Brazil’s new interim president, former Vice President Michel Temer, has announced his new cabinet, and they’re all white – and mostly old – men.
Although most Brazilians support the impeachment of now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff, the country’s first female president, the lack of diversity in the cabinet has been hit with heavy backlash from women’s rights supporters.
Ana Claudia Farranha, the only black female professor in her department at the University of Brasilia, is one of many Brazilians who doubt Temer’s cabinet will be able to unite the polarized country.
“This feels like we are taking a step backwards,” she told the Guardian. “They say they want to build a ‘bridge to the future,’ but it’s not a coalition with society.”
Temer considered at least “a couple” of women for cabinet positions, but neither were selected. In contrast, Rousseff began her second term last year with seven women – one who is black – in the then-31-person cabinet.
Now, Temer’s cabinet is the first to exclude women since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985.
“We tried to seek women. But for reasons that we don’t need to bring up here, we discussed it, and it was not possible,” Temer’s Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha told reporters, according to Bloomberg. “We will bring women into the government, in posts that used to be ministries, and that now will have the same functions but under a different name.”
But the move is still widely seen as a historic social regression in Brazilian politics.
Many are quick to blame Temer himself for failing to elect a single woman in his cabinet, but neither he nor the new cabinet was elected by the Brazilian public. The new government is more reflective of the Brazilian congress, Public Radio International (PRI) explained, a body that is 90 percent male. And it’s not just congress; Brazil ranks 115th globally in female political representation, according to Forbes, and only 10 percent of the representatives of the country’s Women’s Party are even women.
Since Rousseff was first implicated on corruption charges by Eduardo Cunha, who has his own laundry list of corruption allegations, women’s rights groups and others have considered gender bias to be a driving factor in the impeachment process – Rousseff included.
“There has been, mixed in all of this, a large amount of prejudice against women,” Rousseff said at a news conference last month. “There are attitudes toward me that there would not be with a male president.”
In protest to what is now widely being seen as a defeat for the social progress made by the country’s leftist Worker’s Party, Brazil’s growing feminist movement has highlighted issues of violence against women, the gender pay-gap and lack of political representation. Women’s rights groups have also organized demonstrations across the country in protest of the country’s harsh new proposed laws on abortion.
The rising influence of such groups is a political reality that Temer and his administration will soon need to address, according to Mauricio Santoro, a professor and political scientist in Rio.
“Social movements have so much power here now,” Santoro told PRI. “Women have more and more power. These social movements weren’t enough to keep Dilma in office, but they can make Temer’s life hell over the next six months with roadblocks and strikes and other actions.”
Temer has been put in office for a period of 180 days while Rousseff is suspended and facing an impeachment trial. If the impeachment succeeds – which looks likely, despite Rousseff’s vow to “appeal with every legal method available” – Temer will be installed permanently for the remainder of the presidential term to the end of 2018.