women in parliaments



Institutional policy bets to increase the female presence in Brazilian parliaments – some contributions to the debate.

Latin America has been a breeding ground for innovative experiences to increase the presence of women in legislative power. Mexico currently has 48,2% female deputies in the Federal Chamber. Ecuador, in this year's elections, elected 38% of women. Peru, with the new Parity Law, elected 40% of women to the unicameral congress. Even neighboring countries that were "skating" in relation to these percentages, such as Uruguay, made important leaps in the last decade (see table 1).

Table 1 – Position of Latin American countries according to percentage of seats held by women in lower chambers or unicameral parliaments

Source: own elaboration with data from the IPU-Interparliamentary Union and pages of National Congresses. Accessed on 03/06/2021. Peru elected 52 women, but one died before taking office, entering the next most voted on the list.

The most recent success was that of Chile. In May, the country elected 155 representatives to the National Constituent Assembly that will draft a new Constitution, replacing the current one, from the time of General Pinochet. One of the requirements, both for candidacies and for defining those elected, was gender parity. The women surprised and surpassed the target of 50%: 88 candidates were elected against 74 male candidates. Unusual fact, they gave 11 vacancies to them, in order to guarantee equal representation. The result means an extraordinary change in the pace of women's elections in the country.[I]

Despite specific historical, economic and political contexts, a considerable part of these gains is attributed to the interaction between Quota Laws and/or Parity Laws adopted and some factors, not possible to be analyzed in depth in this text. For the moment, it suffices to indicate: types of electoral lists, gender-sensitive funding measures aimed at strengthening women's leadership in political parties, and greater access for women candidates to election campaign funds. But the central highlight of the strategies to “feminize politics” is the implementation of Quota Laws, with high percentages of candidacies for both sexes, and Parity Laws, accompanied by effective sanctions for non-compliance with legislation.

Twelve Latin American countries had parity laws by the year 2020. The initiatives resulted in a considerable increase in the average representation of women, with a jump from 9% to 30% between 1990 and 2019. Studies suggest that “regimes strong “gender” elections, which require parties to respect procedures for registering and defining candidacies, tend to result in more chances for women to be elected (see table 2 annex and Freidenberg, 2020: 9-10).

Table 2- Summary of laws and some legislative and judicial measures with an effect on quotas, Brazil, 1995-2019

Source: own elaboration based on research with the TSE and other bibliographical references; milestones presented at the Seminar “Political Participation of Women and Quotas in Brazil”, promoted by UN Women and Núcleo Flora Tristán/IPOL/UNB, between March 22nd and 25th, 2021

News about these electoral results awaken two types of feelings: admiration and joy for the growing successes of “the neighbors”; and frustration and indignation at the “turtle pace” that marks the insertion of women in parliamentary representation in Brazil. The country ranks 142nd in the ranking of IPU out of 199 nations, and ranks 18th in Latin America (see attached table 1). Less than 30% of nations in the world register 15% or less women in the lower houses.[ii]

Brazil took a leap in legislative elections between 2014 and 2018, with an increase of 51% in the Chamber of Deputies and 36,67% in the Legislative Assemblies. It jumped from 9,94% % to 15,01% and from 11,33% to 15,49%, respectively. In the elections for the Chambers of Councillors, in 2020, the country elected 16% of councilors, against 13,5% in 2016. But this meant moving from very low levels to low levels. We went from an almost inertial situation to walking at “turtle pace” after the last three elections. Not that the world situation is comfortable. However, comparing Brazil with the international average, the discomfort is great.[iii]

Multiple normative, political, including our electoral system, cultural and socioeconomic factors account for this picture. In view of this scenario, the question that has been asked for a long time can be summarized as follows: what are the ways to overcome the current situation and guarantee a significant numerical leap of women in parliaments, and, thus, the country to leave the current rhythm of “steps of turtle"? The moment calls for debates and interlocution between political representatives and various social sectors. In the Chamber of Deputies, a working group – on the Electoral Code – and a commission – PEC Special Commission no. 125-A, of 2011, (which deals with election days close to holidays), a kind of “Umbrella PEC”, are discussing political reform.

Deputies and deputies (the latter more timidly in the communication spaces, but certainly involved internally in their parties), present their opinions on what would be possible to change, still in this year of 2021, for the 2022 elections. Gender quotas are also in the “buy basket”. Propositions arise on improving or replacing the current Gender Quotas Law for proportional candidacies, as well as alternatives, via projects to reserve parliamentary vacancies, presented within the scope of the two institutional spaces mentioned above.

This text is intended to provide some subsidies and contribute to the ongoing debate. It is not the objective to address the various dimensions that the theme entails. It is intended to deal, briefly, with two ongoing processes in the Chamber and, then, make considerations about paths and challenges of current quota policies. The first topic concerns the Bill (PLP-135/2019) approved by the Commission for the Defense of Women's Rights (hereinafter CDDM), with emphasis on the substitute presented by the rapporteur, deputy Margarete Coelho (PP-PI). The second refers to a PEC for the reservation of seats for women in the legislature, a proposal currently being debated by the Special Commission. First, however, it is convenient to make brief comments on the current Brazilian Quota Law.

Brazil, the “turtle steps” and the challenges of arrival

For 25 years, Brazil has adopted gender quotas in electoral lists. First, in 1996, 20% for Municipal Councils and, from 1998, 30% for all proportional levels (Law no. 9.504/97). The legislation was improved especially after Law 12.034/2009, which made the mandatory minimum quota more precise – changing the term “reserve” to “shall fill” – and legislated on the use of party fund resources, defining a minimum percentage of investments in women's political party formation. Even so, the Law remained partially disregarded in its practical execution and the legislation functioned almost as a fictitious piece.

This occurred, among other factors, due to its (in)adequacy to the current open list electoral system, the absence of legal sanctions for non-compliance with the minimum percentage, fragile party commitments to the Law (many more rhetorical than effective) , and, in particular, due to the exorbitant costs of electoral campaigns in the country. As of 2015, inspections were expanded and brought to the fore the problem of “orange applications”.[iv] Greater rigor in inspection resulted in the observance of the minimum quota and a reduction in “fictitious applications”.

But the greatest achievement came in 2018, first with the STF’s response to ADI – 5617/2018[v] in March; then, in May of the same year, when the TSE, in response to a consultation by parliamentarians, regulated the decision of the STF.[vi] At the time, the TSE decided that the parties should transfer a minimum of 30% of the resources of the newly created Special Campaign Financing Fund, as well as the Party Fund, when used in campaigns, to women's candidacies. And yet, that the threshold of 30% would also apply to electoral propaganda on radio and television. The rule was already used in the 2018 election. And, despite being defined in the “45 minutes of the second half”, so to speak, initial studies suggest that this rule positively influenced the election results of that year, as well as the results for the City Councils in 2020. In short, despite being very far from the “reasonable minimum”, it can be said that the results of the last two elections are also due to the factors indicated above.

Between utopia and pessimistic “realism” – are there ways out?

In the tortuous path succinctly described, and in view of the permanence of adverse aspects related to the Quota Law, legislative proposals and initiatives have been presented in the National Congress over the last decade. In the Institution there are some (few) propositions that can be defined as extravagant: they go against the public policy trends of most countries at the beginning of this century, and propose the suppression of any type of quota or affirmative action.[vii] But most of them are aimed at improving affirmative action mechanisms, increasing the percentage of quotas for women candidacies, introducing Parity Laws or even approving a constitutional reserve of seats in parliament. And it is about two of these proposals that I will address below.

The Complementary Law project voted in the Commission for the Defense of Women's Rights of the Chamber of Deputies

The PLP-35 was presented by deputies Marcelo Freixo (PSOL-RJ) and Sâmia Bonfim (PSOL-SP) in 2019. Briefly, its content deals with amendments to Complementary Law no. 78 of December 30, 1993, which regulates the determination of the number of federal deputies per state, in accordance with proportional principles and the size of their populations. The bill amends aspects of its Articles 2. and 3rd. to “create quotas for each sex in elections for Federal Deputy” observing parity. Another project is attached to PLP-35/2019 (PLP 109/2019), presented by deputy Gleisi Hoffmann (PT-PR), with similar content: it amends Law 78/1993, to “establish reservation of half of the vacancies for women , not only in the Chamber of Deputies, but in all proportional elections in the country”.

When the two proposals were forwarded, in 2019, Brazil ranked 108th in the aforementioned ranking of the IPU and this position foi one of the arguments used in the justifications of the respective projects. The country is currently ranked 142nd. place in ranking. Another common argument concerned the low effectiveness of the minimum application quotas – 30% -, despite the various improvement measures. Finally, both highlight the recommendations made by international and multilateral organizations, such as the UN and Parlatino, which establish parity goals in the spaces of political representation.

PLP-35/2019, with the replacement presented by the rapporteur, deputy Margarete Coelho, was approved on April 29 of this year in a symbolic vote at the CDDM, then chaired by deputy Elcione Barbalho (MDB-PA). Twenty-two members of the Commission – including three men – belonging to 14 parties registered their presence. There was 1 (one) separate vote, and the only contrary vote, by Chris Tonietto (PSL-RJ).[viii] The substitute proposal presented by Margarete Coelho defines changes in Article 1 of Complementary Law 78/1993, which would come into force with the following text:

Ҥ 2 Political parties shall be entitled to as many vacancies as the respective party quotient indicates, in the order of nominal voting of the candidates, observing the alternation of genders.
3º The gender alternation rule must also be observed in elections for State Legislative Assemblies, Legislative Chamber of the Federal District and Municipal Chambers”.

The report presented to PLP 35/2019 is a well-founded piece based on pro-equality arguments between men and women. More importantly, it touches on the sore point of reconciling party interests in the dynamics of proportional representation, places recurrently occupied by the “established” within parties and the demand for gender equality within the scope of the three levels of parliamentary representation in Brazil. Therefore, it is worth highlighting here parts of the justification and arguments presented in the vote of the rapporteur for PLP-5/2019.[ix]

First, the deputy lists several reasons why the project deserves approval from the CDDM, such as, for example, “the incontestable fact” of low female representation, as well as the commitments assumed by Brazil in the main international treaties on equality between men and women, such as the CEDAW.[X]

As for the merits, Margarete Coelho states: “Analyzing the issue strictly from the angle of merit, it is not necessary to state that measures of this type would also violate any criterion of justice involving popular sovereignty, since the exercise of this takes place under the terms of the law and the electoral system of each country, being perfectly proportional that gender equity requirements are included in the scope of these systems” (p. 3). He also argues that, “prioritizing the access of women, including among the most voted, to seats in parliament, constitutes a less burdensome measure to an ideal vision of popular sovereignty than the discarding of votes present in the majority systems or even the election of candidates with fewer votes in the proportional system, possibilities that are not usually contested from the point of view of popular sovereignty”.

For these and other elements, the rapporteur considered the projects "extremely positive", but made two suggestions for the purpose of "(...) more effective and fair implementation of the principles proposed by both". This is because both only legislate on the total distribution of vacancies, without detailing criteria for distribution.

The suggestions, in my opinion, touch on the core of party-political tensions, rarely made explicit, when discussing the proposed quota and inclusion criteria for women through electoral quotas. Such tensions involve the sovereignty of political parties, the principle of proportionality of representation and institutional affirmative actions to achieve balance between men and women.[xi] According to Margarete Coelho, this is a problem that involves “political justice” and, at the same time, “reasonable expectations of parties and candidates”. The deputy observes that the project does not specify as the principle of parity will be operationalized, considering the partisan reality of the votes obtained in the states. And he argues “(…) one cannot ignore, from the point of view of merit, the incompatibility between the mere stipulation of the reservation of vacancies for women and the proportional system” (p.5).

In view of this, the rapporteur observes: “(…) both with regard to political justice and with regard to the reasonable expectations of parties and candidates (…) it does not seem fair that, within the scope of a proportional system, there should be a deflator global to exclude male candidates with the most votes […] In other words, it is not fair that reservation of vacancies benefits a woman from a certain party to the detriment of a man from another party” (p.5).

Margarete Coelho then proposes to reconcile the principle of party proportionality and the votes obtained via electoral quotient, with the merit of the proposal contained in PLP 35/2019: “[...] the only possible solution in the infraconstitutional scope, whose constitutionality should also be debated in a timely in the Constitution and Justice Commission, would be to institute the alternation of vacancies within the scope of the seats of the parties themselves, after the calculation of the party quotient” (p.5). Finally, it recognizes that the solution does not guarantee the parity proposed by the evaluated projects, but, within the characteristics of the Brazilian electoral system, it advances in this objective.

Despite consistent arguments and being in line with successful legislative trends in the region, as previously indicated, its approval by the CDDM had virtually no repercussions in Congress, nor in the press and media in general. Would the proposal be utopian?

As the deputy Margarete Coelho pointed out, it is not the desired parity. But the project, with the proposed substitute, can be a starting point, a possible path to the challenge of reconciling the necessary and urgent numerical growth of women in spaces of proportional representation with party sovereignty in a proportional system.

Parity scenarios may realistically seem more distant in the current context of the country, although, as shown, many examples in Latin America indicate that such a goal may not be so utopian. However, when it comes to political decisions, it is necessary to consider goals and possibilities of achievement, involving strengths, interests, commitments and effectiveness.

From this perspective, a basic numerical exercise is presented below, with the aim of helping to reflect on the potential of the project voted by CDDM, with the proposed replacement. This is a hypothetical situation. These are light numerical calculations, applied to the 2018 results in the Chamber of Deputies, based on the number of seats obtained by each party in each state. All other factors and variables are disregarded, including, of course, more general factors of electoral contexts. The hypothesis of gender alternation between the elected was considered, following the approved proposal, including two situations: odd numbers of elected and parties that elected only 1 parliamentarian in the state.

The benches of the 30 parties that elected deputies to the Chamber of Deputies were included. In the hypothetical calculation, all parties that elected an odd number of representatives in a given state “opted” to give the indivisible seat to men (for example, if 9 were elected, 5 would be men). Alongside this, in cases where the parties elected only one deputy in a given state, they also preferred to “give” the vacancy to a man. The result of the account, pessimistic (I hope) was the following: 24 parties would have women in their benches; 147 female deputies would be elected, corresponding to a total of 28,65% of the representation in the Chamber of Deputies.

Although the mathematical result is below the Latin American average and does not reach the 30% rate stipulated as a minimum quota, the estimated growth was considerable. In other words, although below what is desirable, it seems to be a realistic minimum level in a pessimistic scenario. Obviously, it is a calculation based on past results and detached from the complex set of elements involved in the elections. But the brief analysis made above on the PLP-35/2019 and the hypothetical exercise suggest some points for reflection. I present them in summary form below.

At the outset, I emphasize the “conciliatory” aspect of a solution along these lines, when trying to articulate party autonomy, preservation of the principle of proportionality in the representation of parties, respect for the minimum representativeness of the candidates – since the most and most voted candidates would be elected – and call for more participation by women.

It is known that the CDDM does not occupy a central place in the structure of the House Committees. It tends to operate more as a catalyst for debates and a place of mediation for building possible consensus on the women's rights agenda. However, assuming that the vote of the members of the 14 parties for the Project is not irrelevant – even if symbolic – and that it expresses some minimum, individual and party commitment (to be seen), the junction between the presented projects and the incorporated substitute can be an example, a case of possible mediation.

It remains, however, to ask whether a minimum level of elected officials estimated as a mathematical calculation – 28,65% – would manage to destabilize the “game” of forces in Congress. Furthermore, it remains to be considered whether, for political parties, proposals that produce differences beyond the “turtle pace” are effective or remain a mere rhetorical piece. Apparently it is a modest percentage, but thinking about its effectiveness may give us an idea of ​​how far we can and cannot go.

Democratic politics is made of negotiations. Without such negotiations, as has been pointed out, there is a risk of stagnation and/or its transformation into a “Tower of Babel”: each unit/individual defending its original interests. Therefore, and thinking in terms of accountability of gender equality agenda, here are some questions: can it be considered that the proposal voted by the CDDM is also on the table of the reform negotiations at this moment? Is it viable or not? Why? If so, what are the ramifications? If not, what are the alternatives, considering the demands and the relationship of commitments between representatives and represented?

Reservation of seats in parliaments – cases, gains and risks

Having made the above considerations, I will comment below on another proposal under discussion in the Special Commission that debates political reform. Although not closed, the proposition has as its articulating axis constitutional reservation of a minimum percentage of seats in the three proportional parliamentary levels. Its possible derivations in the form of a PEC Project have been galvanizing debates in the media and in Congress. Apparently, there is no consensus regarding the mechanism – PEC –, regarding the minimum percentage to be established, as well as the alternative path: seat reservation or adjustments to the Quota Law. The topic is complex and controversial. However, it seems that, for different reasons, there is receptivity to the proposed path, even with disagreements regarding the minimum percentage of seats. Would it be realistic path?

As recorded, the debate was triggered after the installation of a Special Commission destined to issue an opinion on PEC no. 125-A, of 2011. The commission is chaired by Deputy Luis Tibé (Avante-MG) and has a rapporteur by Deputy Renata Abreu (Podemos-SP).[xii] According to the deputy's statements, the objective is to bring together the proposals that pass through Congress, related to the electoral system and elections, around some axes, one of which is the "increase of representation of women and minority groups".[xiii]

Along these lines, several proposals were added to PEC-125-A that could be included on the Commission's agenda, including PEC n.98 approved in the Senate in 2015 and which had been stalled in the Chamber of Deputies since then. The project's rapporteur was Senator Romero Jucá (MDB). Summarily, it proposes an amendment to article 60 of the Federal Constitution, adding an article – number 101 – in the transitory provisions, to “reserve vacancies for each gender in the Chamber of Deputies, in the Legislative Assemblies, in the Legislative Chamber of the Federal District and in the Municipal Chambers in the three subsequent legislatures” (upon its approval). It defines that it is “assured to each gender, male and female, a minimum percentage of representation of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, Legislative Assemblies, Assembly of the Federal District and Chambers of Councillors, in the three (3) legislatures subsequent to the enactment of this Constitutional Amendment "( …) and prohibits a level lower than: I – 10% of the seats in the first legislature; II – 12% of seats in the second legislature; and III -16% of the seats in the third legislature”. It also adds that “(…) in cases where these minimums are not met by a given gender (…) the necessary vacancies will be filled by candidates of that gender with the highest individual nominal vote among the parties that reached the electoral quotient”.

According to unofficial information, this PEC 98/2015, having been approved in the Senate, that is, having its admissibility voted on, and being processed in the Chamber of Deputies, could act as a catalyst for possible initiatives to change the current legislation. The following comments take as reference statements by parliamentarians in the media, notably statements by the Special Committee rapporteur, deputy Renata Abreu,[xiv] and data and information from the websites of the IDEA Institute[xv] and the IPU on this type of quotas.

First, it is worth noting how auspicious it is to know that the rapporteur, deputy Renata Abreu, is committed to implementing measures to move towards balance in the presence of men and women in the country's parliamentary representation. Especially after debates generated on the occasion of the presentation of its Bill no. 4130/2019, proposing the extinction of the sanction when political parties fail to fill the quotas of 30% of candidacies by gender. This project, and others that were being processed at the time, proposing the reduction of quotas by 30%,[xvi] was the target of much criticism in Congress, including from the then coordinator of the Women’s Secretariat of the Chamber of Deputies, deputy Professora Dorinha, from DEM/TO (A Gazeta, 17/07/2019).

A justification presented by Renata Abreu during the debates on her project, and reiterated in recent statements, refers to an alleged injustice contained in the current Quota Law: removing men who want to run because the parties did not find women to fill the minimum percentage of 30% (interview given to Folha de São Paulo and cited above). I will return to this aspect later.

Speaking to the press, the deputy considered the possibility of a minimum reserve of 15% of parliamentary seats a step forward (interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo cited above). In an article written for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, the deputy defends this type of vacancy reservation and cites other Latin American countries as examples. She particularly highlights the cases of Bolivia and Mexico. But is a reservation of vacancies that she considers a minimum level of 15% or even 20%, as discussed, an alternative for the case of Brazil?

I take advantage of the “hook” of the examples of Bolivia and Mexico to make some observations about the type of quota generically known as constitutional reservations of seats in parliamentary seats. At the outset, I highlight what seems to be a recurring mistake: considering Parity Laws and Constitutional reservations of separate seats in parliamentary seats like the same thing. In Mexico and Bolivia, as well as in other Latin American countries, what exists are constitutional parity laws, with definitions on how candidates and votes will be counted. Several others have Quota Laws with high percentages of candidacies by gender (see Table 1 above). Clarifying the nature of what is being proposed is a fundamental step for public debate.

According to the categorization of the IDEA Institute, currently only 26 countries in the world have reserved constitutional vacancies for seats in the Lower Houses. Of these, according to information on the website, only 6 reserve as a minimum quota percentages equal to or less than 15% of the seats. They are: Samoa, Eswartini (former Swaziland), Jordan, Kenya Nigeria and Morocco. In the Americas, the only two countries with this type of quota are Guyana and Haiti; all others are located in the Asian and African continents (see countries in attached table 2).

Table 2 – Countries that have constitutionally guaranteed reserved seats in the National Parliament, 2021 (Note: translated title only)

Source: IDEA- Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. https://www.idea.int/ Accessed 21/05/2021

Research on the IDEA website and other internet sources on the 26 countries allows us to define here, in a very simplified way, the following characteristics more or less shared between these nations: i) many are trying to build their democracies more recently, and therefore, they are institutionally fragile; ii) in the majority, women do not enjoy equal rights, they are persecuted and patriarchal systems remain well rooted; iii) many have incipient levels of socioeconomic development; iv) part does not exactly fit into what we define as “systems of liberal representative democracy”. In this last group we find those who do not fit because they are clearly dictatorial (or lordly), or because there are no direct elections or because they are not multi-party.

How to consider Brazil in the face of the characteristics listed above? Which of the listed situations would the country be in, to the point of being highlighted as a 15% advance as a minimum reserve of vacancies for women in parliamentary seats? Based on these questions, it is worth revisiting the original proposal approved by the Senate in 2015 – PEC 38/2015 –, as well as its adaptation, presented around the reservation of parliamentary seats.

The original Project provided for a minimum of 10%, then 12% and, finally, 16% of vacancies in the three elections subsequent to the approval of the Law. Clearly, and there is no doubt about it, these first steps have been outdated. Since the proposal was approved in the Senate there have been timid growths, but which have reached these percentages, as shown above. The minimum level of 16%, foreseen for the year 2022, was reached in the elections for the 2020 City Councils. How then to consider a minimum of 15% in the Constitution progress?

Another argument used by defenders of a minimum reserve of 15% is that there are still more than 900 municipalities in Brazil that do not even have a woman councilor. The argument has some problems. First, it is necessary to look at the population weight and parliamentary representation that this number represents in all Brazilian municipalities. These are predominantly municipalities with up to 15.000 inhabitants, which corresponds to City Councils with 9 representatives.

Second, and without disregarding the very serious problem of the absence of women in more than 900 municipalities, it is important to reflect on whether, in order to legislate in favor of the part that is even further behind than the country average, it is necessary to establish a very low threshold for the three legislative levels. In other words, the question is: to adopt an affirmative action policy guided by the reality of less than 1/5 of Brazilian municipalities, is it reasonable to lower the threshold at other levels that have already reached this minimum percentage? And, in doing so, “tying down” the minimum through PEC, what can constitutionally legitimize this level mean? If, with the percentage of 15%, the measure aims to “start at the bottom”, which in itself is very debatable, it would not be the case to establish a provisional Law and differentiate the three legislative levels – Chamber of Councillors, Legislative Assemblies and Chamber of Deputies – with minimally dignified rates, in line with global trends?

There is also a certain fear in various sectors, including part of social movements, the academic community that studies the subject and even members of international institutions, which can be expressed in the following question: will the 15% be a minimum level or, in practice, will it result on ceiling? I think the fear is well founded. As highlighted by political scientist Pippa Norris, from Havard University, when discussing and explaining the difficulties of groups outsiders occupy spaces of power, institutions tend to operate with inertial logic, in the sense of maintaining the achieved stability and not risking what has been achieved.

I would add: institutions are not abstractions, but the result of the action and practices of individuals, their interests and groupings of the most diverse types; and parties are not empty spaces. In the case at hand, it is worth reflecting on whether the tendency towards inertia that institutional practices entail, added to the Brazilian historical picture of discrepant, scandalous and recurrent “male overrepresentation”, will not tend to transform the minimum level into a standard level or even a maximum level , for all levels.

Finally, successful experiences serve to stimulate us and discover new paths. Many of the countries that achieved large quantitative gains in parliamentary representation did so by daring to set advanced targets, initially as percentages and later as Parity Laws. These goals and horizons proved feasible in different types of electoral systems and countries with similar levels of development. For example, in Mexico with a mixed electoral system, initially through 40% quotas and then through a parity law; in bolivia Same, in Argentina and Peru in proportional systems (Freidenberg, 2018; 2020). Other countries could be mentioned, but for the moment the ones mentioned above are sufficient.

What to expect from the current Quota Law?

The concerns and criticisms of the Quota Law, both with regard to the difficulties in filling vacancies and in relation to its electoral results, have marked the Brazilian trajectory throughout its 25 years of adoption. As a researcher, following this experience in Brazil, I pointed out and criticized, as did several colleagues, its limitations, some of which were “structural”, so to speak; others for “shyness” in its formulation.

There is, and it is undeniable, an inherent limitation to the effectiveness of the quota due to the Brazilian electoral system with an open list of candidacies and its specificities. As has been proven, quotas are much more effective in closed list systems with alternation rules and sanctions forecast. But this is part of the question. The other part concerns the “original vices”, briefly listed at the beginning of this text. As for the latter, it can be said that the most recent measures have increased the potential effectiveness of quotas in Brazil, as noted above (see table 2 above).

Despite this, filling the minimum percentages of candidacies continues to be highlighted among the parties as a problem, with some emphasizing more the challenge of finding competitive candidates, and not so much to find candidates. In addition, after 25 years of the experiment in Brazil, there are doubts about its potential for a “shortcut”: if the current electoral system of voting is maintained (open lists), would quotas be exhausted as a way or would there be room for maneuver to improve them?

It is not possible to delve into the issue here, but at the present time, when discussing political reform and constitutional changes, I suggest points for debate and future investigations. I start with the previous topic. Filling out female candidacies has been a problem often mentioned by political parties. When the theme is approached, in general, women and their individual and cultural willingness to compete appear as The problem, as The obstacle to party rhythms, and other aspects are not questioned.

From the outset, the imbroglio would be in the women, without other aspects usually being observed. Perhaps it is time to try to verify this “problem” from another perspective: that of the effective use of todas the proportional candidacy vacancies that the Law grants to parties, whether they are in a coalition situation or not (at this moment the Law does not admit proportional coalition). As is known, concomitantly with the adoption of quotas, the number of candidacies to which each party was entitled was also increased. Before, the acronyms could launch up to 100% of the total seats in dispute. Then, with the quotas, the vacancies for candidates were increased, initially to 120% and later to 150% (for example, if a state is entitled to 10 federal deputies, each party can launch up to 15 candidates). In the case of coalitions, the list could contain up to 200% of names. In the Brazilian party-political scenario, a question that can contribute to the debate is the following: have the parties been using all the vacancies, whether they are for men or for women?

Jairo Nicolau (2006), discussing problems with the open list, recorded this difficulty and pointed out that no party had filled all the vacancies in the country in the last three elections he analyzed.[xvii] In a non-systematic sample survey, with data from some states, including Rio de Janeiro, for candidacies to the Chamber of Deputies in 2008, it was found that the total vacancies were not filled in most of the parties, in both situations: when the parties ran without a coalition and when they ran in a coalition. [xviii] In a recent discussion on this hypothesis with members of the More Women in Politics Forum, it was observed that the problem could be even broader, with the prohibition of proportional coalitions.

One conclusion of the debate was the urgency of investigating whether women would in fact be “responsible” for the “exclusion” of men from candidate lists. The summary question may be the following: would the 30% quotas be the limiting point for more male candidacies, or would there be more “supply” than “demand” in the electoral market as a whole?

If the pattern is for men to stop running because not enough women have been found to fill the minimum quota, it is worth recalling the initial debates and the principle that motivated the strategy of gender quotas for parliamentary elections. In general terms, it can be said that the adoption of quotas in countries with different types of political systems and electoral lists was motivated by two reasons: the historical exclusion of women from spaces of parliamentary representation; and the subsequent and recurrent obstacles they face in competing and making institutional policy on equal terms with men.

These facts consolidated and, to a certain extent, institutionalized patterns of profound imbalance in the presence of gender in decision-making instances of representative politics, resulting in a considerable democratic deficit. Indeed, many international experiences have shown that this “replacement” (of some by some) needed to occur so that women could enter such spaces.

But it is also possible to put the problem in other terms. Men are “over-represented” in politics and women are “under-represented”, notably when this involves numerical limits to parliamentary representation. At the same time, inequalities remain in public and private life that end up giving advantages to the former. In view of this, in compliance with the democratic principles that guide political institutions, is it not necessary to do justice to this compulsory removal for a long time? Are men not legally “requested” to “cede” political seats to women? Or is it still believed, in fact, that women do not want to participate in public life and make decisions about what affects their lives and society in general?

final comments

Faced with the current situation of many uncertainties, questions and little time for debate, the final observations of this foray into the theme remain.

First, when, more than two decades ago, the Quota Law was approved, stipulating a minimum of 30% candidates, several countries adopted this minimum percentage. Many of them advanced either to 40% lows or to parity. The origin of the percentage of 30%, it is worth remembering, was based on studies and evidence on the minimum sufficient presence for women to have basic conditions to exercise their mandates and influence, through their presence in commissions, boards of directors or in the act of debating and legislating about projects.[xx] Otherwise, few would be selfless trying to reach spaces without the minimum conditions to do so. Machismo and partisan interests are recurrently mixed. The episode that occurred at the beginning of the COVID CPI involving senators is fresh in memory, just to mention the most recent one that came to light.

Second, in the context of scarce time for broad debates, legislation that becomes constitutional requires caution in its implementation. It is about inscribing numerical indices in the Constitution, which can function both as stimulating goals and as “brakes”.

Third, in any alternative or context, a reasonable starting point, and capable of unifying broad political and social sectors, I suppose, is to refute the discourse that women are not in politics because they don't want to and aren't interested; consequently, it is best to leave them "in their corner" and let the men "do their work" in politics. Discourse that has no basis in contemporary reality, in studies and investigations and in political experiences around the world. Our Latin American neighbors are there to prove it.

*Clara Araujo is a professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at UERJ.


[I]https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/internacional/noticia/2021-05/mulheres-sao-mais-votadas-no-chile-mas-lei-obriga-ceder-lugares. Published on 18/05/2021. Accessed on 20/05/2021.

[ii] Chambers of Deputies or Unicameral Parliaments. Interparliamentary Union – Women in Parliament. https://www.ipu.org. Data relating to April 30, 2021. Accessed on 19/05/2021.

[iii] In addition to the statistics produced by the IPU (previous note) and IDEA, see, for example, ATENEA Project -for a 50/50 democracy- Mechanisms to accelerate the political participation of women in Latin America and the Caribbean”, "Brazil: where is the commitment to women?" UN Women, Brasilia, 2020. Available at https://www.onumulheres.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/ATENEA_Brasil_FINAL23Sep.pdf. Accessed on 12/03/2021; and “Gender and elections”, ACE – The Electoral Knowledge Network, https://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/ge/ Accessed on 12/03/2012.

[iv] In 2015, an appeal was filed with the TSE to judge fraud in filling vacancies in gender quotas in the municipality of Piauí.

[v] The ADI was filed by the Attorney General's Office/PGR and was Friend Curiae ABRADEP - Brazilian Academy of Electoral and Political Law and the feminist NGO CEPIA - Citizenship, Study, Research, Information and Action.

[vi] The consultation made to the TSE was signed by 14 female deputies and senators from 6 parties: PCdoB, PT, PMDB, PR, PSB and PSD.

[vii] Two arguments tend to guide such proposals: a) women are not as interested in politics as men are, and their presence reflects exactly that; b) one should not intervene in the free disposition of those who want to enter politics or not, since the decision is an intimate and private forum.

[viii] The deputy's statement of vote can be accessed in the Commission's records. It constitutes an exquisite piece about ideas that are still in force regarding the political participation of women.

[ix] Bill Report Supplementary Bill No. 35 of 2019; Attached: PLP No. 109/2019-Rapporteurship -Margarete Coelho. Replacement adopted by the Commission for the Defense of the Rights of

Woman to Complementary Bill No. 35, of 2019 - (Attached: PLP 109/2019). Approved on April 29, 2021 at CDDM. Accessible through the Chamber of Deputies portal. https://www.camara.leg.br

[X] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

[xi] In the case of the design of the Brazilian electoral system, proportionality is based on candidate votes and the electoral quotient achieved by each party in each state. The distribution of the 513 seats in the Chamber of Deputies is based on the number of inhabitants of each state, based on IBGE counts. Thus, from the exclusive perspective of the current electoral and party system, the sore point tends to involve three aspects: one relating to disputes between parties for the vacancies to which the state is entitled; another between the candidates of each party, who compete with each other for the vacancies that may be obtained by the initials; and the third is the compatibility between norms derived from established affirmative action laws and the two previous rules, in scenarios in which many interests are already established (and usually have men as their representatives).

[xii] The commission's formal objective (analysis of PEC 125-A) is just a procedural resource so that parliamentarians can discuss what they are calling political reform.

[xiii] “There is no climate for the return of corporate campaign donations”. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2021/05/nao-ha-clima-para-a-volta-das-doacoes-empresariais-de-campanha-diz-relatora-da-reforma-politica.shtml. Access 18/05/2021.

[xiv] See, among other references, an interview on the website Poder 360, program “Poder Interview”, podcast on May 13, 2021 (https://www.poder360.com.br/congresso/podcast-poder-entrevista-com-a-relatora -da-reforma-politica-renata-abreu/); interview with Jornal Folha de São Paulo on 17/05/2021 and opinion article published in Folha de São Paulo on 15/05/2021. Although other parliamentarians have been manifesting themselves publicly, such as, for example, Senator Liziane Gama (Cidadania-MA) and Deputy Zaratinni (PT-SP) -, in addition to statements by the rapporteur herself, in the newspaper “Valor” edition of the 17th, 18th and May 19, 2021.

[xv] Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, has the main website world map of experiences of gender quotas in parliaments. On the page, all countries can be accessed, some details about the laws, year of enactment, percentages, among other information. https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas. Accessed on 17/05/2021.

[xvi] Like the one outlined by Deputy José Nelto, from Podemos-GO, also proposing a reduction from 30% to 10% of the minimum candidacy quotas (Gazeta 17/07/2019).

[xvii] NICOLAU, Jairo, “The open list electoral system in Brazil”, DATA, v.49, pp.689-720, 2006.

[xviii] ARAUJO, Clara. “Gender and access to legislative power in Brazil”, Brazilian Journal of Political Science, n.2, pp. 23-59,2009, XNUMX.

[xx] Among which the most outstanding were those of Drude Daherup, who participated, as a guest, in one of the tables of the Seminar “Political Participation of Women and Quotas in Brazil”, promoted by UN Women and by Núcleo Flora Tristán/IPOL/UNB, with support from Jornal Folha de São Paulo, between March 22nd and 25th, 2021. See, for example, DAHlERUP, D. “From a Small to a Large Minority: Women in Scandinavian Politics”, ScandinavianPolitical Studies, 11, v. 4, pp.275-98,1988; ”Women, Quotas and Politics, (Ed): London, Routledge, 2006.


Table 1 – Latin America: Quota and Parity Laws in force in 2018*

Source: PISCOPO, Jenifer, 2015, copied from FREIDENBERG, Flávia and CAMINNOTI, Mariana “Inclusive electoral reforms in Latin America and challenges for the real equality of women in politics”, in, Fredenberg et al, Op.Cit., 2018 * Data not included in the table in Psicopo (2018), amended by Araújo based on information about the current law;**Honduras applies to parties that do not use primaries.
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