, including Brazil, a change in systems which enable and support the disenfranchisement of women and minorities is needed.

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