By Mariana Prandini Assis & Ana Carolina Ogando
has just elected Jair Bolsonaro as its next president - a man well-known nationally
and internationally for his misogyny and homophobia. Although over the years,
his rhetoric targeting women, the LGBTQI community and minorities grew
increasingly obscene, it in no way upset his political career. In fact, it
seemed to strengthen it.
a parliamentary debate in 2014, he told MP Maria do Rosario that he would not
rape her because she "was not worth it". The same year, he suggested
during a TV interview that spanking a son who "showed signs" of being
gay was the best way for parents to change his behaviour and assure he would
grow up as a "proper" man. In 2017, he claimed that after having four
sons, having a daughter was the result of a moment of "weakness".
making these outrageous assertions in public, Bolsonaro was aiming to position
himself strategically as a key player within the so-called "war on gender
ideology". This political choice helped him gain popularity and eventually
win the presidency.
is likely to pay back the reactionary forces who contributed to his political
success by empowering them in their war on progressive gender activism in
What is gender ideology?
term "gender ideology" has no academic or theoretical basis, nor a
clear and coherent definition. It is used within conservative religious circles
to vaguely denote policies or activism aimed at improving gender equality and
upholding the rights of women and the LGBTQI community.
its roots in the response of the Catholic Church and a number of influential
conservative activists to the progress made on these fronts at the 1994 Cairo
International Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 World
Conference on Women.
idea of a "gender" conspiracy or an agenda to undermine family and
religious values and promote immorality quickly spread throughout the world
after the mid-1990s. Conservative circles started instrumentalising the word
"gender" to come after different "enemies" at different
times: feminists, gays, trans people, etc.
"pink wave" receded in Latin America over the past five years, the
"crusade" on "gender ideology" spread across the region. It
was fed by the resurgence of the conservative opposition and the rise of
Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal groups.
Brazil, the legal recognition of same-sex unions by the Supreme Court in 2011,
was the turning point for "anti-gender crusaders". It was in the
aftermath of this groundbreaking decision that the hysteria around "gender
ideology" gained momentum and visibility.
then the evangelical parliamentary bloc, a key force behind Bolsonaro's
successful candidacy, has systematically tried to undermine the expansion of
sexual rights, including same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, and
particularly the right to abortion. They have regularly submitted proposed legislation,
including draft laws to recognise the "rights" of an unborn child, to
define the family as a unit consisting of a man, a woman and their children,
and to criminalise abortion even in the case of rape.
none of these proposals has been passed, they have given an opportunity for the
evangelical bloc to market itself as the defender of the traditional family and
Christian values and stir public controversy. In this way, it gradually etched
the idea in the public's mind that the values of the Brazilian society are
indeed "under attack" and that a war needs to be waged on the
subversive, immoral "gender ideology" to save them.
own career as an "anti-gender crusader" also started back in 2011.
Then and now, Brazil has been dealing with alarming rates of violent deaths
related to homophobia. In 2017, reports registered at least 445 LGBTQI deaths,
a 30 percent increase from 2016. In this context, in 2011 then Education
Minister Fernando Haddad (now Bolsonaro's former election opponent), launched
an initiative to distribute educational materials aimed at combating homophobia
and discrimination in schools.
called the materials a "gay kit" and declared it a direct threat to
the "natural" sexual binary, to children and to the Brazilian family.
He led a public campaign which successfully swayed public opinion against the
measure, forcing then President Dilma Rousseff to veto the distribution of
Hegemonic masculinity and
the high points of the crusade against "gender ideology" was during
what many see as the parliamentary coup against the Workers' Party in 2016.
many factors and political interests were at play during the impeachment
proceedings against Dilma, the reactionary discourse on gender and sexuality
played an important role in galvanising popular support for the move.
opposition's public rhetoric employing misogyny, ridicule and moralist appeals
to traditional family values incited against Brazil's first female president
and paved the way for the return of white, male, sexist and authoritarian
of course, actively participated in the whole charade, famously dedicating his
vote in favour of Dilma's impeachment to Colonel Brilhante Ustra, the head of
the feared Doi-Codi torture unit. This was meant to taunt the former president
who herself suffered torture at the hands of Brazil's military dictatorship.
the message that Bolsonaro and his allies delivered in 2016 was clear: Women
and LGBTQI people are not welcome in politics, and neither are policies
promoting gender and sexual justice.
in 2018 during his election campaign, Bolsonaro not only embodied and praised
this hegemonic form of masculinity but also actively projected himself as a
crusader against "gender ideology". "Anti-gender" rhetoric
was also generously used even in the fake news campaign aimed at smearing his
opponent. One fake story distributed on WhatsApp claimed Haddad supplied
schools with erotic baby bottles in public child care centres. Another claimed
his running mate, Manuela D'Avila, was an atheist who defiled religious
effects of Bolsonaro's crusade against "gender ideology" have not
been limited to Brazilian politics but have also extended to the Brazilian
streets, where violence initiated by his supporters has escalated. During this
polarised election campaign, different forms of gender-based and racialised
political violence increased significantly. More than 50 violent incidents
perpetrated by Bolsonaro supporters were registered during this election
season, with many of the victims being women, blacks, and LGBTQI.
post-election-victory speech, Bolsonaro said his campaign had relied on the
Bible, "the toolbox to fix men and women", demonstrating clearly that
he will continue down the same path he had walked over the past few years -
only now he would have the power to realise all that he believes in.
rise to power has unleashed the most brutal side of the "gender
ideology" crusade by pushing beyond the institutional constraints of
politics to the point where hostile rhetoric about political
"enemies" encourages their physical annihilation in the public
only choice going forward is to come together and confront this rising tide of
gender-based and racialised violence as a united front of democratic forces. If
we fail to unite, we risk losing ground to Bolsonaro's dangerous and
dehumanising rhetoric and more innocent lives.
Mariana Prandini Assis is a human rights lawyer
and a PhD Candidate in Politics at the New School for Social Research.
Ana Carolina Ogando is an independent researcher