Why is the impeachment of Brazil’s president a feminist issue?

A blog reflection by Women’s Center intern Mariana de Matos Medeiros Mariana De Matos Medeiros

On October 5th, 2014, I was finally able to cast my first vote for a Presidential election since moving to America. It was an incredible experience to head over into the Brazilian consulate event in Washington, DC, bright-eyed and ready to make a difference for my home country. As an immigrant who has not yet attained citizen status, I am not able to vote in America so voting to make a difference for my family and friends at home was empowering. As a feminist, I felt most thrilled about having the ability to vote for a leftist woman who had already done much to carry out social welfare programs. I voted for Dilma Rousseff based on how she had run her administration in her previous term: focusing on women and marginalized communities and continuing to carry out social welfare programs to address the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.

During the past months Brazil’s political drama has reached its all-time high. With the most recent Olympic games being hosted in Rio, the entire world was watching as Brazil’s first woman-identified, leftist president was pushed out of office pending an investigation on alleged corrupt behavior.

Dilma Rousseff // image credit: Wikipedia

Rousseff ran for president under the left-winged Worker’s Party of Brazil, yet she did not always bring solidarity among feminists, as some may assume. In fact, the Brazilian feminist movements were often split between those who supported her public policies and those who rejected her administration, demanding advances in issues of reproductive justice and education. However, Brazilian feminists tend to agree that Rousseff’s impeachment was a blatant act of sexism and discrimination.  

Not only have several of her male counterparts been found to be involved with pedaladas fiscais (misusing bank funds from the federal government that are allocated to many state and federal social programs) without punishment, but over half of the senators who voted for her impeachment are being investigated for laundering money for personal benefit and other serious crimes.

Despite being cleared from any involvement in the pedaladas fiscais, Rousseff has been formally impeached. (This video helps unpack Brazil’s current political situation in more detail.)

What’s most disconcerting is that her replacement, Michel Temer, has been formally convicted of violating election laws and is barred from running for office for the next eight years. However, since he is already in office he is permitted to remain president until the election cycle in 2018.

With support of the elite, Temer and other conservatives began a slogan to encourage Rousseff’s impeachment: Tchau, Querida, which roughly translates to “Bye, darling.” This sexist and patronizing slogan undermines the significance of Rousseff’s time in office by dismissing it as the problem caused by a woman, a “darling.”

As it were, this is not the first time a woman in leadership has been undermined in her power and ability, and referring to a political leader in such a condescending and infantilizing manner is blatantly disrespectful.

Prior to the impeachment, politicians from all sides began passing a multitude of laws that slowly chipped away at women’s rights, including laws that would criminalize abortions for rape survivors, define families as a union between a man and a woman, and make accessing emergency contraception in the wake of the Zika outbreak more difficult. Simultaneously, old gendered concerns did not go away: violence against women is still a widespread pandemic and there is still an overall cultural acceptance surrounding gendered-based violence in Brazil as rape still remains an invisible crime.

However, with a more conservative political push came increased feminist mobilization. Through street protests and social media activism Brazilian women have fought back against this conservative wave of legislature. In June of this year, thousands of women took the streets behind a poster that read Por Elas Todas (For All Women) in outrage of the high rates of sexual violence against young girls.

Por Elas Todas protest // image credit: Flickr

Sadly, despite the feminist mobilization, the situation is still quite grim as Temer has already created the most conservative congress since the end of the military rule in 1985. His all-white, all-male congress has slashed ministries aimed at assisting women, black people, and other marginalized groups. Indeed, 7.6% of Brazil’s population is made up of individuals from African decent and most of these individuals live in poverty.

There are far more nuances to be investigated and discussed about Brazil’s deeply intricate political situation than I have space to discuss on this post. I have felt deeply concerned and proud to see so much activism surrounding the community I call home. It’s unquestionable that the circumstances surrounding Rousseff’s impeachment serves as a reminder to Brazil’s citizens and the world that misogyny and sexism toward women in leadership is alive and well.

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