Majority of voters, women still lack participation in country-level decision-making

Brazilian women won the right to vote and be voted across the country 82 years ago, with the approval of the 1932 Electoral Code.

Brazilian women won the right to vote and be voted across the country 82 years ago, with the approval of the 1932 Electoral Code. A struggle that lasted for more than 100 years came to an end in May 1933, when a woman was granted the right to vote and be voted for the National Constitution Convention for the first time. And although women are presently the majority of Brazil´s voters, their effective participation in the formulation of country´s policies is substantially smaller than men´s.
Justice Marco Aurélio, president of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), notes that, with regard to positions that require the undertaking of entrance examinations prior to office admission, notably in the legal field, “women are ascending and taking office as bench members” by means of merit-based assessment criteria. “And why not in politics? As I see it, there is something wrong, which consists on the fact that only the formal aspects of statutes are taken into account, instead of their substance, of their specific objective, which relates to women´s [political] participation and the participation as candidates”, he adds.
According to figures released by the TSE in January 2014, the number of female voters amounts to 73,148,701 (51.950%) out of a total of 140,804,936 registered voters in Brazil. The number of female leaders at the domestic level has also grown. To illustrate such statement, it is worth noting that the national Executive Branch is presently headed by Dilma Rousseff, the president of the Republic. Women are also moving into high-level offices at the Judicial Branch: the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and even the TSE have already been chaired by women, Justices Ellen Gracie and Cármen Lúcia, respectively.
However, despite the increase in the number of women occupying positions at the Executive and Judicial Branches, according to a survey disclosed in the primer “+ Women in Politics: Women, take a stand”, Brazil occupies the 156th position in a ranking of 188 countries that measures the presence of women in the Legislative Branch. Furthermore, the number of female candidates elected in the general elections of 2010 still is significantly smaller than their male counterparts´. Out of the 513 federal representatives elected for a seat at the Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives), only 45 of them were women, accounting for a share of approximately 9% of the total. With regard to the Senate, considering the 54 seats (two-thirds) that were up for grabs during those elections, female candidates gained seven of them (7%). Such figures are far from the minimum share of 30% set forth in Paragraph 3 of Article 10 of Law N. 9,504/1997 (Elections Act), as amended by Law N. 12,034/2009: “Out of the number of seats established according to the provisions set forth in this article, each party or coalition shall account for a minimum share of 30% (thirty percent) and a maximum of 70% (seventy percent) for male and female candidacies”.
Justice Luciana Lóssio, who represents the guild of lawyers before the TSE, reviews the enhancement of female participation in society: “This is a positive time for the affirmation of women´s leadership, both in the Executive and in the Judicial Branches. In 2011, I was fortunate to be nominated as TSE´s Justice, becoming the first woman to take office as Justice at the Electoral Court System representing the guild of jurists. It is also noteworthy that during the 2012 municipal elections TSE´s members included, for the first time in its history, four women, and the court was chaired by Justice Cármen Lúcia during that period. This is quite a relevant piece of data as it reveals the cutting edge role played by the Electoral Court System”, she extols.
According to TSE´s Justice Laurita Vaz, who presently serves as the head of the Disciplinary Board of the Electoral Court System, from a historical perspective, “women´s participation in society has grown stronger over the years”.  She believes that winning the right to vote constituted one of the greatest achievements of Brazilian women during last century. “Gradually, other noteworthy developments were implemented, including the increasing access to education, women´s entry in the labor market, and the statutory reservation of seat openings to foster female participation in politics as well”, she recalls.
According to Justice Laurita Vaz, women´s participation has also increased in legal careers as female candidates get to score the highest marks in entrance examinations required to office admission, notably in the legal field. “The advance of women in legal careers is remarkable. It is clear that women have been occupying an increasing number of positions within the government, mainly at the Public Prosecution Office and the Judiciary, whose workforce includes a significant number of female employees, especially in basic positions. However, women´s share gradually decreases when it comes to higher posts and posts filled by nomination”, she notes.
Justice Laurita Vaz does not believe that such context results from “women´s lack of talent or merit but, instead, it does reflect the existing difficulties for women to move into political environments traditionally occupied by men”. “Statistical data indicates that when law professionals reach the peak of their career, competition no longer involves examinations that measure one´s knowledge and titles, but it does depend on an increased political space and the recognition of their peers, which majority is constituted by men, who often hinder women´s access. Thus, we need to overcome the barriers imposed by such silent discrimination, which usually comes in a subtle and covert manner”, she concludes.

In 1997, the Elections Act provided for the reservation of seats to ensure women´s representation in proportional offices – federal, state and district representatives and city councilors. In 2009, after the sanction of Law N. 12,034 (the first small electoral reform), such minimum female representation became mandatory. The amended text requires the filling (and not simply the reservation) of seats: “a minimum share of 30% (thirty percent) and a maximum of 70% (seventy percent) for male and female candidacies”.
The same small electoral reform has introduced new provisions to the Political Parties Act (Law N. 9,096/1995), seeking to ensure the promotion and dissemination of women´s participation in politics. Such provisions include the mandatory application of Party Fund resources in the creation and maintenance of programs for the promotion and dissemination of women´s political participation according to a percentage to be determined by the national party leadership, provided a minimum of 5% (five percent) of the total is observed. Statutory provisions also require that free political party advertising on TV and radio promotes and disseminates women´s political participation, making sure to grant women a percentage of time to be determined by the national party leadership, provided a minimum of 10% (ten percent) is observed.
After the sanction of the small electoral reform (Law N. 12,891/2013), Article 93-A was added to the Elections Act, further encouraging women´s participation in politics. The said provision establishes that “The Superior Electoral Court (TSE), in the period between March 1 and June 30 of election years, may broadcast institutional advertising on TV and radio using the same air time provided for in Article 93 of this Law with the aim of fostering gender equality and women´s participation in politics”.

Women in power
The first Brazilian and Latin American woman elected for an office at the Executive Branch was Luíza Alzira Soriano Teixeira, born in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte. She took office as mayor of the city of Lajes, in Rio Grande do Norte, on January 1, 1929, after having won the municipal elections that were held the year before. In 1934-1935, in the elections called by Getúlio Vargas to form a Constitutional Convention, Carlota Pereira de Queiroz was the first woman to be elected as federal representative. Berta Lutz, first alternate representative of the Federal District, took office in 1936.
In October 2010, Brazil has elected the country´s first female president, two female state governors, 11 female senators, 45 female federal representatives and 134 female state representatives. In the municipal elections of 2012, 657 female mayors were elected, accounting for an 11.84% share of the available 5,568 elective offices. During the same elections, 7,630 female city councilors were elected, representing a 13.32% share of the elected candidates.
It is worth noting that in 2012, the elections were coordinated for the first time by a woman: Justice Cármen Lúcia, who chaired the TSE at that time. Back then, court members included other three female Justices: Nancy Andrighi and Laurita Vaz, both coming from the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), and Luciana Lóssio, representing the guild of lawyers. They formed the court´s largest pool of female members in its entire history.