Women in Brazil's Politics
Women in Politics
The women's suffrage movement began in Brazil in the early 1900s.
As in the United
States, women were first fully enfranchised at the state level.
In 1927 in Rio Grande do Norte, the state election laws were amended
giving women the right to vote. A year later, Alzira Soriano was
elected mayor of Lajes, Santa Catarina State. Finally, the new national
election code, signed by President Vargas in 1932, allowed women
to vote in the May 1933 elections for the 1934 Constituent Assembly.
Two women were elected to that body.
Many women have been elected mayors. In 1985 Luiza Fontenelle (Workers'
Party) was the first woman elected in a state capital (Fortaleza,
Ceará). The most important elective office held by a woman
in Brazil was the mayorship of São
Paulo, which Luiza Erundina (Workers' Party) won in 1988.
Although women have become federal judges by public examination,
none has ever been appointed to Brazil's superior courts. In 1988
Sarney appointed the first woman to the National Accounting
Court. However, this appointment was more related to the appointee's
notorious journalist husband than to her judicial qualifications
(see Gender, ch. 2).
By 1994 women constituted nearly half of the electorate. In August
1994, data from the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) showed that of
94,782,410 registered voters, 49.4 percent were women.
No women were elected to Congress in the 1946-51 period, but Getúlio
Vargas's niece, Ivette Vargas, was elected federal deputy from São
Paulo in 1950 at age twenty-three. Women continued to have minuscule
representation in Congress and in state assemblies until the political
opening (abertura ) in 1982, when nine women were elected to the
Chamber of Deputies, followed by twenty-six in 1986, twenty-three
in 1990, and thirty-six in 1994. Among the latter, Vanessa Cunha
de Janeiro) was the youngest federal deputy at age twenty-two.
Among state deputies, seventy-nine women were elected in 1994.
The first female senator assumed office in 1979 as an alternate
on the death of her predecessor. Since then a few women have been
elected to the Senate in successive elections. In 1994 fourteen
women were candidates for the Senate, and four were elected.
In 1996 Congress adopted a quota system (20 percent) for female
candidates for city council, and this policy increased the number
of women elected. In 1997 Congress extended the mechanism to the
1998 general elections.
Until 1994 no women had been elected governor in their own right.
When the governor of Acre resigned to run for the Senate in 1982,
Yolanda Fleming was appointed governor to serve out the last ten
months of the term. In 1994 eleven women ran for governor, and three
made it into the second-round runoff--Angela Amin (PPR--Santa Catarina),
Lúcia Vânia of the Progressive Party, and Roseana Sarney
(PFL-Maranhão). Sarney, a daughter of the former president,
was elected by a very small margin.
In 1994 women became candidates for vice president for the first
time. The PMDB chose Iris Rezende, wife of the Goiás governor,
to be Orestes Quêrcia's running mate. Although Rezende, a
Protestant, had never held a formal political office, she was very
active in politics while first lady of Goiás. With her candidacy,
the PMDB hoped to attract the growing number of Protestant voters.
Not to be outdone, the PPR chose Gardênia Gonçalves
from Maranhão as a running mate for Senator Esperidião
Amin. Gonçalves's husband had been a governor and senator
from Maranhão, in opposition to the Sarney group, and in
1992 she was elected mayor of the capital city, São Luís.
Figueiredo (president, 1979-85) was the first president to name
a woman to a cabinet position--Professor Esther Figueiredo Ferraz
(no relation to the president) as minister of education and culture.
His successors also appointed female cabinet ministers, the most
famous of whom was Zélia Cardoso de Melo, President Collor's
minister of economy. President
Franco's cabinet included three women. President Cardoso appointed
one woman during his first year in office, but she was replaced
by a man in 1996.
Data as of April 1997