Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rousseff Revolutions

article from January 28, 2012
by Julie R Butler

How is it, you may wonder, that Latin America is so progressive when it comes to having female heads of state – thirteen, so far, including several countries in the Caribbean – yet the machismo culture persists?

A recent article in Der Spiegel addressed this conundrum with a profile of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, labeling what she has been doing with her presidential power as nothing less than “Gender Revolution.”

Ms. Rousseff is no stranger to revolutionary activities, nor is she a stranger to the way women are treated in Brazil, as she used her formidable strengths and skills to navigate up through the patriarchal political system. And now that she has been the president of the world’s sixth-largest economy for over a year, she has not only successfully removed herself from the long shadow of her predecessor, Lula da Silva, but has achieved an approval rating that is higher than any previous president had ever managed one year into their terms.

President Rousseff has surrounded herself with women, with only one man in her inner circle of advisors, having wisely held on to the head of the presidential office who served Lula for eight years previously. Rousseff filled the positions of many undersecretaries, ministers, and experts with women, when given the choice between a man and a woman with the same qualifications. And she did not have to go fishing for them. According to Der Spiegel,

“Skilled women aren’t hard to find. Brazilian women stay in education longer and attend university in greater numbers than their male counterparts. Although the country has its fair share of machismo, the society itself has distinctly matriarchal characteristics. Men may call the shots out on the street, but women rule everywhere else.”

Women in Brazilian society are in charge where it really counts. They are the heads of the households, a fact recognized by the child benefit program Bolsa Família that rewards poor families for keeping their children in school, which preferentially gives the money to the woman of the house.

Meanwhile, women earn, on average, one-third less than their male counterparts in the working world. Political quotas that have stipulated that 30% of mayoral, gubernatorial, and parliamentary candidates in an election must be women have been ignored, with the politicians claiming that there are not enough qualified women. However, that excuse will probably no longer hold up, thanks to the example set by President Rousseff.

Ms. Rousseff has shown her dedication to her convictions by declining to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on his recent Latin America tour. While Lula had welcomed the Iranian regime with open arms, Rousseff has been a critic of their treatment of women and shows less eagerness to engage with the Iranians at this delicate moment in history.

And another thing is changing in Brasília, the capital of the nation. With the women taking charge, the long-standing tradition of political corruption is no longer being tolerated. Rousseff has replaced six ministers who were involved in corruption scandals, which has helped her popularity in the polls.

Another help, I believe, was the release of this photograph of 22-year-old Dilma Rousseff being interrogated by the military regime that arrested, tortured, prosecuted, and sentenced her to 28 months in prison for her membership in the Marxist 8th of October Revolutionary Movement that resisted the dictatorship. It is a stunning image that shows the iron will of a young idealist in contrast to the cowardly men who are hiding their faces from the photographer in the background. One act that the group was famous for was the robbery of US$2.5 million from the safe of the notoriously corrupt ex-Governor of São Paulo Ademar de Barros, whose supporters were fond of the motto, “He steals, but he gets things done.”

President Rousseff seems to know how to get things done without stealing, and that is another Rousseff Revolution for Brazil.

[Image of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff via Wikipedia]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler