Brazil's first woman president: The importance of women in Politics
“I’m very happy. I want to thank all Brazilians for this moment and I promise to honor the trust they have shown me,” Ms. Dilma Rousseff told reporters, in her first comments after the result of Brazilian presidential elections was announced, in October 31st, 2010. Among many popular manifestations of support to the new president, we, Brazilians, could look forward to 2011 as a historical and groundbreaking year. We had finally elected our first woman president.
This is a huge achievement for women in my country. With a woman in the highest position of the Executive Power, the expansion of public policies for women are likely to have positive consequences for the human rights and citizenship in Brazil. Dilma’s election reinforces the government’s agenda for gender equality. It undoubtedly represents an advancement of democracy. However, any victory brings with it some new challenges.
One of the challenges is to, in the words of Dilma, make what is now exceptional and unusual become a common situation. Another challenge, that presents itself with more urgency than ever now that this door has been open, is to increase the number of women in decision-making positions, in all representative institutions of society – companies, trade unions, civil society organizations and, first and foremost, politics.
The head of our Executive power is now a woman. Nevertheless, that does not reflect the reality in the Legislative power, for example. Although the minimum ratio establish by the United Nations for the representation of each gender in the Parliament is 30%, Brazil still presents rates around 15%. In fact, it is one of the lowest rates among Latin American countries, despite the leadership position that my country is said to hold in the region in other aspects.
According to the Interparlamentary World Union, the disproportion is huge when we compare Brazil with Argentina and Costa Rica, for example. These nations present rates of female representation in the Parliament around 39%. This places these two countries in the eleventh and twelfth positions in the world ranking, while Brazil is in the shameful position of 106th, among a total of 136 countries.
“Why is the inclusion of women in politics such a big deal?”, you might be asking to yourself. For many reasons. I will highlight some. Firstly, sound policies cannot be implemented through the input of only one of the genders. Women and men tend to focus on different topics - UNICEF says legislatures with more women produce better policies to fight child poverty, for example. Secondly, even when they focus on the same topic, they tend to have different views. Mixed teams are better than single-gender groups at solving problems. In addition, not only good decisions result from diversity of perspectives – democracy too. Democracy cannot be gender-blind. It will be ineffective if it does not strive for fair representation.
And last, but not least: women are half of the population, half of the labor force, half of the voters. Women are way over half of those living in poverty. Women are way less of those in politics.
This proves women need change, in order to achieve equality. They need to be where change is made. Politics is possibly the main venue for that. Issues that mainly affect women - health and reproductive issues, gender equality, childcare policy, poverty, etc. – will be shortchanged if women are not included in the decision-making process. It does not matter how well intentioned are the men in the government. One gender can never fully understand and represent the needs of the other. We - women - need to speak up for ourselves.
Dilma Rousseff is one of the women who are speaking up for us now. As she said in one of her first speeches, “equality of opportunity between men and women is an essential principle of democracy .What gave me more confidence and hope at the same time was the immense capacity of our people to seize an opportunity, however small, to build a better world with it.”
I deeply hope she is right.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.