In the wake of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment as president of Brazil, women politicians across the country are having to take sides — was Rousseff the target of misogynistic opponents, as she alleged, or just a failed politician who broke the law? A number of derisive comments from conservative politicians, such as Cássio Cunha Lima, have complicated the discussion. Lima, a senator from northeastern Brazil, told two female senators, “Calm down, girls,” when they spoke in support of the nation’s first female president. “Men believe they are the owners of this place, as if we’re just here by chance,” said Senator Vanessa Grazziotin, one of the women told by Lima to be quiet.
There are deep-rooted concerns about misogyny in Brazil, where only 51 are women of the 513 members of the lower house in the Brazilian congress. By comparison, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan have a higher percentage of women in the lower houses of their national legislatures. Michel Temer, 75, Rousseff’s successor to the presidency, is married to a 33-year-old former beauty pageant contestant, and appointed an all-male cabinet shortly after taking office. Another conservative politician, Jaufran Siqueira of Natal, courted support from constituents by posting a meme of a burning house, claiming that “this is what will happen to feminists when Jaufran is elected.”
Many female political leaders have said, however, that Rousseff’s ouster was not driven by her gender. Marina Silva, a former maid who is now a leading contender for the 2018 presidential election, said that Rousseff was impeached for manipulating the federal budget in order to conceal the country’s deep-set economic troubles. “Conservatives are getting more vociferous on a global level — just look at Trump in the United States,” said Silva, referring to the Republican nominee who once responded to a question about Rousseff by asking who “he” was.
“This doesn’t mean that women won’t play a crucial role in Brazilian politics,” added Silva. “We have too much momentum now to stop us.”
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