One of the new president’s first statements – and the one most repeated by the press – was her call for gender equality and her promise to “honour Brazilian women.”
Just moments after being declared president-elect, Dilma Rousseff said Brazil needs more women in leadership positions and appealed to parents “to look their little girls in the eye and tell them, Yes! Women Can!”
It was a sweet moment.
Unfortunately, it’s what Brazilians call political smoke. In other words, nothing but words. Cynical, empty words.
If Dilma had wanted to honour Brazilian women she’d have had more of them in her inner circle. She’d have made more campaign promises. She’d have shifted the subject of gender inequality onto centre stage.
She did nothing of the sort. Dilma made almost no mention of women’s issues in the campaign. There was no talk of opening more reproductive health clinics or increasing the number of hospitals offering screening for breast cancer, for example. This campaign video designed specially to appeal to women makes absolutely no firm commitments in the gender sphere.
Worse, Dilma reversed her pro-life stance and came out against abortion after the neandarthal religious lobby criticized her for daring to challenge the church’s position.
More than 200 Brazilian women die after desperately attempting illegal abortions each year and another 200,000 are hospitalized from complications arising from botched attempts (as I said in this earlier post).
Reflecting her ambiguous position, leading feminists criticized her and said her campaign did women a disservice by attempting to present her as “the mother” of Brazilians (a strategy she later abandoned).
Women are woefully underrepresented in Brazilian politics. This chart of Women in Parliaments puts more than 100 nations ahead of Brazil in the table measuring female participation in government. Brazil is 106th of 186 nations.
In the Oct. 3 Congressional elections, the number of female Senators went from 11 of 81 to 12. Only 43 of the 513 Deputies are female, LESS than the last Congress, when there were 47.
That percentage is, incredibly, much less than in Rwanda, Mozambique, Uzbekistan or Bulgaria, to name just a few of the nations that outshine Brazil. According to the Women in Parliaments table, of the Western Hemisphere nations, only Haiti and Panama have a lower percentage of women in Congress than Brazil.
It’s not too late for Dilma, she can single-handedly deal a blow for gender equality by naming qualified females to her cabinet and to other top posts. She can insist companies employ women and pay they the same salaries as their male peers. She can decriminalize abortion and give women the right to choose what they do with their own bodies.
She has the power.
Her words were cute. But words are not enough.