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Global leadership: Brazil enters the power surge of women

Entering the ranks of global leadership, Brazil's President-elect Dilma Rousseff becomes the 18th woman head of state currently in power when she takes office in January.

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“Fundamentally her candidacy is the third term of Lula,” says Rosângela Bittar, the editor in chief in Brasília of the Valor Econômico journal and a political columnist. “It’s all fine. It’s the first female president of Brazil. It’s a thing to register in the dictionary. But it doesn’t register emotion. You don’t see the mobilization of women,” she adds.

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In fact, Rousseff had more support in the campaign from male voters than women. A Datafolha poll on Oct. 21 showed 59 percent of male voters saying they’d choose her, compared to 52 percent of females.

Women have been advancing around the country and “this locks it with a golden key, to have a woman president,” says Francisco Abdala, after voting for Rousseff Oct. 31 in Rio de Janeiro. But he says it doesn’t matter much to him whether the candidate is a man or woman ­– he’s a Workers’ Party “militant,” as dedicated party members call themselves. He praises Lula’s charisma and says that while Rousseff lacks it, he thinks she can do as good a job as he did.

While her campaign did try to capitalize on being the first female president, in her acceptance speech, Rousseff began by touting the milestone, saying: “For the first time a woman will preside over Brazil. So I register here my first pledge after the election: to honor the Brazilian women, so that this fact, up until today not yet published, becomes a natural event.”

But despite her wide margin of victory, it doesn’t mean her presidency is going to be easy, says Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. In such a historically macho society “where the levers of power have always been dominated” by men, he said, it “is obviously a challenge” for Rousseff.

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