What’s at Stake for Women in Brazil

Last month, tens of thousands of women around the world protested Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right front-runner in Brazil’s presidential election. But despite the powerful movement against Bolsonaro led by Brazilian feminists, Bolsonaro won 47 percent of the vote on October 7 during the first-round of Brazil’s elections.

Bolsonaro, who has attacked women, LGBT people and racial minorities throughout his campaign and career, has become known as “Brazil’s Donald Trump.” In truth, the similarities run even deeper: Brazil’s political climate is becoming defined by intense polarization, lack of civil political conversations and the dissemination of “fake news,” and since Bolsonaro’s win, many brutal incidents of racism, sexism and homophobia have been reportedly committed by his supporters. (Sound familiar?) Many of these incidents were physically violent; at least one led to the death of Romualdo Rosário da Costa, known as Moa do Katendê, a 63-year-old Black man who was a well-known leader in the Afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira.

We’ve seen this before. A time of crisis and uncertainty is the perfect environment for the rise of a charismatic nationalist leader who blames socially marginalized people as scapegoats for his political advantage. Hitler blamed the Jews, Trump blames undocumented immigrants and Bolsonaro blames feminism, LGBT movement and Afro-Brazilians. It is no coincidence that Trump got elected after two terms of Barack Obama, and that Bolsonaro may get elected after Dilma Rousseff’s two terms—the first female Brazilian president, who was illegally impeached by right-wing politicians in 2016. Both Obama and Rousseff represented hope of a brighter future, as they brought incredible improvements to their countries’ marginalized populations.

Because Bolsonaro was unable to secure 50 percent of the vote, he will face his left-wing opponent and second-place candidate, Fernando Haddad, in a second-round run-off this Sunday. The outcome of the October 28 elections will likely decide the fate of Brazil’s democracy—and the trajectory of many Brazilian women’s lives. 

Bolsonaro and Haddad could not be more dissimilar. Bolsonaro is a former military captain; Haddad is a former university professor. Bolsonaro constantly praises the violent military dictatorship that took over Brazil from 1964 to 1985; Haddad is a former Education Minister whose work contributed to the opening of over 600 public schools and universities in Brazil. Bolsonaro’s nationalistic ideology is reflected by his campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.” Haddad’s campaign is based on generating more educational and employment opportunities.

A Bolsonaro presidency would mean a shift to conservatism, a rollback on human rights and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. If elected, Bolsonaro has signaled that he will let the military enter the poorest slums of the country and kill any Black person that they perceive as a criminal body; unlike the U.S., Brazil’s democracy is young and fragile, which makes Bolsonaro very likely to bring back Brazil’s military dictatorship. (And just in case you were wondering, even Fox News critiques him.)

Bolsonaro represents a machista culture that kills women every single day, and Brazilian women have been organizing and running for office in record numbers in response. Haddad’s running mate, Manuela D’Ávila, who represents the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil’s congress, is a trailblazer and a well-known feminist figure. She brings her child to Congress, breastfeeds while giving public speeches and is part of a small but mighty female minority in Brazil’s legislature. 

And down the ballot, over 1,200 Afro-Brazilian women ran for local, state and federal political positions on October 7. The result? The election of seven women to Brazil’s Senate and fifty one women to Brazil’s Congress, including Érica Malunguinho, the first transgender woman to hold a seat in Congress.

Bolsonaro’s campaign, and his unexpected rise, have signaled that Brazil has far to go in ending racism, sexism and homophobia. But the feminist resistance to his candidacy also signal that women in Brazil won’t go quietly—no matter the results.


Marcela Rodrigues is a freelance writer.