Brazilian society is notorious for being dominated by machismo. As a Brazilian myself, I am unfortunately well aware that our young republic — and even our dictatorships — has always been led purely by men. This pattern has cemented women in supportive roles throughout Brazil’s history. Yet, it seemed as if change could have been on the horizon in 2010, when Dilma Rousseff was elected president. However, earlier this month, she was impeached under the accusation of a crime called pedaladas fiscais – meaning she used money from federal banks to fund social programs without any disclaimer. Rousseff’s impeachment brings up a fear held by many Brazilian women: are we ever going to be truly in power?
From the moment Rousseff reached the presidency, her decisions were always influenced by men; Rousseff’s ministry was formed based on the advice of her mentor, the former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. It soon became apparent after Rousseff was elected that she was merely a puppet in the hands of Lula. She became the scapegoat for all of Brazil’s disasters, even though it was not her that was responsible for them — it was Lula.
The woman who was nominated by Forbes as one of the top 25 most powerful women of 2014 has shouldered the blame and hatred that comes with her government’s entrenched corruption, demonstrating that she never received the proper respect and power that a president deserves. Rousseff did not cultivate a government based on feminist principles, even though she was supposed to be a strong feminine power. She is a well-educated, divorced single mother whom supporters hoped would be one of the first political leaders to shed light on the ingrained sexism in Brazilian culture. But she failed to even encourage women to rise to power within her own administration. During her five years in office, only men were given important positions like the highest ministries’ chairs, and only 10 percent of the Congress were women. By choosing to not be an active voice for the biggest portion of Brazil’s population, Rousseff not only disappointed the people she had promised to represent, but also lost a considerable amount of political power that could have turned the tables for her before the impeachment process was too far along.
For some unknown reason, Rousseff was unable to break free from the men who ran the Planalto throughout her tenure and instead opted to continue down the same path as the corrupt leaders who came before her. While the impeachment process held a spotlight to the deep-seated sexism in Brazil, it shows that the country is still very far away from being the bastion of equality that its citizens thought it was. Rousseff was the first Brazilian female president — and that was certainly momentous — but the country still has a long way to go until there will be any chance for Brazilian women to truly be in power.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, September 12 print edition. Email Cara Zambrano at [email protected]