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 President 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 (PSDB-Rio 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.
|Country Studies main page | Brazil Country Studies main page|