Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The effects of gender quotas in Brazil

A female president was elected in 2010 to govern a country with a population of nearly 200 million people and what could be one of the future most influential states in the world. CNN reports: “Brazil has quickly become a major player in world politics and one of the world's ten largest economies in GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund's 2011 economic outlook, Brazil's economy is expected to grow by more than 5%, faster than many developed nations, including the United States.” Not only has the state of Brazil never had a female president before, but the election of a female to govern this rising country has given women hope for a breakthrough in the patriarchal structure and hierarchy that has been prevalent in the political arena for decades. For a country with a booming economy and an influential position on the international arena, having a female president makes many gender equality advocates jump for joy. Cecilia Sardenberg, a Brazilian activist and academic explained the relationship between women and politics in Brazil in the following way: “Women face similar inequalities in the political sphere. We won the right to vote in 1934, and even though women currently make up 51% of the electorate, we hold less than 10% of elected seats, placing Brazil among the countries of the world with the lowest proportion of women in public office.” 

In an effort to reduce the inequality within the political sphere of Brazil, electoral quotas were imposed as laws in 1995, requiring a 20% of political parties’ candidates to be female. This quota was later raised to 30%. Political scientists have scrutinized these quotas in more detail and found some alarming loopholes and flaws on regulation of how these quotas should be implemented. According to political scientists, three circumstances must be highlighted to fully understand whether these quotas actually promote equality between the sexes in the political sphere. First, the quota of 30% is required for candidacy spots, not parliamentary seats. Therefore, there might not be more women possessing actual legislative power. Second, the legislation requiring this quota not only enabled more spots for women in political parties, but also extended the total number of candidates that a party can display. This piece of the legislation therefore guarantees that the increase of female candidates will not decrease their male counterparts. Finally, one must consider that the parties are not required to fill these 30% of candidacy spots – only to not fill them with men. To sum up, these three “fine prints” of the legislation of gender quotas might play a major role in hindering a progression of females holding political offices in Brazil.

Research comparing elections for Federal Chamber seats before the new legislation regarding gender quotas and after showed that “women scarcely passed the 10 per cent mark. Parties simply left many of the vacancies idle. The goal was not reached in any federal unit.” Even though there are imperfections within the implementations of the quota laws, political scientist still seem to view the quota laws as a way for women’s voice to affect the political sphere in Brazil. Over time, there is an expectation for an empowerment of women and encouragement of creating strong female leaders to benefit the political parties: “Parties with a higher number of competitive female candidates, that is, those who had shown some potential for success, would hold greater chances of reaching their electoral quotient and of winning a higher number of seats.” Although not expected to change the political situation overnight, political scientists agree that quota laws might be the ‘in’ for women to the more prestigious political offices. Further, political scientists agree that this Brazilian law will motivate party leaders to seek out, or help women to become strong political leaders, as this will reflect positively on the party as a whole. 

Even though political scientists who carried out studies a couple of years ago complained that the legislation needed to change to faster fulfill its goals, such as make it mandatory for the parties to fill the vacancies, statistics released as recent as October 8, 2012 report on record high elected females in mayoral races around Brazil. These are the kind of results that political scientists have been waiting to see if the quota laws would generate – and it is safe to say that the dynamics of the political sphere in Brazil are changing heavily. An article in the Washington Post reports that “621 women were elected mayor outright. That’s up from 504 in the last municipal elections four years ago and from 187 in 1996.” These statistical numbers together with the proof that Brazil, considered by many political scientists as a traditional, patriarchal society, elected its first female president ever two years ago, validates the implementations of the quota laws. These laws have forced the influential, predominantly male political sphere of leaders to realize the value in promoting and supporting female candidates to the point where one of them now acquires the highest political office possible. 

Johanna Killpack


Miguel, L. F. (2008). Political Representation and Gender in Brazil: Quotas for Women and their Impact. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 197-214.
Moura, H. d. (2011, January 1). Brazil inaugurates first female president. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/americas/01/01/brazil.female.president/index.html
Press, A. (2012, October 8). Report: Voters in Brazil elect record number of women in mayoral races in Brazil. Retrieved October 8, 2012 , from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/report-voters-in-brazil-elect-record-number-of-women-in-mayoral-races-in-brazil/2012/10/08/2d652082-118a-11e2-9a39-1f5a7f6fe945_story.html
Sardenberg, C. (2008, March 11). Retrieved October 8, 2012, from OpenDemocracy: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/5050/political_representation_brazil

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