I recently wrote a blog post for Red PROLID, a platform created to connect women in the public sector throughout Latin America. The post is about my research on gender quotas in Brazil, specifically the paper Dr. Kristin Wylie (James Madison University) and I wrote together published in 2016. Since the original post was published in Spanish, I decided to share the English language version of it here. Thanks to Andrea Diaz for inviting me to share my thoughts on an issue that I am deeply passionate about.
As of June 2017, 55 women are members of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, equating to 10.5 percent. This places Brazil at the bottom of the Interparliamentary Union’s Women in Parliament World Classification. The situation is not much better at the state and local level, where 11.3% of women have a seat in a State Assembly, and 13.5% of women hold a seat in one of the thousands City Councils in the country. The low number of women in legislative positions in Brazil is puzzling especially since the country has a 30% gender candidate quota law for these three positions. Why doesn’t the candidate gender quota law work in Brazil? The short answer is limited party support. But the full picture is more complex.
Established in 1995, the Lei de Cotas required every party running for a legislative seat (City Council, State Assembly, and Chamber of Deputies) to allocate 30% of their candidacies to the most underrepresented gender in their party ticket, which have always been women.
Pushed by the Bancada Feminina in the early 1990s, the Lei de Cotas was severely watered down by male party elites. The final law, signed and implemented without much fanfare, was full of loopholes allowing the party to continue to run lists with virtually no women. In a co-authored paper published in 2016, * my co-author Kristin Wylie (James Madison University) and I elaborate on the loopholes present in the law and the institutional structures that rendered the Lei de Cotas practically meaningless. We argue that the nature of the electoral system, the large number of parties, and the male dominance of party leadership made for a quota law that had limited impact on the number of women elected to office.
Brazil’s open-list proportional representation system is the first obstacle. Because voters chose an individual and not a party ticket (like the closed-list system present in Argentina), candidates are competing with both other parties and candidates within their own party, since candidates need individual votes to win a seat. Add that to the extremely high number of parties (35 as of this writing), and you have the recipe for one of the most competitive and expensive legislative elections in the world. So when party leaders are selecting their party list and selecting whom to provide support during the elections, they will likely rely on established politicians (overwhelmingly male) or individuals directly connected to the leadership of the party, who tend to be extremely male-dominated.
The loopholes of the law combined with a general unwillingness by local party elites to truly empower and elect women led to very disappointing numbers. Between 1994 and 2008 the percentage of women elected to the Chamber of Deputies rose from 6.6% to 8.8%. Parties were nominating more women as candidates, but very few parties reached the 30% threshold because of loopholes that allowed them to run full male tickets while still being compliant with the law. So in 2009 Congress passed a mini-political reform that, among other things, sought to close at least some of the loopholes present in the Lei de Cotas, namely the “reserved” clause of candidacy allocation (for a detailed discussion see Wylie and dos Santos 2016), * a five percent allocation of party funds to promote women’s participation, and a mandatory ten percent of the party’s allocated TV time to women candidates.
The mini-reform led to more women candidates, but still failed to increase considerably the number of women elected. Parties continued to find ways to undermine the law by nominating candidatas laranja, women candidates who were listed as candidates but did not truly campaign. The overwhelmingly male party leadership across the country continues to ignore the issue of women’s under-representation in order to maintain their status-quo.
Supporters of women’s representation in Brazil continue to fight for a stronger quota law and for increased women’s representation. I believe that, in order to significantly change the number of women elected to legislative positions in Brazil, electoral law needs to go beyond the candidate level, encouraging or forcing parties to include more women in party leadership positions. Until parties move away from the “all male clubs” mentality, women will have to continue to fight from the outside, severely limiting the impact of the Lei de Cotas.
* If you would like a copy of this paper, please email me at email@example.com
As you are reading this post, please keep the families of the police officers cowardly gunned down in Dallas in your thoughts. As President Obama said in the wake of this tragedy, “When people say Black Lives Matter, it doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter.” Senseless violence is not the response to senseless violence.
On July 6th, as I was driving south of St. Louis at night, a car cut in front of me as I was exiting the interstate. Both the guy who cut me off and I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road, going against traffic. It just happened that a police officer was driving on that same intersection at that time. He stopped his car, turned his lights on, and came see why in the name of all that is holy were these two cars going against traffic. He talked to guy in the other car first, and then came to talk to me. At this point my heart is beating pretty fast. I hope he understands what happened and lets me, my wife, and our 5-month-old daughter go easy. Maybe a ticket, I will be okay with paying a ticket. I just hope I come out of this unscathed. The officer approaches me, I tell him what happened (“officer, the other car cut in front of me and I followed him”). I wait anxiously for his response. He says, “Cool dude!” Then he tells me he will block traffic so we can turn around and drive on the right side of the road. No ticket, just a “cool dude!” and some help. I call that a win.
The day before my “cool” interaction with a police officer, Philando Castille was shot dead in St. Paul, Minnesota by a police office in a routine traffic stop. Two days before that, Alton Sterling was shot point blank and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. To paraphrase what a friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday, this really makes me wonder if I could be the next hashtag.
I believe that context is important for everything, but especially in issues surrounding race. I grew up in Brazil (where we have our own issues with police brutality against black citizens), but in 2000 I moved to a sleepy town in Kansas to attend a small college. My first four years in the United States were pretty sheltered, much like the lives of many students at Luther College (where I teach Political Science). All my interactions with law enforcement were positive, even when I was, shall I say, bending the law like most college students do. I really didn’t think much about being a person of color in the United States for those four years. I also did not have a car.
After I graduated from college, I bought a car and moved to Kansas City. That’s where I was made aware that the color of my skin could get me in trouble. In a matter of months I was being pulled over almost every week, sometimes for going five miles over the speed limit (something all my white friends have always told me it was okay to do, that they never get pulled over for doing that), some times for whatever reason the police officer thought fit the situation. Then, in 2006, the scariest situation I have been through happened. I was pulled over because the light on the left side my license plate (a light I didn’t even know existed) was not working. The officer pulled me over, asks for license and registration. I told her that the registration is on the glove compartment and I was going to open it and get it. As I moved to get the registration the officer yelled at me “hands where I can see now!” and reached for her gun. She continued to yell at me for another minute or so, and it is not until she was somehow convinced that I was not going to try to harm her that she allowed me to reach for the glove compartment to get the registration. The situation escalated and de-escalated quickly, but it was enough to make me very weary of any interaction with police officers (I had at least three other stressful interactions with police officers after that, but this one was by far the worst). That is why I was anxious when I was stopped July 6th.
I know this does not sound like much, and I know many friends of mine, mostly also persons of color (male and female) had much scarier interactions with law enforcement.
This is my context when thinking about interactions with law enforcement. I never like to be pulled over because I was pulled over many times for dubious reasons, I try to avoid interactions with law enforcement as much as possible, and when I do have interactions I try to be as cooperative as possible. It works most times, until it doesn’t. Until something like what happened to Philande Castille happens to me, or a friend of mine.
My context reflects what some data has shown us. When tracking police stops in a number of major cities, The DOJ found that black citizens are three times more likely to be pulled over by police officers, even though they are less likely to have any illicit material in their car than their white counterparts (see report here). The pervasiveness of “driving while black” has been detailed in many reports, academic articles, newspapers, and personal accounts, including in the book “Pulled Over” by University of Kansas (my alma mater) professors Charles Epp, Steven Maynard-Moody, and Don Haider-Markel.
The Washington Post reports that Castille is “at least the 506th person shot and killed by police so far in 2016,” one of 123 black Americans killed so far this year. This year has also been an above average violent year for law enforcement officers, as officer deaths involved in shootings has gone up considerably in the first quarter of 2016 (according to another Washington Post article). The Officer Down Memorial Page reports that, so far this year, 21 (26 with the killing of five Dallas officers) police officers have been killed by gunshot, up 31% from (I assume) last year.
I share these numbers to express the fact that law enforcement officers experience violence. I know being a police officer is not easy and I respect anyone who is willing to do a difficult job that does not pay as well as it should. But as a person of color who has had a few tense encounters with police officers, it is difficult to see what happened to Philando Castille and Alton Sterling and not feel frustration and anger.
I know that many times the interactions law enforcement officers have with citizens are complicated. Police officers do not know what is going on inside a person’s head, and there are environmental variables that can lead to the escalation of such interactions. But, when there are 506 civilian deaths (123 of those black Americans) by a police officer in half a year, and 26 shooting-related police officer deaths during that same period, it seems to me that it may be more dangerous to have an encounter with a law than being a police officer.
I also know that not all police officers are racist. However, there is enough conscious and unconscious bias that we must question what needs to be done to change that. Moreover, not all police officers are violent, but when most of the police force sits silent or try to justify bad behavior, it is hard for me, in the context of being a law abiding person of color, to take the side of police officers in the arguments that ensue immediately after events like the killing of Castille and Sterling.
In the age of social media, we are now witnessing what has been happening for decades, if not centuries, in many black communities: the use of excessive force by a white dominated police force. In the context of a white person, I can see how you may have downplayed the protests of black Americans all these years, since you have not seen it for yourself. But since Rodney King (ESPN’s “O.J.: Made In America” does a superb job capturing the racial tension of that period), the white majority has had a number of opportunities to see police abuse (many times led by a racist and violent culture inside police academies and departments). The argument that one does not see how some law enforcement officers oppress black Americans is less credible today. I wonder how many more deaths like the ones we saw this past week will take for police departments to take a hard look at their training and their department culture to help minimize violence against persons of color.
I am not against police officers, but I am against the deafening silence (or worse, racialized rationalization) that follows videos like the ones that surfaced this week.
May the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille (and the many others who had the same fate in the last years) find solace in the fact that the lives taken from their loved ones will not be forgotten by those seeking social justice. And may we live in a world where we do not need hashtags to mourn the violent and untimely death of so many souls.