Brazil's feminists fear setbacks as first woman president suspended

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Hours after Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman president, was suspended by a Senate vote to put her on trial for breaking budget laws, the man who took her place unveiled his cabinet: an all-male line-up of 23 ministers.

Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff greets a supporter after the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach her for breaking budget laws, at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

The significance was not lost on feminists in the Latin American country, especially after a male-dominated Congress voted to remove Rousseff amid shouts of “Goodbye, dear!”

“Fifty-two percent of Brazil’s population has been ignored,” said Rachel Moreno, coordinator of a group that seeks to combat violence against women.

“We have suffered an attack from conservatives on the achievements of the feminist movement,” she said in a telephone interview from a women’s rights conference in Brasilia that Rousseff attended this week.

A former member of a leftist guerilla group during Brazil’s military dictatorship, Rousseff has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. She said last month that the impeachment process was marked by “a large amount of prejudice against women.”

After the lower house voted to impeach Rousseff on April 17, the Senate suspended her on Thursday for the course of a trial that could last six months. Her vice president, Michel Temer, 75, was promoted to interim president, ending 13 years of rule by Rousseff’s Workers Party.

Temer takes office at a time the “bullets, beef and bible caucus” of conservatives, ranchers and evangelicals is gaining strength in Congress. Jair Bolsonaro, an anti-gay former army parachutist who praised the dictatorship when he voted to impeach Rousseff last month, is a rising star.

Some worry that advances in political participation for women in recent years, as well as social programs that benefited the poor, could be lost with the fall of Rousseff’s government and a political shift to the right.

Although he promises to safeguard social programs, Temer has pledged to implement austerity measures and cut spending to control public debt without cutting taxes as he tackles an economy mired deep in recession.

Soy baron Blairo Maggi is taking over the powerful agriculture ministry from Katia Abreu, the first woman to hold the job. A fierce defender of Rousseff, Abreu once threw a glass of wine in the face of Senator Jose Serra after he called Abreu a “maneater.”

Serra is now Temer’s foreign relations minister.

Rousseff, 68, was suspended with the majority of Brazilians in favor of her ouster, deeply unpopular amid the economic crisis and the biggest corruption crisis Brazil has seen.

Some congressmen who gave their “Goodbye dear” shouts during impeachment proceedings in the lower chamber were simply quoting the farewell words of Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a telephone call with her that was recorded by anti-graft investigators.

Prosecutors said the call provided evidence of Lula and Rousseff discussing how to obstruct their investigation. Rousseff and Lula have denied all wrongdoing.


Asked why the cabinet did not include a single woman, Planning Minister Romero Juca said ministers had been selected based on technical criteria and political party affiliation, as Temer looked to shore up support for his government.

“We will have secretariats headed by women,” he told reporters. “So respect for women and the world of women and the contribution they can make to politics will be a strong component of the Temer government.”

For most of her five years in office, Rousseff avoided talking about leading Brazil as a woman.

But last year she told the Washington Post that some of the most common criticism against her, that she is a micromanager who interferes too much in day-to-day affairs, was mostly related to her gender.

“Have you ever heard someone say that a male president puts his finger on everything? I’ve never heard that,” she said.

On Thursday, Rousseff said it was an honor to be Brazil’s first woman leader.

For some Brazilians, a recent profile in Veja Magazine of Temer’s wife Marcela, a former beauty queen who is 43 years his junior, titled “Beautiful, Maidenlike and a Housewife,” confirmed the worst of their fears over creeping sexism.

The title spurred weeks of mocking on social media, with women posting their least maidenlike photos and criticizing Veja. The parodies continued on Thursday, but few were laughing.

“Temer’s Cabinet: Neither beautiful, nor maidenlike. They are all at home,” Estado de S. Paulo columnist Jose Roberto Toledo said on Twitter.

Additional reporting by Brad Haynes and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Toni Reinhold