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Report March 21, 2023

An imperative for women’s political leadership: Lessons from Brazil

By Valentina Sader and Isabel Bernhard

In politics and positions of power, the lack of equitable representation of women is striking. Women represent 49.7 percent of the world population, yet only twenty-seven countries have a female leader as of February 2023.2 Brazil, which elected its first and only woman president in 2011, has seen slow progress in ensuring greater female participation in politics. Political violence against women, among other factors, is a deterring factor for women’s political participation.

Political violence is not a new phenomenon, nor it is exclusive to women. However, evolving analysis has identified differences between political violence generally and political violence against women. The latter is directed at women with the intent of restricting their political participation and active voice, while also generalizing women’s participation as “wrong.” In the Brazilian context, political violence against women is a “physical, psychological, economic, symbolic, or sexual aggression against women, with the purpose of preventing or restricting access to and exercise of public functions and/or inducing them to make decisions contrary to their will.” As such, political violence against women plays an important role in deterring women’s active participation in politics—and even more daunting for black, indigenous, or LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer) women.

Brazil has a unique opportunity to adjust its legislation and reframe the incentives in the political sphere tackle this issue now, ahead of municipal elections in 2024. Doing so will ensure greater and more equitable political participation, enrich the political debate, strengthen the legislative agenda, and further solidify the country’s democratic ethos, even if other challenges to democracy remain. This report presents solutions Brazil could take to reach this more representative and resilient version of democracy.

The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center broadens understanding of regional transformations and delivers constructive, results-oriented solutions to inform how the public and private sectors can advance hemispheric prosperity.