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Will Women Decide the Brazilian Election? The Potential Impact of Female Voters and Candidates

The Brazil Institute and the Women in Public Service Project hosted a discussion on the complicated landscape of female political participation in Brazil and the impact women could have on the 2018 elections.

Date & Time

Sep. 10, 2018
3:00pm – 4:30pm ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Women could play a decisive role in determining who wins the presidential race in Brazil this fall. As many as one-third of female voters are currently undecided and half reject the current front-runner, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro. Leading male candidates, ostensibly in an effort to gain women votes, are choosing female running mates.

At the same time, despite the potential power of the female electorate, women have struggled to gain a foothold in Brazilian politics. They hold just 12 percent of seats in the National Congress, putting the country in 152nd place in the world in terms parliamentary representation, behind both Iraq and Afghanistan.

With less than a month before the October 7 election day, the Brazil Institute and the Women in Public Service Project hosted a discussion on the impact women could have on the outcome and the complicated landscape of female political participation in the country.


Selected Quotes 

Malu Gatto

“While 44 percent of women were undecided as late as the 20th of August, that [number] was 30 percent for men. So, candidates realize that they really needed to start targeting women. Women are the majority of voters; women represent 52.5 percent of voters in Brazil.”

“Women’s political underrepresentation in Brazil is not a consequence of voter biases. It’s not that these biases don’t exist, but these biases don’t detriment women’s chances of getting elected. Women’s political underrepresentation in Brazil is much more of a consequence of these challenges of women accessing resources or gaining party support rather than in terms of them convincing voters to vote for them.”

“With the making [of campaign] contributions by corporations illegal, what that led to was a much more grassroots movement for a campaign. That led to, especially for these left-wing parties, a return to involvement with social movements. We are seeing that very strongly, especially at the local level.”

Kristin Wylie

“Having more women candidates is not going to necessarily translate to more women elected. Progress is women elected, [and it] is not unidirectional or inevitable in any kind of sense. There is a possibility for backlash.”

“The key explanatory factor that we point to [for fewer elected women] is the critical role of political parties, which thus far have been weakly institutionalized and dominated by men in their internal leadership structures who are trying to preserve their own power. So, a key factor in trying to disrupt that norm would be to get more women into the leadership structures of these parties and get access to resources.”

“There are very powerful black, autonomous, feminist groups that have been organizing since 2015 around the country. Anecdotally, we’re seeing stories that these are the women that are running, and we’re toying with this idea of the outraged candidate both in the United States and Brazil, where the cost of sitting it out simply becomes too large to ignore.”

Pedro A. G. dos Santos

“This is the fourth electoral cycle in a row where we see at least two women running as presidential candidates. [This is] the third consecutive electoral cycle we see Marina Silva running and once again considered a contender. There is an interesting normalization now; we see women, and it’s expected, to a certain extent, to have women in these elections.”

“The inclusion of women as candidates for Brazil’s highest elected position is a stark difference today than what we saw in 1989, the first election of the democratic era, where there were 33 men running and no women included on any of the tickets.”

“Brazil struggles to elect women to legislative positions, and even to local positions, but the Brazilian voter has shown that on a national level they will vote for a woman if they feel that they are the best candidate. So it is very likely the decision to run a woman as vice president is an attempt to cultivate the vote of women in Brazil.”

Hosted By

Brazil Institute

The Brazil Institute—the only country-specific policy institution focused on Brazil in Washington—works to foster understanding of Brazil’s complex reality and to support more consequential relations between Brazilian and US institutions in all sectors. The Brazil Institute plays this role by producing independent research and programs that bridge the gap between scholarship and policy, and by serving as a crossroads for leading policymakers, scholars and private sector representatives who are committed to addressing Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.  Read more

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