Political Glass Ceiling: Women in Brazil

_102654477_hi048301532Considering the pending* results of the presidential election in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has a high level of support from a significant proportion of the population in Brazil. This support has been obvious since the first round of voting, when he obtained 46.3% of the votes over Fernando Haddad, his main opponent; Haddad received only 28.8% of the votes [1]. After intense voting during the first round of the presidential election, the radical right candidate’s fame was strengthened. Bolsonaro has become famous thanks to his authoritarian speeches and his racist, homophobic, and misogynistic comments. He has already been compared to Donald Trump, receiving the nickname of ‘el Donald Trump brasleáo’ [2].

In 2003, Bolsonaro made one of his most infamous comments; he told a leftist deputy that “she did not deserve being raped” after she accused him of encouraging rape. Later, when he was explaining his comments during an interview to the Zero Hora newspaper, he added: “she did not deserve to be raped because she is too mean, too ugly” [2]. Due in part to this comment, the largest women’s rally in Brazil’s history took place on September 29th of this year. Women gathered on the streets to march against the candidate; the movement’s main slogan was ‘Ele Não’ (‘Not him’) [3]. In fact, 52% of women said they would not vote for Bolsonaro on October 7, according to a poll conducted by Datafolha.

Given this background, what is waiting for Brazil’s women if that type of person attains the presidency and becomes the country’s leader? In comparison to 83 other countries, Brazil ranks fifth in the prevalence rate of femicides [4], with afro and indigenous women being the main victims in some zones. According to World Bank, in 2012, the rate of homicides with women victims was of 4.6 per 100,000 women, a rate that almost doubles when it comes to indigenous women: 7.3 per 100,000 women [MURDER-DATA-3] [4]. To reduce these statistics, Brazil passed a law in 2015 that recognized femicide and defined it as the act of murdering a woman because she is a woman [5].

On the other hand, child marriage is also an alarming trend. In South America, Brazil holds the highest rate of child marriage occurrences. While the legal age for marriage is 18 years old, the law allows 16-year-olds to get married if they have their parents’ permission; the law also allows girls to get married at any age if they are pregnant. Data from UNICEF revealed that more than 11% of women between 20 and 24-years were married before age 15, and 36% of women from the same age range were married before age 18 [AOM-PRACTICE-1] [6].


Brazil needs better political representation that truly embodies its population. It needs a president that does not disregard and undervalue the daily life of more than half of the population: specifically, women [7]. This situation highlights that a full solution goes beyond the presidency and its commitment to the people; Brazil also needs a political system that, in all areas, pursues the well-being of the general population, instead of focusing on historically privileged groups. It requires a political system that has women’s security and welfare as a main objective.

Brazil is a country where, in 2008, just 11% of the ministers were women and between, 2003 – 2009, just 5% were in charge of gubernations [GP-DATA-1] [8]. Bolsonaro should serve as a warning and should inspire within citizens the need for and desire to change. While he is one of the main obstacles, he is not the only one. One cannot forget Brazil has a system with few possibilities of political participation for women, which renders at least half of the population’s urgent needs nearly invisible.

For women, the political situation is one of vulnerability. Despite having Dilma Rouseff as a woman president for five years, women’s representation in politics remains low and without any significant push upwards. In 2012, Brazil occupied the 116th place in the world for parliamentary participation by women, with just 8% in the lower house and 16% in the upper house (LBHO-DATA-1) [9]. This landscape did not change in 2014 when women received only 9.6% of places in the parliament [LBHO-DATA-1] [10]. Beyond the parliament, the situation in the ministries is not any better. In January 2015, just 15.4% of ministerial positions were occupied by women (GP-DATA-1) [11].

The opportunity for political change is now. The door is open to choose a government that cares for its population and seeks the improvement of citizens’ lives, including a focus on the issues of women’s everyday life. This nation needs and deserves a wide feminine representation which both comprehends and changes people´s lives for the better. While the current outlook is disheartening, a positive turn is not impossible. It can be facilitated by better representation and better public policies that seek to change the current facts and set women’s security as a priority. For women, for Brazil, for everyone.

-by CC & JSM

*this post was submitted for publication on October 25, 2018 – three days before the end of the 2018 presidential election cycle in Brazil



[1] Avendaño, Tom; Lafuente, Javier. 2018. “El candidato ultra Bolsonaro logra una gran victoria en la primera vuelta”. https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/10/07/actualidad/1538940556_706516.html (October 11, 2018)

[2] Villajos, Luis. 2018. “Misógino, homófobo y racista, así es el líder ultra brasileño Bolsonaro”. https://www.republica.com/2018/10/08/bolsorano-frases-polemicas/# (October 11, 2018).

[3] BBC News Mundo. 2018. “Brasil: quién es Jair Bolsonaro, el ‘racista’, ‘homófobo’ y defensor de la pena de muerte que ganó la primera vuelta de las elecciones presidenciales”. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-45780840 (October 11, 2018).

[4] World Bank. 2017. “What Does It Mean to Be a Woman in Brazil? The Answer Will Surprise You”. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/03/08/ser-mujer-brasil (October 11, 2018)

[5] World Bank. 2016. A Snapshot of Gender in Brazil Today: Institutions, Outcomes, and a Closer Look at Racial and Geographic Differences”. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/25976/112319-WP-GenderDiagnosticfinal-PUBLIC-ABSTRACT-SENT.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (October 11, 2018).

[6] US Department of State. 2015. “Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015”. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2015humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2015&dlid=252995#wrapper (October 11, 2018).

[7] Countrymeters. 2018. “Población de Brasil”. https://countrymeters.info/es/Brazil

[8] United Nations. 2010. “The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics” https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full%20report_color.pdf

[9]  UN Women. 2012. “Women in Politics: 2012”. http://archive.ipu.org/pdf/publications/wmnmap12_en.pdf

[10] Save the Children. 2014. “State of the World’s Mothers 2014: Saving Mothers and Children in Humanitarian Crises” https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/advocacy/sowm/sowm-2014.pdf (Ultima fecha de acceso)

(11)  UN Women. 2015. “Women in Politics: 2015”. http://archive.ipu.org/pdf/publications/wmnmap15_en.pdf Ultima fecha de acceso)



Jair Bolsonaro: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-45780840

Imagen de la protesta: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-45780840


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