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New Regulations In Brazil Are Trying To Address Gender Gap For Upcoming Elections


The murder of a city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year underscored the risks for women seeking public office in Brazil. Women make up only 11 percent of Brazil's Congress, the lowest level in South America. A new campaign regulation is one of several efforts to change that in upcoming elections. Catherine Osborn has the story.


CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: It's a recent Friday night in downtown Rio. A popular square is filled by a stage and 30 female candidates for state and federal Congress.

TALIRIA PETRONE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: That's Taliria Petrone. Her left-wing party organized this event to spotlight its female candidates.

PETRONE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "We're going to occupy power with our bodies, our color and our voice," she says. The next morning across town and on the other side of the political spectrum, a center-right party held an event that included a similar message.

ASPASIA CAMARGO: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: The perspective of women is missing in attempts to solve social problems, said Senate candidate Aspasia Camargo. She told me afterward...

CAMARGO: Old politics that we have in Brazil, it's a patriarchal and an anti-woman structure.

OSBORN: This year's elections in Brazil include several new measures to change that. The first is a court ruling about campaign finance and advertising. Parties must now give female candidates at least 30 percent of radio and TV ad time and 30 percent of their campaign funds. That's up from a requirement of only 5 percent of funds in the past. The change has the attention of groups like UN Women, which monitors women's rights in Brazil. I spoke on the phone with representative Nadine Gasman.

NADINE GASMAN: We can expect that will lead into more women elected.

OSBORN: Over 800 more women have registered to run in these congressional elections than in the last ones. The moment could be ripe for new faces. Brazil's early leader in presidential polls was a former president who's in jail for corruption and is now barred from running for office. The new leading candidate is a far-right congressman who praises military rule. Scores of current legislators are under federal investigation.

GASMAN: Even in a moment where politics are under strong questioning there's a call for more representation of women.

OSBORN: Civil society also is pushing efforts to boost female candidates. They include an app that collects the platforms of women running for office, a column about those women in Brazil's largest newspaper and a video campaign about them on social media.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: It says, "we're organizing so this year will be different." But these candidates continue to face harsh social barriers. Those range from belittlement, as Camargo describes...

CAMARGO: She's so cute, so well-gifted. And that's all.

OSBORN: ...To downright harassment. Petrone has gotten rape threats and death threats. They've alarmed people at watchdog organizations. Here's Gasman.

GASMAN: In many places we have seen those threats are not empty threats. You know, they end up in actual violence.

OSBORN: In March, prominent Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco was shot dead in a targeted killing. The head investigator of her case said it was because of her political positions. Gasman from the U.N. said violence against women in politics is an often-hidden factor in why there aren't more female lawmakers. The U.N. is working on a worldwide study about the topic.

PETRONE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: So far, the threats have not stopped Petrone. She says the killing of Marielle Franco showed the importance of having more women in office so harassment and violence against women will become unacceptable.

PETRONE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: "If they thought this would make us retreat," she says, "it's only encouraged us to push forward." For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.