But Brazilian women matter in many more ways than simply as voters in the presidential election. The federal and state legislatures have 1,626 seats up for grabs on Oct. 7 as well — and currently, less than 12 percent of those are held by women. Here’s what’s at stake.
1. Brazil has Latin America’s most male-dominated legislature
Why? Cross-national studies suggest the barriers include traditional gender norms that consider women out of place in public life; racial and gendered inequities in such key political resources as time, money, and informal networks; electoral rules; and parties. Those interwoven factors, together with formal and informal rules and norms, produce and sustain a resilient good old boys’ club within formal politics.
In Brazil, public opinion favors women in politics. But power remains disproportionately in the hands of white men. And the country’s often weakly organized and male-dominated parties have been unable or unwilling to recruit and support women candidates.
2. Formal rules to mitigate male overrepresentation have done little
Brazil has had a gender quota for legislative elections since 1998: Each party’s slate of candidates for the lower house and state assemblies must be at least 30 percent women. But women remain underrepresented. That’s partly because, despite the law, the parties ignore the quota. Between 1998 and 2006, only 16 percent of the parties’ slates competing for the lower house of parliament did in fact include 30 percent women. Even when they do nominate women, they don’t give them the funds or support they need to win. Percentages were higher during the elections from 2010 to 2018 — on paper at least. But at times, parties have reached those goals formally but fictitiously, running phantom or ghost candidates — women who are not formally running or may not even know their candidacy has been registered.
But parties have been creatively evading that requirement, finding ways to reroute those funds to men. How? They’ve run more than the usual percentage of women for vice president (38.5 percent), vice governor (36.5 percent), and Senate substitute, who will assume office if the elected senator has to step down (27.7 percent). That way, parties can channel the “women’s” funds to tickets headed by men, and still comply with the rule.
3. Women are mobilizing for women’s rights
The barriers may be high — but women appear to be in a more serious position to change Brazil’s political culture than they ever have before.
Malu A.C. Gatto (@MaluGatto) is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of political science at the University of Zurich.
Pedro A. G. dos Santos (@Professor_Dos) is an associate professor of political science at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
Kristin N. Wylie (@KristinNWylie) is an assistant professor of political science at James Madison University.