Brazilian women are now more encouraged to participate in politics than ever before
Like almost every other Brazilian, I was extremely shocked by the brutal murder of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco. Not only did her death signify the loss of an incredible social activist, but the act that resulted in her demise also revealed so much about current Brazilian society: namely, the extreme violent measures certain groups in this country will take to silence opponents who threaten their interests.
The night Franco was killed, she had attended an event called “Young Black Women Moving Structures” where she spoke about black women's representation in Brazilian politics. “Before me, ten years ago, we were there in Parliament with Jurema Batista, and ten years before that with Benedita da Silva, she said at that event. “We can't wait another ten years or think that I'll be there for ten years more.”
Franco was beseeching other black women like herself to occupy political offices, and her call was a salient one. In 1997, Brazil's Supreme Court established a rule for all political parties to allocate at least 30 percent of their resources to female candidates, but the truth is that many parties don't respect this mandate or pretend they are respecting it by using “female ghost candidates,” which are female candidates that the party barely supports. Today, though 52 percent of people who vote in Brazil are women, they are hardly represented in Congress at a rate that reflects their voting participation. There are only 45 congresswomen in Brazil's Federal Congress, compared to 468 congressman, an inequality that is significantly bigger when race is taken into account (only 10 congresswomen are black woman). In fact, Brazil has the worst representation of female politicians in Latin America, and comes in 152nd place out of a total of 193 countries when it comes to this representation.
Now, inspired by Franco’s legacy — she rose from a favela (a slum) to occupy a position of power that is usually denied to people like her — more women, especially black women, are feeling encouraged to participate in politics.
Take Talíria Petrone, a councilwoman from the city of Niterói and a close friend of Franco's. “Fear has to become resistance,” she told DW. “They executed a councilwoman, they tried to shut down her voice. I don’t want my voice to be shut down, because I know that my voice is the voice of many people.” Talíria plans to run for Federal Congress in the 2018 elections and hopes that she, as well as other women elected all over the country, will shift toxic gender norms in the political realm. Like other women, she is now more than ever willing and ready to fight.
Letícia Gabriella, a 22-year-old from the outskirts of São Paulo, is also part of a social movement for human rights. She recounted to Ponte that she decided to transform her anger about Franco's murder into a run for office in the 2020 elections. Leci Brandão, the second black woman in history to occupy São Paulo's parliament, reinforced this pattern, stating: “Black women need to know that politics is for them as well.”
In Rio de Janeiro, Franco's hometown, a number of women who worked at the late councilwoman's office as political advisors now intend to run themselves. Their goal is to “bring to the center the social majority that we are,” as Daniela Monteiro, a young black student who worked with Marielle and is now running for state council, wrote on her public facebook page. ”Building a new political culture goes through where we understand ourselves as transforming agents of our time,” she added.
Thais Ferreira, a social entrepreneur and also a friend of Franco's, has decided to run in this year's elections because she claims that she couldn't see herself doing anything other than political work right now. “At this moment, we have to honor the lagacy she had left us,” Ferreira told DW. “Is it bad to have to use her murder to do so? Sure it is. But we have to resignify and reinforce that gender and race must be debated. And that will be in the long run.”
Joelma Santos, an indigenous woman from Amapá State, an area in the extreme north of the country, is also running in the 2018 election, despite her mother's newly augmented concerns for her safety. “The day Marielle died my mother called me asking why I had to put my life in danger,” Santos told DW. She tried to explain to her mother that, although Franco's death was a terrible tragedy, the cultural effects of it have been more encouraging than desperate.
Perhaps the most serious reason for the historic underrepresentation of women in Brazilian politics, however, is the recognition that the system wasn't designed to operate in favor of women in the first place. Campaign funding, for example, is highly correlated with the possibility of a candidate being elected, and so the lack of financial resources available to women, not to mention lack of visibility the media will afford them, helps explain the low number of women elected. According to research published on the Brazilian website mulheresnegrasdecidem.org, the index of black women elected in Brazil is 1.60 and that of white women 3.80, while that of black men is 5.20 and that of white men 12.60.
Ultimately, Franco's legacy will affect not only female political representation in Brazil, but also, hopefully, how politics occur in this country moreover. Until now, Brazilian politics have largely been corrupted under the supervision of men. So, in this year's elections, women — particularly black women — are hoping to offer their country new alternatives. The driving force behind Franco's murder shows that they will not give up without a fight.
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