With elections approaching, Brazil’s political parties are preparing to field the legally required minimum quota of female candidates, but that doesn’t mean they want them to win.
Take Danielle Silva Lopes, for example, who only found out on polling day in October 2016 that she was running for city councilor in Sao Paulo for the Christian Social Democratic Party, despite repeatedly telling the party she had no interest in standing. “I didn’t accept it, I didn’t sign anything and I didn’t hand over any documents,” she said. “Then on the day of the election, I received a call telling me that I was on the ballot.” She didn’t win a single vote. The party denies fielding her candidacy without her authorisation.
This October Brazil faces its most unpredictable and divisive elections since the return to democracy, with this past Sunday’s frantic legal battle over the fate of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva providing a foretaste of the bitter struggles to come. Changes to rules on campaign financing and gender quotas look set to play a key role in shaping the outcome, and may help improve Brazil’s dire position in international comparisons of women in politics.
Brazil ranks 154th globally in terms of its number of women in congress, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a democracy-promoting organisation. Female lawmakers make up just over 10 percent of the 513 members of the lower house and just under 15 percent of the 81-seat Senate.
Currently only one of the 29 positions with ministerial rank in President Michel Temer’s cabinet is occupied by a woman.
In an effort to better represent the female 52 percent of the electorate, a 2009 law required political parties to ensure at least 30 percent of their candidates were women. But that rule merely led to a rise in “phantom candidates” like Danielle Silva Lopes — women who are running in name only.
Of the 16,131 candidates who failed to win a single vote in the 2016 municipal elections, 14,417 were women, according to Brazil’s top electoral court, the TSE.
“Zero votes is a very strong indicator of the fraudulent use of women as fictitious candidates,” said Luciana Lossio, a former judge on the TSE. “The quota law was designed to fail. It’s a legal fiction.”
Part of the problem in previous elections was that the quota system was not backed up by rules to allocate party resources proportionally, so that parties only had to earmark 5 percent of their funds and 10 percent of their TV and radio airtime for women. With little incentive to run viable candidates, political parties tended to recruit regardless of merit. Vera Lucia Taberti, a district attorney in Sao Paulo, has interviewed close to 100 female candidates who won zero or close to zero votes in Brazilian elections.