Minority women reaching for office in Brazil’s elections

September 30, 2022 GMT
FILE - Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara from the Guajajara ethnic group shows her hands painted in red symbolizing bloodshed, during a protest against violence, illegal logging, mining and ranching, and to demand government protection for their reserves, one day before the celebration of "Amazon Day," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Guajajara, 48, is part of a group of 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
FILE - Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara from the Guajajara ethnic group shows her hands painted in red symbolizing bloodshed, during a protest against violence, illegal logging, mining and ranching, and to demand government protection for their reserves, one day before the celebration of "Amazon Day," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Guajajara, 48, is part of a group of 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
FILE - Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara from the Guajajara ethnic group shows her hands painted in red symbolizing bloodshed, during a protest against violence, illegal logging, mining and ranching, and to demand government protection for their reserves, one day before the celebration of "Amazon Day," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Guajajara, 48, is part of a group of 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
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FILE - Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara from the Guajajara ethnic group shows her hands painted in red symbolizing bloodshed, during a protest against violence, illegal logging, mining and ranching, and to demand government protection for their reserves, one day before the celebration of "Amazon Day," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Guajajara, 48, is part of a group of 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)
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FILE - Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara from the Guajajara ethnic group shows her hands painted in red symbolizing bloodshed, during a protest against violence, illegal logging, mining and ranching, and to demand government protection for their reserves, one day before the celebration of "Amazon Day," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022. Guajajara, 48, is part of a group of 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.(AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Women make up more than half of Brazil’s electorate, but one wouldn’t know it from the nation’s halls of power. They represent less than one-sixth of Congress, and an even smaller fraction are also Black or Indigenous.

Some women are trying to change that on Sunday, when Brazilians will vote for their representatives in state legislatures and Congress’ lower house.

Women have historically faced difficulty gaining backing from political parties, which prompted laws to boost participation. Per electoral laws, a minimum 30% of parties’ candidates for state legislatures and the national Chamber of Deputies must be female, and they must jointly receive at least the same share of the parties’ allocation of public electoral funding.

Still, some parties previously have been accused of obliging female candidates to steer funds they received to male counterparts, or plowing funds reserved for all of them into just a few women’s campaigns with better odds of victory.

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Underrepresented women’s candidacies also struggle to gain traction with voters given widespread racism, sexism and LGBT-phobia.

Here are three minority women trying to rise above the challenges and reach elected office:

SÔNIA GUAJAJARA - CANDIDATE FOR FEDERAL LAWMAKER, SAO PAULO

Barefoot while chanting and singing traditional songs, dozens of Indigenous people marched Sept. 18 on Sao Paulo’s main avenue. They followed Sônia Guajajara, who carried a Brazilian flag splashed with red paint to symbolize the blood of her people. The Guajajara patrol their protected territory to expel invaders, which has often put them in the crosshairs of attackers — most recently this month.

Guajajara, 48, is among 60 Indigenous candidates running for seats in both houses of Congress to increase Indigenous representation.

Brazil is home to approximately 897,000 Indigenous people, according to the latest census. Yet there have only ever been two Indigenous federal lawmakers: Mário Juruna of the Xavante people, who was elected in 1982 and served one term, and Joênia Wapichana, elected in 2018.

“There is a huge invisibility as to what we are, negligence in public power, lack of public policies in Indigenous territories,” Guajajara told The Associated Press in her campaign office. “That is why I’m here: to try to guarantee access to these rights that were conquered on paper, but never reached us.”

EDIANE MARIA NASCIMENTO - CANDIDATE FOR STATE LAWMAKER, SAO PAULO

Elsewhere in the city, in the working-class Itaquera neighborhood, a young lady with tears in her eyes approached Ediane Maria Nascimento, a Black candidate for the state legislature, on Sept. 25.

“You must win!” she said. “My mom is also a housekeeper. I look at you and I see her and all she has suffered. You mean a lot to us.”

Nascimento, 38, returned the kind words with a wide smile and a hug.

“We are going together,” said the candidate, who is a leader of the Homeless Workers Movement.

A migrant from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Nascimento is a single mother of four. She has worked her entire life as a housekeeper and, as she noted in an interview, could become the first one to ever occupy a seat in Sao Paulo state’s legislature.

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Nascimento said she represents many women who, like her, have dreams of advancement, but feel nobody is working on their behalf.

“We cannot have a Congress formed by a great majority of rich white men who don’t represent our class,” she said. “Only with us occupying these places will we be able to say ‘I want to have rights, I want to have dignity.’”

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DANIELI BALBI - CANDIDATE FOR STATE LAWMAKER, RIO DE JANEIRO

As a Black, transgender woman, Danieli Balbi, 33, says she is only ever called upon to discuss race and gender. But the 33-year-old university literature professor and screenwriter says she shouldn’t be boxed in, and argues she is capable of discussing issues normally reserved for the white, heterosexual men who hold the levers of power.

With blonde hair extensions, Balbi on Sept. 20 handed out flyers on a busy street downtown and spoke to passersby. She explained that she is seeking a spot in Rio de Janeiro’s state legislature to push for more public funds for culture, education, expanded childcare and other social benefits.

And she said the state could finance greater expenditures by shifting its priorities to low-income workers, for example by revoking tax exemptions for big companies.

“A Black transgender woman occupying Rio’s legislature would shake up the structures,” she said in an interview. “I would dispute the budget, dispute the direction of public policy and that will be very uncomfortable for them (traditional lawmakers). But I don’t care.”

___ Dumphreys reported from Rio. AP writer Carla Bridi contributed from Brasilia.