Elections 2022: women’s organizations debate commitment to democracy and the anti-racist struggle

The forthcoming elections have highlighted the need to discuss social participation arenas and the agendas for the struggles of women, black people, original peoples, the LGBTQIA+ population, people with disabilities and, particularly this year, the defence of democracy in Brazil.  In one of the most decisive processes to select political representatives, and confront the waves of conservatism and threats of a coup, women are organizing themselves to break away from patriarchal and racist structures by demanding public policies, and supporting and launching their own candidates.  In all of these arenas, agendas address structural and cross-cutting issues for the most vulnerable, and the defence of a more plural democracy, with race and gender equity.

The Virtual Roundtable Conversation: “The Political Scenario and the 2022 Elections: where are we, as women, in this?” addressed the political situation and allowed women to exchange experiences and reflect on pathways to a democratic system that represents the Brazilian people. The activity was jointly promoted by CESE and the Marielles Forum (Fórum Marielles) in a continuation of activities to strengthen North-eastern women’s organizations as part of the “Community of Practice” in the Giving for Change Programme.

Mônica Oliveira (Black Coalition for Rights: Coalizão Negra por Direitos), Carmen Silva (Platform of Social Movements for Political System Reform: Plataforma dos Movimentos Sociais pela Reforma do Sistema Político), Piedade Marques (Campaign Vote for Black Women: Campanha Voto em Negra) and Denize Ribeiro (Marielles Forum) provided dialogic teaching and encouraged active participation from approximately 45 women, principally from the North-eastern states, including black women, ecumenical women, female activists, female community leaders, indigenous women, peasant women, female quilombolas, fisherwomen, and blind and visually impaired women.

A central feature of the discussion was a debate about what democracy is and who it serves in Brazil.  This included an examination of democracy in terms of how societies are organized and how this affects people’s lives, beyond institutions, the State and the political system.

Piedade Marques provided the example of the “I Vote for Black Women” (Eu Voto em Negra) campaign which aims to increase black women’s participation in arenas of power: “This initiative allows us to understand and think strategically about where we want to be.  Activities ranges from training candidates and dialogue with parties, to visibility and raising voices,” she said.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE), black women represent 27.8% of the Brazilian population, are more exposed to poverty and violence, and yet only occupy 2.36% of Parliamentary seats. In the same vein, Denize Riberio noted that anti-racist policies have not been on the agendas of current political debates or in many government proposals: “Historically we have the experience of non-politics, the non-achievement of social inclusion policies. This is a current feature of the black population.  On the other hand, we have many collective experiences of survival and resistance.  These are the experiences that are being reclaimed and reframed, so they can be replicated by collective black women’s initiatives,” she declared.

For Mônica Oliveira, since race and gender are evident, many people have appropriated the terms and discourse of the social movements in order to circumvent public opinion about the defence of rights: “What kind of neoliberal feminism is this, which only guarantees rights up to a certain point?  There are no proposals for profound change or to overcome inequality.  Because of this, some parts of society that are not familiar with our agendas, with our concepts and understanding, and have started to think that the rights of women and minorities have been taken into consideration.” This appropriation is extremely dangerous for the political progressive movement, not only in its fight for votes, but also in understanding the meaning of feminism.

In relation to this political convenience, practiced in good part by the right, Gisele Costa, one of the roundtable participants and a representative of the Marielles Forum, described how some candidates have changed their racial profile from white to black or brown as a way of circumventing electoral justice and obtaining resources intended for black candidates: “There is a white candidate who has self-declared as black.  And there is no racial category programme in these cases. It is only to gain minutes to broadcast political advertising.”  Mônica Oliveira added that we need to pay attention to the racism that prevails in the parties and in Brazilian politics itself. “We don’t want a black caucus, we want a caucus for the black movement. An independent caucus, with alliances, but not subordinate to party agendas.  Representatives who, with the parties, create mechanisms for prevention and for the protection of black, transvestite, trans, indigenous and the many other women in these bodies who are subject to successive acts of violence.”

In thinking about a democracy that confronts inequalities, under-representation and forms of participation, Carmen Silva raised the need for radical democracy.  For her, autonomous and organic candidacy movements are important, but not sufficient for change. “We won’t be able to transform through incentives and training alone, because the system is exclusionary.  We need to radically change the political system through very powerful social mobilization and awareness-raising initiatives.  We need to build this force through a grassroots uprising,” she concluded.

The activity established an arena to exchange experiences and reflections about the importance of democracy for female activists from the social movements and grassroots organizations involved in the Giving for Change Programme.  Participants shared information about initiatives that foster and support more participation for black, grassroots, trans and disabled women in arenas of decision-making and power; outlined the type of democracy they want for the country; and reiterated the living principle of the Sankofa struggle – to learn from the past in order to live well in the present and build a fairer future.