Brazil’s 2018 presidential election is scheduled to go into a run-off on Oct. 28, with Rio de Janeiro congressman Jair Bolsonaro squaring off against former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad after they secured the most number of votes but failed to meet the 50 percent threshold in the Oct. 7 election.
Country-wide protests against frontrunner Bolsonaro — which culminated in a march held in multiple Brazilian cities on Sept. 29 — have played a role in bringing down the candidate’s popularity. U.S. comedian John Oliver devoted an entire segment on his HBO show Last Week Tonight to Bolsonaro’s disturbing comments about women and the resulting women-led #EleNão (#NotHim) protests.
“The #EleNão campaign was born in the web and spread astonishingly fast. I personally know many folks who gave up on voting for Bolsonaro because of the #EleNão campaign,” Vit Brandão, journalism student and social media activist from Brazil’s southeast, told Sojourners.
Bolsonaro faces staggering rejection rates among women. Recently, a group of women created the Facebook group "Mulheres Unidas Contra Bolsonaro" or “Women United Against Bolsonaro.” In just a few days, the group had more than 1 million people.”
“That's not surprising,” Brandão said, “considering his misogynistic speech.”
Bolsonaro has attracted widespread criticism for making overtly misogynistic, homophobic, and racist comments. As highlighted on Oliver’s show, Bolsonaro told a congresswoman of another party on camera, “I wouldn't rape you because you’re not worth it.” He said he’d rather have a dead son than a gay son. He called refugees coming to Brazil “the scum of the world.”
But there’s more to the story.
As much as Bolsonaro is known for his aggressive misogynistic and racist remarks, his most dominant trait is authoritarianism.
Brandão points ou that Bolsonaro has openly praised the country’s military dictatorship that ran from 1964-1985. After former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote “to the memory of Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra,” one of the key figures of the military regime whose torture houses in Sao Paulo were responsible for the abuse of pregnant woman, children, and everyone the regime considered subversive. On an interview in a TV show, Bolsonaro was asked which book he keeps on his bedside table. He answered "A verdade sufocada" ("the choked truth”), Ustra’s memoir in which he claims his actions were justified.
Cecília Olliveira, a contributing editor at The Intercept who is based in Brazil, said Bolsonaro’s extremism has united women across political lines.
“Despite the fact that the majority of the women who participated are from the left, it was possible for women who lean right to also position themselves against the growing radicalism on the right and all of the hatred and violence that they have preached,” Olliveiera told Sojourners. “The first-round election had 13 candidates and maybe the only thing that could unify some voters for each of the other 12 is that Bolsonaro cannot and should not be able to make decisions about their country and their lives.”
The vigor with which women were activated in the protest movement is of note, considering that women, despite accounting for about half of Brazil’s electorate, hold only about 11 percent of the Lower House and about 15 percent of the Upper House.
“The political involvement of women has been growing in recent years,” Olliveira said. “This year, despite the number of women elected to the Senate being the same (7), in the lower house, the Câmara de Deputados, 77 women won seats, a 51 percent increase from 2014. It's still not enough when you consider that there are 513 positions in the Câmara and 81 in the Senate, but you cannot ignore such a marked increase.”
The rise of Jair Bolsonaro has inspired women to organize in mass protest in a similar vein as those organized in the U.S. in reaction to leaders like Donald Trump, and now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In Brazil, the final election results may hinge on the voting patterns of the nation’s women, even while Bolsonaro holds the support of about 57 percent of the electorate.
But beyond this particular election, the women’s march against Bolsonaro marked a significant moment in Brazil’s history, not unlike the Women’s March in the United States. As the Trump administration’s moves like the Kavanaugh nomination continue to spark female rage, so too will #EleNão continue to resonate regardless of the outcome of the 2018 election.