Sexism, racism drive black women to run for office in Brazil, U.S.
By Kia Lilly Caldwell, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A protester holds a photo of slain human rights activist and Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco outside the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Saturday. Many women running for office in Brazil were inspired to run after Franco's slaying. Photo by Martial Trezzini/EPA-EFE
I'm a scholar of black feminism in the Americas, so I have been closely watching Brazil's 2018 campaign season -- which has been marked by controversy around race and gender -- for parallels with the United States.
In Brazil, these three categories -- women, people of color and the very poor -- tend to overlap.
Brazil, which has more people of African descent than most African nations, was the largest slave-holding society in the Americas. Over 4 million enslaved Africans were forcibly taken to the country between 1530 and 1888.
Brazil's political, social and economic dynamics still reflect this history.
Afro-Brazilians -- who make up just over half of Brazil's 200 million people, according to the 2010 census -- are also underrepresented in Brazilian politics, though sources disagree on exactly how few black Brazilians hold public office.
In São Paulo, Brazil's most populous state, 105 black women ran for office in 2014. This year, 166 are. In Bahia state, there are 106 black female candidates for political office, versus 59 in 2014. The number has likewise doubled in Minas Gerais, from 51 in 2014 to 105 this year.
As in the United States, Brazil's black wave may be a direct response to alarming social trends, including sharp rises in gang violence and police brutality, both of which disproportionately affect black communities.
But many female candidates in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, say one specific event inspired them to run.
Brazil has hundreds of black women's groups. Some, including Geledes, a center for public policy, are mainstays of the Brazilian human rights movement. The founder of the Rio de Janeiro anti-racism group Criola, Jurema Werneck, is now the director of Amnesty International in Brazil.
The fact that thousands of black women, both veteran activists and political newcomers, will appear on the ballot on Sunday is testament to their efforts.
As in the United States, black Brazilian women's demand for political representation is deeply personal. They have watched as their mostly male and conservative-dominated congresses chipped away at hard-won protections for women and people of color in recent years, exposing the fragility of previous decades' progress on race and gender.
Black women in Brazil and the United States know that full democracy hinges on full participation. By entering into politics, they hope to foster more inclusive and equitable societies for all.