In Brazil’s Presidential Election, Women May Finally Stop Bolsonaro

Photo: courtesy of Matheus Alves.
Brazil’s 2022 election season has already been historic for women and LGBTQ+ communities. At the start of the month, the South American country elected two trans candidates and three progressive Indigenous women to congress. Now, as October 30 nears, Brazilians will choose the next president amid an election that has split the country — and the stakes are high for socially marginalized voters. 
Far-right candidate and current President Jair Bolsonaro, whose presidency has been marked by internationally-condemned violations against human rights and negligence with the Amazon rainforest, hopes to remain in power for four more years. On the other side, left-wing candidate and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wants to reverse Bolsonaro's policies.
Among the hardest hit by the Bolsonaro agenda are women and queer folks who faced systemic violations of their rights — including the temporary presidential veto against the free provision of menstrual pads for low-income people and the exclusion of LGBTQ+ folks from 2020’s annual budgetary plan — during the last four years. Keeping Bolsonaro in office, activists fear, would represent a serious step backwards. 

“Bolsonaro despises women.”

Tayná Mesquita
If he gets elected in 2023, Bolsonaro would make budgetary cuts in two-thirds of women-focused public policies, some as much as 99%. Policies that risk losing funding include those fighting gender violence, supporting public nurseries, and promoting adult education, losses that will be particularly harmful to Black and poor women, which correspond to the majority of Brazil’s population. 
For Tayná Mesquita, a Gender Justice Researcher at the Center for Gender Studies Pagu at the University of Campinas, these cuts reaffirm what she has always known: “Bolsonaro despises women.”
Photo: courtesy of Tayná Mesquita.
Moreover, she believes that attacks on women’s rights in Brazil hurt the country overall.
“In Brazil, women are the breadwinners in most families. If their rights are affected, the life of the children and the elderly they look after are affected, too,” she tells Refinery29 Somos.
With Bolsonaro’s long-standing negative track record toward women and queer communities, it’s no surprise that his contender, Lula, consistently prevails over Bolsonaro among women voters.
For this demographic, getting Bolsonaro out of office is about more than institutional politics; it’s also about eradicating a culture of misogyny that the president has promoted for decades. In 2003, when Bolsonaro was a parliamentarian in the Chamber of Deputies, he physically assaulted a left-wing female colleague and told her, “I won't rape you because you don’t deserve it.” Later, in a 2013 interview for a BBC documentary, he said that “Brazilian society doesn’t like homosexuals.”

"Getting Bolsonaro out of office is about more than institutional politics; it’s also about eradicating a culture of misogyny that the president has promoted for decades."

beatriz Miranda
This rhetoric also set the tone of Bolsonaro’s government over the last four years. Only two of the 22 ministers Bolsonaro nominated when he took office were women. Among them was Damares Alves, an evangelical pastor-turned Minister of Women who stirred controversy for her conservative approach regarding women’s rights, particularly around reproductive care. For instance, in 2020, Alves intervened to stop a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was raped from obtaining an abortion.
“Bolsonaro’s government has perpetrated a moral war. To gain support from the evangelical church, he has turned the abortion discussion into a matter of moral values. But we are talking about women’s reproductive rights,” 25-year-old Rosa Amorim, an activist from the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), one of the most significant social movements in Latin America today, tells Somos. “He ended the [last] TV debate saying he is a ‘defender of life.’ But many women can’t carry on a pregnancy and end up dying in clandestine abortion clinics,” adds 33-year-old Dani Balbi, the first trans woman professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
Photo: courtesy of Dani Balbi.
On October 2, Amorim, who is from Pernambuco in Northeastern Brazil, and Balbi, who hails from Rio de Janeiro, were elected to their respective state legislatures. Far from being an isolated phenomenon, the victories of Amorim and Balbi are part of a nationwide historical achievement made by the women progressives in this year’s legislative elections — something unprecedented in Brazil’s history.
As the first-ever trans woman elected to Rio’s state legislature, Balbi highlights the importance of fighting far-right conservatism in decision-making spaces, particularly in a country where women are the majority of voters (53%) but a minority in political offices.
“There cannot be resistance unless women who represent the vulnerable and oppressed groups occupy spaces of power,” the newly-elected politician says. “The society we want has to consider the political intelligence of activist women.”

“There cannot be resistance unless women who represent the vulnerable and oppressed groups occupy spaces of power.”

Dani Balbi
In addition to the attacks against women’s rights, the current government reversed progress for queer communities in Brazil, where 276 LGBTQ+ people were killed in 2021 alone. 
“Bolsonaro shut all and every channel of dialogue with the LGBTQIAPN+ movement,” says Balbi, who has advocated for queer rights and justice for the last 15 years. Bolsonaro’s attacks against this group include closing the Department for the Promotion of LGBTQ+ Rights and revoking funds to support policies for this community.
Photo: courtesy of Matheus Alves.
Until October 30, Brazil is at a crossroads that, in Amorim’s words, “will either take us to a precipice or a path of transformation.” Presently, Lula is leading in the polls with 53% of valid votes. When he was president, the politician implemented important actions to promote women’s rights, like Casa da Mulher Brasileira, public health units for survivors of gender violence. However, until August 2022, the project hadn’t received a budget from the federal government.
Still, even if Lula wins, Mesquita, the gender justice researcher, warns that the coming years won’t go without attacks against the newly-elected progressive women and the communities they represent, considering the robust contingent of elected lawmakers and governors aligned with the bolsonarismo ideology.
“Their professional competence and political authority is constantly questioned, and they are often attacked with sexist, racist, or LGBTphobic offenses,” Mesquita says, mentioning Marielle Franco, the Rio city councilor who was brutally murdered in 2018.
Now taking office in Rio, a state that recently elected a pro-Bolsonaro governor, Balbi knows that the next four years will be a battlefield. She is confident, however, that she and her colleagues will not be intimidated by this intolerant environment. Taking lessons with her from her years as a political activist, she is optimistic about the power of community. 
“If each female progressive lawmaker always brings other women to occupy the plenaries, to make ourselves present in a collective, we can constrain the advance of the right-wing,” she says.

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