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BRAZIL has the dubious distinction of being the Latin American country with the lowest level of women’s representation in national politics. Yet Brazil has Latin America’s largest, most vibrant, and most diverse feminist movement, and has pioneered policy changes advancing women’s rights. Brazilian women’s capabilities and opportunities—in terms of life expectancy, literacy , and labor force participation—have steadily increased. If Brazilian women are advancing in other areas, why not in politics ? In this article, I explore the seeming discrepancy between women’s gains in Brazilian society and their extreme under-representation in political office. I argue that institutional features —the weakness of Brazil’s women’s quota law, electoral rules, and clientelistic, unprogrammatic parties—go a long way toward explaining the difficulties faced by aspiring Brazilian women politicians. I also consider the question—given that Brazil is adopting public policies to advance women’s rights— of whether women’s political under-representation is really a serious problem. Women’s Minor Presence in Power Compared with the rest of Latin America, women’s representation in Brazilian politics is lamentably low. In 2002, women comprised a mere 6 percent of the Chamber of Deputies and 7 percent of the Senate, compared with a Latin American average of 15 and 12 percent, respectively. In 2000, no woman served in Brazil’s cabinet, while the Latin American average was 13 percent. SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall 2002) Puzzles of Women’s Rights in Brazil BY MALA HTUN To be sure, some women occupy important positions, such as Benedita da Silva, the governor of Rio de Janeiro; Roseana Sarney , governor of Maranhão and former presidential candidate; Marta Suplicy, mayor of São Paulo; Kátia Born, mayor of Maceió; Luiza Erundina, also a former São Paulo mayor and current federal deputy; and Rita Camata, federal deputy and vice presidential candidate on the Brazilian Social Democracy Party -Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PSDB-PMDB) ticket. These women are exceptions, however, because the numbers demonstrate that Brazil lags behind both Latin American and world averages, at least at the national level (see table 1). Women are slightly more numerous among senior public servants in Brazil, but their representation at the top is still massively disproportional to women’s overall participation. Data from 1998 show that women comprised 44 percent of all federal government employees in Brazil, yet made up a mere 13 percent of employees of the highest rank (18 out of a total of 136), and 16 percent of the second highest rank (90 out of a total of 546) (Avelar, 2001: 99-101). Women are also scarce in the top tiers of the Brazilian diplomatic service: in 2000, 6 women were at the top rank, and 18 at the second-highest rank (103). In 2000, a woman was appointed to the Supreme Court for the first time in Brazilian his734 SOCIAL RESEARCH TABLE 1: WOMEN IN POLITICAL POWER IN BRAZIL 2002 1990 1980 Ministers 0% 17% n/d Senate 7% 0% 1% Chamber of Deputies 6% 5% 1% Governors* 7% 0% 0% State Legislatures 10% 5% 2% Mayors 6% 2% 1% Municipal Councils 12% n/d n/d *After April 2002, there were two women governors of Brazil’s 26 states and 1 federal district. Sources: Inter-American Dialogue (2001b); Htun (forthcoming). tory, even though 29 percent of candidates who pass public examinations to become judges are women (Veja, November 8, 2000). Brazil’s low numbers are striking when seen in comparison with some other Latin American countries, whose levels of women’s representation are among the highest in the world. In Argentina and Costa Rica, where quota laws have been enormously successful , women make up 31 and 35 percent of Congress, respectively. In Argentina, women also comprise 36 percent of the Senate. Women are 21 percent of Congress in Nicaragua, 18 percent in Peru, and 16 percent in the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The record of Latin American presidents in appointing women to their cabinets is impressive. Soon after his election in 2002, Columbian President Alvaro Uribe appointed 6 women to serve in his cabinet, out of a total of 14 posts (43 percent). In 2000...


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