Caroline Valois, Maria Cecilia Santos, Natalia Fava de Almeida, Fernanda Quiroga and Patricia Brasil Massmann.

Who has never heard it said that women have no place in politics? That they do not understand or are not interested in the subject and cannot participate in the political environment? These ideas are rooted in the Brazilian common understanding and exercise a clear limiting function, as they contribute to maintaining the status quo of Brazilian politics, which is predominantly male, with laws made by men for men and based on male conceptions.[1]

The direct consequence of this scenario is that essential guidelines for women are little discussed from the experience of women themselves, since men are their official interpreters. As a result, the number of draft laws and/or public policies to give effect to women's rights and guarantees assured in the 1988 Federal Constitution is reduced and almost always ineffective, feeding the growth of numbers related to gender inequality and violence against women, which place Brazil today in 92nd position in the ranking of gender equality by the World Economic Forum.[2]

The scenario becomes even more critical in other comparisons with the rest of the world. According to the ranking of the Interparliamentary Union[3] on gender equality in parliament, Brazil ranks 143 out of 190 countries listed, with only 14.6% of women in the legislature. It is the second worst country in Latin America on the list, losing only to Haiti. According to the same ranking, Brazil is behind even countries with much more conservative religious traditions in relation to women, such as Rwanda, the Arab Emirates, Namibia, Mozambique, among so many others, information that compromises the very quality of the democracy.[4]

However, in the Federal Constitution, Brazil is expressly described as a Democratic State of Law,[5] in which "all power emanates from the people, who exercise it through elected representatives or directly"[6] and "men and women are equal in rights and obligations."[7] In view of this, it was to be expected that women would occupy political and power spaces in a manner equal with men or at least proportional to their presence in society.


Taking the 2018 elections as an example, women were elected to 16.11% of the political posts, although they represented 52.5% of the Brazilian electorate.[8] In the 2020 municipal elections, there was a sinle point of growth in women's representation in politics: the number of female candidates rose from 32% to 33.6% of the total of 557,389 registered, while the percentage of mayors elected rose from 11.57% to 12.2%.[9] This is still a far cry from a more equal representation in politics, which presupposes hard work ahead.

Historical context of achievements in women's rights in the world and in Brazil

Although the under-representation of women in politics and in areas of power still remains evident, there is no doubt that many achievements have been made over the last two centuries, particularly in recognizing women as subjects of rights for their inclusion in society and the exercise of citizenship. Another important milestone was the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognized equal rights for men and women.

In this process, the conquest of the right to suffrage[11] and the effective exercise thereof was and continues to be fundamental. The first country to recognize the political rights of women was New Zealand in 1893. In the United Kingdom, this achievement was reached in 1918 with the passage of the Representation of the People Act, and in the United States in 1919 through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In these two countries, the right to vote was preceded by the first wave of the feminist movement, driven by the mass entry of women into the labor market, but under absolutely precarious conditions.[12]

In Brazil, this right was only recognized in 1932,[13] with the promulgation of the Electoral Code (Decree No. 21,076),[14] but in a partial manner, since the right to vote was not expressed and illiterate and poor women were prevented from voting.[15] The right to suffrage for all women was only widely instituted in Brazil with the promulgation of the Federal Constitution of 1946, which also finally provided for women's right to vote.[16] The fact that the achievement of full electoral capacity for women in Brazil is relatively recent (less than 80 years) also contributes to the current scenario of under-representation of women in Brazilian politics.

In the last decades of the 20th century, Brazil ratified the Convention for the Eradication of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which recognizes as discrimination the exclusion, distinction, or restriction of rights based on sex and imposes on the signatory countries the obligation to guarantee women's participation in politics. Brazil is also a signatory to the Beijing Conference, which addresses in greater detail the need to include women in politics. Both treaties have been integrated into the Brazilian legal system and are united in recognizing that women's participation in politics is a fundamental element in reducing inequality and, consequently, gender-based violence.

In addition to the constitutional provision and the international treaties mentioned above, it is also important to highlight the following women's rights milestones in Brazilian law.[17]

1962: The Married Woman's Statute allowed women to no longer need their husband's permission to work outside the home, receive an inheritance, buy or sell real estate, sign documents, and even travel.

1977: Marriage is no longer indissoluble with the Divorce Law.

1995: Prohibition of any discriminatory and restrictive practice for the purpose of access to or maintenance of the employment relationship on the grounds of sex, race, color etc. and criminalization of a requirement imposed by employers to undergo a pregnancy test.

2002: Lack of virginity is no longer a reason to annul a marriage with the Civil Code; men and women have been equated in relation to family power according to the New Civil Code.

2006: The Maria da Penha Law (Law No. 11,340) brought mechanisms to curb domestic and family violence against women.

2015: Law No. 13,112 is passed and amends the Law of Public Records to allow mothers to have the right to register their children at the registry office without the presence of the father.

2016: Law No. 13,104 amended the Penal Code to establish the qualifying circumstance of feminicide.

2019: Divorce priority for victims of domestic violence (Law No. 13,894/19).

As can be seen from this brief legislative chronology, it is true that there is a scenario of progressive improvement in the legal status of women in Brazilian society, with a view to, if not elimination, at least reduction in inequality between men and women. However, these initiatives are still insufficient to promote constitutionally declared equivalence, as laws that underestimate the needs of this part of the population still persist.

As an example, we highlight the criminal law, in which the minimum penalty for the crime of rape[18] is equivalent to the minimum penalty for the crime of extortion committed by restricting the liberty of the victim.[19]

Analysis of Brazilian law to include women in politics

 Based on international commitments and the 1988 Constitution, Brazil adopted some measures aimed at equal political participation. In September of 1995, Law No. 9,100 was approved, which established a minimum quota of 20% of applications for women for proportional positions. The provision did not speak of a reserve of spots, but of actual application. The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) ensured the effectiveness of the rule by ordering that it was impossible to replace female candidates with men during the course of the election.[20]

In 2009, Law No. 12,034 amended the third paragraph of article 10 of the General Election Law, which came into force with the following wording: "of the number of vacancies resulting from the rules provided for in this article, each party or coalition shall fill a minimum of thirty percent (30%) and a maximum of seventy percent (70%) for candidacies of each sex.” With regard to candidacies, that law made two important changes:

  • By bringing the minimum quota of 30% for one of the sexes, not specifying which, it allowed a political party to run 70% male candidates and 30% female candidates, which is customary, or 70% female candidates and 30% male candidates, which, however, has never occurred.
  • The second important change was to make it compulsory to fill the minimum vacancies, it not sufficing to reserve vacancies, otherwise the slate of candidates of the party will be rejected, or the number of candidates of the opposite sex will be reduced.

In practice, the quota policy for women's candidacy alone is not sufficient to promote the substantive equality expected in the political field. On the other hand, the quotas for women's candidacies have given rise to "women's wings" in the party associations, which in most parties, however, do not participate in deliberations and decision-making.

In addition to quotas for candidacies, Law No. 12,034/09 enacted changes to Law No. 9,096/97 (Law on Political Parties) to create institutional incentives for women's participation in politics. It mandated that the party should apply a minimum of 5% of the party's quotas for the creation and dissemination of programs that encourage women's political participation, or else, in the year following non-compliance, it will have to add a further 2.5% of the party's funds for this purpose. However, the law does not establish the possibility of losing percentages of such financing in the event of noncompliance, or mechanisms to ensure effective compliance.

The same law also provided that parties must use a minimum of 10% of their free party advertising hours to spread and promote women's political participation, allocating this time to women. Contrary to what happened with the quota for candidacies, we note significant concern on the part of the Electoral Courts in enforcing this specific time quota. Not a few judgments have been entered for loss of time for party advertising for non-compliance with this rule.

In order to reduce campaign costs, simplify party management, and encourage women's participation, Law No. 13,165/15 provides for the mandatory allocation of at least 5% of party fund resources to creating and maintaining programs to promote and disseminate political participation by women. This task falls to the women's bureau of the political party or, in the absence of such a bureau, to the institute or foundation for research and teaching and political education. In addition, according to the new wording of paragraph 7 of the same provision, resources may be pooled together in different fiscal years. It should be noted that the amendment to the paragraph creates an escape valve and justification for the parties not to deploy the funds year by year.

Law No. 13,165/15 also created the so-called Special Fund for Public Financing of Campaigns (FEFC), the public campaign financing instituted to compensate for the suppression of the possibility for there to be private financing by legal entities for electoral campaigns. This fund is based on a provision in article 9 of the law, which allocates between 5% and 15% of the amount of the fund to the financing of women's campaigns.

Even with all the difficulty in giving effect to the application of quotas and with them promoting women's full participation in political life in Brazil, the implementation of this provision in the 1990s and its improvement with the electoral mini-reforms in the 2000s at least gave rise to the necessary debate on political inclusion and its mechanisms. But even with the mandate to apply funds, the number of women in the Federal Senate remained unchanged since the 2010 elections. In the Chamber of Deputies there has been an increase in participation by women.

The increase in the number of female deputies, however, contrasts with recent complaints about the use of “sham candidates" to divert funds from the minimum FEFC percentage. The more the legislation is improved to promote women's political participation, the more some associations find subterfuges to circumvent it and maintain the male status quo in the exercise of political power. In addition, the legislation and debates on the subject have been silent regarding the establishment of quotas or any other action that favors greater participation by women in majority elections, as well as on the reservation of posts for women in parliament and political parties.

The small number of female parliamentarians also impacts on the performance of their mandate, since women's projects have little or no entry into the legal system and the majority of congresswomen are left out of the organization of steering committees and boards that hold power over the agenda of the Brazilian Congress.[21]

How to break the cycle of under-representation of women?

To answer this question, it is necessary to reflect on the causes of women's under-representation and, consequently, of gender inequality in politics and thus build a more collaborative, balanced, fair, and proportional political system for men and women. From this analysis, the break in the cycle of under-representation should begin with small family initiatives within Brazilian homes, go through the school curriculum, and include the implementation of public policies and incentives for private initiatives that also aim to promote the inclusion of women in the political debate.

In this sense, it is important to maintain and develop non-governmental or non-partisan institutions, such as the Women of Brazil Group,[22] currently chaired by the businesswoman Luíza Helena Trajano. It is a good example of a national organization that aims to engage civil society in achieving collective improvements and stimulate female protagonism.

Initiatives such as this are increasingly common, and it is up to women to take the lead in their own stories, so that it is possible to include the whole of humanity in politics.

Below are some suggestions on how to contribute to this change:

  • Educate men and women in exactly the same way, and encourage and support girls who dream of having a professional and/or political career.
  • Recognize that men and women complement each other in their different experiences.
  • Listen to the women around you, give them room to speak and position themselves.
  • Encourage discussion rounds in communities, associations, schools, and all environments, giving women a place for them to speak.
  • Seek opportunities to contribute with the implementation of affirmative actions to achieve gender equality in their spheres of action, always keeping in mind that there are many women with the desire and potential for change and leadership.
  • Study gender equality in order to have sensitive personal and professional performance and to be able to perceive, point out, and modify situations of inequality around you, seeking solutions for them.
  • Encourage and support candidacies of women who advocate equality between men and women, seeking to familiarize yourself with the proposals presented and vote for these candidates.

Paraphrasing Bertha Lutz,[23] if it is in Parliament that laws that impact on everyday life are discussed, it should be recognized as the true home of every woman, and this will only be possible with the commitment of the whole society.

References Consulted

AMNESTY INTERNACIONAL Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

BERTOLIN, Patricia Tuma Martins; CARVALHO, Suzete. The Occupational Segregation of Women: is legal equality enough to overcome it? In: BERTOLIN, Patricia Tuma Martins; ANDREUCCI, Ana Claudia Pompeu Torezan (Org.). Women, Society, and Human Rights. São Paulo: Rideel, 2010.

BOBBIO, Norberto. The Future of Democracy: a defense of the rules of the game. São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 2015.

BRASIL. FEDERAL SENATE. More Women in Politics. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 4, 2020.

____. PLANALTO. Constitution of the United States of Brazil. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

____. CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES. DEC. No. 21,076, OF February 24, 1932. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 3, 2020.

____. FEDERAL SENATE. Advances in Brazilian Legislation. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

____. SUPREME FEDERAL COURT. ADIN 5617. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

____. SUPERIOR ELECTORAL COURT. Participation of Women: statistics. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 4, 2020.

____.____. Election Fund and Radio and TV Time Must Reserve a Minimum of 30 Per Cent for Women Candidacies. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

____. SÃO PAULO STATE ELECTORAL COURT OF APPEALS. Appellate Decision No. 3663-76.2010.6.26.0000, Class No. 38. 2010.

_____. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE. TSE ADI Consultation 5617 Campaign of Candidates. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

BRASIL, Patricia C. The Gender of Brazilian Politics: a question of equality in the Federal Senate. Masters Thesis. Mackenzie Presbyterian University, 2016. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

CONSOLIM, Veronica Homsi. The History of the First Feminist Wave. Sept. 14, 2017. Justifying. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

FRASER, Nancy. Scales of Justice: remaining political space in a globalizing world. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008.

INTER PARLIAMENTARY UNION. Ranking of Women in National Parliaments. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 4, 2020.

MASSMANN, Patricia C. Brasil; MACHADO, Monica Sapucaia. Grasping for the Wind: the situation of women in Brazilian party leaderships, 30 years after the Women's Letter to the Framers of the Constitution. In: BERTOLIN, Patricia Tuma Martins Bertolin; ANDRADE, Denise Almeida de; MACHADO, Monica Sapucaia. Women's Letter to the Framers of the Constitution 30 years later: balance and memory. São Paulo: Autonomia Literária, 2018.

MIGUEL, Luis Felipe; BIROLI, Flávia. Feminism and Politics. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

WOMEN OF BRAZIL. Who Are We? Available at:,profiss%C3%B5es%2C%20com%20os%20mesmos%20objetivos. Accessed on: Oct. 3, 2020.

PAIVA, Raquel. Politics: female in the grammatical gender. Rio de Janeiro: Mauad X, 2008.

POLITICIZE. Representativeness: what does it mean? Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 4, 2020.

RANCIÉRE, Jacques. The Hate of Democracy. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

____. Can One Still Talk About Democracy? Lisbon: KKYM, 2014.

SINEAU, Mariette. Law and Democracy. In:  DUBY, Georges; PERROT, Michelle (Dir.). History of Women in the West: the 20th Century. Porto: Edições Afrontamento, 1991.

UNION OF THE COUNCILMEMBERS OF THE STATE OF SÃO PAULO. Map of Women's Right to Vote in the World. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM. Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[1]For more details: “Mais Mulheres na Política” ["More Women in Politics”]. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 4, 2020. For further details of these effects, see: Bertolin and Carvalho, "Mulher Sociedade e Direitos Humanos” [“Women, Society, and Human Rights”]. Redeel, 2010, p. 179).

[2] For more information, please see: WEF, Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[3] The Interparliamentary Union is an organization formed by national parliaments with the aim of empowering parliaments and parliamentarians to promote peace, democracy, and sustainable development, which among its various observatories maintains specific monitoring of the presence of women in parliament. To find out more, go to: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[4]In this regard, see Nancy Fraser, Scales of Justice: remaining political space in a globalizing world.

[5] “Article 1. The Federative Republic of Brazil is formed by an indissolvable union of States, Municipalities, and the Federal District, is a governed by a Democratic State governed by the Rule of Law and has as its founding principles:

[6]Sole paragraph. All power emanates from the people, who exercise it through elected representatives or directly, in accordance with this Constitution."

[7] “Article 5. All are equal before the law, without distinction of any kind, and Brazilians and foreigners residing in the Country are guaranteed the inviolability of the right to life, liberty, equality, security, and property under the following terms:

I - men and women are equal in rights and obligations under this Constitution;"

[8] Electoral Justice. “Participa Mulher – Estatísticas” ["Women participate - Statistics”]. Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[9]For more details, go to: Senate Agency, “Cresce número de mulheres candidatas e eleitas no pleito de 2020” ["Growing number of female for candidacy and elected in the 2020 election”]. Available at:

[10] “Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty."

[11] The right to vote includes both active (to vote) and passive (to be voted for) electoral capacities.

[12] For more details, see Sineau in Duby; Perrot (2010, p. 551).

[13] Thereafter, the following year, the first federal deputy was elected, Carlota Pereira de Queiroz (BRASIL, 2016, p.99).

[14] “Article 2. A citizen over 21 years of age, without distinction of sex, is a voter enlisted in the form of this Code."

[15] See the map of women's right to vote in the world at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[16] “Article 133 - Enlistment and voting are mandatory for Brazilians of both sexes, except for the exceptions provided for by law."

[17] Federal Senate. "Women's rights in Brazilian legislation". Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.

[18] Article 213 of the Penal Code.

[19] Paragraph 3 of article 158 of the Penal Code.

[20] Appellate Decision No. 16,632, of September 5, 2000

[21] More details in BRASIL (2016). Available at: Accessed on: Oct. 5, 2020.


[23] Bertha Lutz was one of the leading figures in the fight for women's right to political participation and, in 1937, assumed the position of deputy (BRASIL, 2016, p. 97).