Media Center



November 25, 2002 - Washington, DC

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!

It is with great pleasure that I partake of this Special Session of the Organization of the American States, dedicated to the participation of women in politics.

Our presence here, together with so many women that reached prominent positions in their respective countries, is the proof of the biggest conquest we have attained.

But we still have huge challenges to face, up to the moment when women will get a significant representation in the political sphere, one which will reflect their real importance in our societies.

In Brasil, ladies and gentlemen, participation of women in political life has been increasing in the last decades.
However, women’s representation is still proportionally very small, when you consider that we are the majority of the Brazilian population.

In our National Congress we are only 6% among the members of the parliament.

There are only 30 women among the 513 deputies in Chamber, and only 6 women among the 81 senators.

In the Executive, there is only one governor – myself – among the 27 unities of the Federation, and 307 mayors in a 5,506 municipalities universe – meaning, mere 5,48%.

Unfortunately, these numbers do not reflect our effective participation in our country’s life.

After all, women represent 25% of families’ heads, and are, in general, the main source for survival among poor families, both money wise as well as the sole suppliers of ethic and moral formation for their children.

Besides that, only 25% of Brazilian women effectively receive their share from the benefits given by our country’s richness.

Meanwhile, the situation has been improving, and we are quite sure that everyday the changes are bigger, and occur in smaller time intervals.

When I was a kid and lived in Chapéu da Mangueira hill, a slum in Rio de Janeiro’s south zone, very close to Copacabana beach, no black children had even the right to dream with a life different from the ones led by their mothers and grandmothers.

A routine of poverty, lots of menial work, daily injustices, and awfully little perspectives – that was what we had.

The best we could aspire was an opportunity of dignity, working as domestic maid, or another subaltern activity.

But for someone like me, who wanted a little more than that, it was necessary to do something different.

What brought me into politics were precisely the daily injustices and inequalities that I experienced and witnessed throughout practically my whole life.

As community school teacher, I understood that I could be able to contribute to enlarge the possibilities of both children and adults.

In order to better fulfill my work, I went to the university and graduated in Social Studies and Social Services.

I was one of the founders of Chapéu da Mangueira’s inhabitants Association, institution that later I have presided.

The experience acquired within my own community made me, later on, create the Feminine Department for the Federation of Associations of Rio de Janeiro’s Slums.

I have been also heading the Center for Women from Slums and Periphery.

The daily conviviality with my state’s poor women’s problems has reinforced, step by step, my conviction that it was imperative to work, strong and hard, to change this reality in our country.

In the sixties and seventies, in spite of all difficulties imposed by the military dictatorship, and influenced by the civil rights’ fights in the United States, moreover by the figure of Martin Luther King, the afro-Brazilians began to stand out in some areas, evading, in a small way, from the route that Brazilian society traditionally destined them.

The consequences of these small changes started to emerge in the eighties, favored by the political opening started after the political amnesty.

In 1982 I was elected Councilwoman by the Worker’s Party (PT) – a new party created in the industrial region of São Paulo, which had as its main leader a metallurgic worker who is, nowadays, the elected President of Brazil.

During my campaign I used the slogan “Woman, black, and from the slums”.

This tripod, which is the synthesis of the situation of exclusion, and that might have ensued rejection among Rio de Janeiro electors, became a positive element, conquering sympathies and votes even among the middle class.

Brasil was beginning really to change.

Four years latter I was elected for the Federal Congress, and in this capacity I took over the first proxy at the director table of the Congress Chamber – something that became a step towards the re-democratization of our society.

After two terms as Federal Deputy, in 1994 I became the first black woman to integrate the Federal Senate, having received more than two million 200 thousand votes.

In my parliamentary actuation, I have concentrated my initiatives on projects that reflected the social movements against women, blacks, Indians, and other minorities’ discrimination claims.

I have also worked for the environment’s defense, and dedicated special care and attention to the protection of children and teenagers, the ones who constitute the future of our country.

My period in our District Capital, that was supposed to be of eight years, was shortened in order to attend my Party’s convocation, to participate in the engagement of a coalition to fight for Rio de Janeiro’s Government.

This way, in 1998, I was elected Vice-Governor of the State.

In this capacity I presided the National Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Correlated Intolerances, attended by more than 10 thousand persons from the whole country. This Conference created the National Plan of Combat to Racism.

Soon after that, in the capacity of Brazilian delegate, I participated of the Third Global Conference Against Racism, in South Africa.

Those were all very strong experiences for someone who was born black and poor, in a Rio de Janeiro slum.

But there is a very special chapter in my life, and this is the one I am living now.

Less than one month after turning 60 years old, I took charge of the Government of Rio de Janeiro for a period of nine months, in order to complete the term of the Governor, who was becoming candidate to the country’s presidency.

Symbolic nine months.

The exact time to create a new life.

Time enough for – contrary to my generation – each poor and black children in my State, in my country, can perceive that, if one studies, works, fights, may become able to occupy relevant positions in our society.

Maybe, ladies and gentlemen, the most precious lesson we can give to our children and grandchildren, is our example.

The example of a life of dignity, of honor, of fights in favor of what we believe is right, is just.
Brasil nowadays, ladies and gentlemen, is certainly a much better country than the one where I was born.

But is still one of the most unequal and socially unfair countries in this planet.

And in spite of all that, we have just elected for the Presidency of this country Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

For the first time in our history, a person from the northeast, who had migrated to São Paulo searching for a better life and became industrial worker, reaches this position.

Lula’s victory represents an option towards hope, embraced by 52 million Brazilians of all races and social conditions.

But it represents much more to those that have always remained on the margins of life, the ones who have always felt excluded, the ones who never had an opportunity of dreaming of a better life.
Again, ladies and gentlemen, an example.

An example that, fighting, you can get there.

Fighting one can conquer the right to dream and fulfill those dreams.

In Brasil, ladies and gentlemen, women conquered the right to vote and being voted in 1932.

Fifty years latter, I was elected Councilwomen in my hometown.

And seventy years latter, I became Governor of my State.

Undoubtedly we have advanced a lot. But the challenges that face us are still enormous.

We know that are the women, in the Executive, and in the Legislative powers are the ones who dedicate their selves to give special emphasis in projects and public policies related to the interests of women, children and young people.

Of all segments marginalized or excluded in our society.

Without any doubt, also belong to them the projects that envision to change misplaced traditions and habits.

For this reason, it is of paramount importance to enlarge the feminine presence in all spheres of the power.

It is fundamental to accelerate the basis’ organization process of women in and out of parties.

It is fundamental to be able, more and more, to count with the participation of women in Brazilian society, and in the society we are building in this planet.

And it is also fundamental that, regardless parties, and even ideologies, women become united, build up alliances, and assume the front role in social and political transformation.

Reaching gender’s justice requires electoral basis, juridical basis, social basis.

But requires, moreover, the active involvement of all women on a fight for the enlargement of their spaces, and for the removal of obstacles that are still hampering their access to power.

Only through women’s higher participation in decisions’ taking, will it be possible to produce the necessary harmony in order to consolidate democracy in our societies, and promote its full operation.

In order to achieve this goal, we have to increase incentives to feminine leaderships’ formation, and their participation in the higher decision making levels.

We firmly believe that politics is a powerful instrument for women’s emancipation.

And this is what we are doing here, this afternoon, in Washington.

I do hope that this rich exchange may produce profitable cooperation in order that, together, we amplify our voices for a better world, with less exclusion, less intolerance, freer and fairer. A world of peace.

Thank you.

Vertido por Vanda Tavares
Assessora do Dr. Adriano de Aquino
Conselho Consultivo para Relações Internacionais