Sexism, politics and women’s football in Brazil

Football is the most popular sport in Brazil. It is no wonder that the country has won an unprecedented five World Cups and is considered the land of football. However, Brazil is also known to be an extremely conservative and sexist country in which the rights of gender equality need to progress further still. So, it’s not surprising that sexism is also reflected in women’s football in Brazil, where a strong patriarchal hierarchy keeps women’s football marginalized.

Although football was introduced to Brazil in 1894, the country is belated when it comes to embracing the women’s game. In Brazil, women were prohibited from playing football in 1941, and only in 1979 were they allowed to play. Even now, female Brazilian players still have to deal with prejudice. There is a very common thought in the country that football is something that only men can do.

Despite a lack of support (financial funding, media coverage, fan support), Brazil has managed to have some success in women’s football. The South American country finished second in the World Cup of 2007, and brought home two silver medals at the Olympics. In fact, this is due to the great current generation of players, consisted by Formiga, Cristiane and five-time World Player of the Year, Marta.

Last year, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) made major changes in the women’s team including establishing a residency program aiming to achieve a medal at home at Rio 2016 Olympics. However, the changes made by the CBF, in order to reach an Olympic medal, reflect the sexist stereotypes present in Brazilian society by hiring a technical committee composed only of men.

During the last World Cup, the head of coordinator of women’s soccer in Brazil was alleged to have made some sexist remarks regarding the appearance of female soccer players in Brazil.

The sexism is such an outrageous issue in Brazil, that recently, it is also contributing to the desire for impeachment of the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff.

The sexist and misogynist speech against the president has been fed by Brazilian mainstream media. In a recent article published in a major Brazilian magazine, Ms Rousseff was depicted as having lost the emotional and cognitive capacity to run the country. In another one, it was featured a profile of the wife of Brazil’s current vice-president (who will assume the presidency if the impeachment takes place), with the headline: Marcela Temer: Bela, recatada, e “do lar” (Translation: Marcela Temer: Beautiful, maidenlike, and “a housewife”), strengthening the stereotype that the place of women is in the home, under the shadow of a man, not as a president of the republic.

Ms Rousseff, has not been accused of corruption, in contrast of the 60 percent of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress, which face serious corruption charges, and who voted, last Sunday, to push forward an impeachment process against the president, in a outrageous development.

However, the most shocking moment of Brazil’s Impeachment hearing, last Sunday, happened when the Brazilian Congressman, Jair Bolsonaro (who Ellen Page confronted him about his homophobia recently), during his speech honoured a man responsible for the disappearance of more than 40 people during the military dictatorship and the torture of hundreds more, including the President Dilma Rousseff.

The country is suffering a political and economic crisis, in which many Brazilians are unhappy with the current situation. However, the governments of Dilma and Lula has made great advances in Brazilian social policies to reduce poverty and racial and gender inequality as, for example, Bolsa Família (one of pillars in the government’s strategy “Brazil Without Poverty”), Minha Casa Minha Vida (a federal programme to fund housing for Brazil’s poor and middle classes), the creation of more universities, social and racial quotas for afro-descendants and poor in universities, a unique public policy for women and a dialog open with the minority communities.

Importance of the Dilma government’s influence on women’s soccer in Brazil

Regarding the women’s football, the Dilma government was the only one who made efforts to strengthen women’s football in Brazil.

18/12/2013 - President Dilma Rousseff with the Brazilian delegation of women's football. photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/ Fotos públicas
Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/ PR   –    Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/ Fotos públicas
18/12/2013 – President Dilma Rousseff with the Brazilian delegation of women’s football.

Since 2013, The Brazilian Women’s Soccer Championship, after a 12-year hiatus, has been held thanks to sponsorship of the government bank and support of the Ministry of Sports. The Ministry of Sports also made it possible to hold two Libertadores Cup competitions with government sponsorship.

Other efforts were made including the 1st Brazil Under-17 School Cup, the 1st Brazil University Women’s Soccer Cup and the construction of a Women’s Soccer Center for Excellence in Foz do Iguaçu.

Last year, President Dilma Rousseff also signed the document on the refinancing of the debts of football clubs with the government, which among the duties of the clubs was to keep minimum and permanent investment in the youth and women’s football.

The future of women’s football and the country’s politics are uncertain. But it is true to say that the future of the Brazilian women’s football is more related to the defence of democracy in the country, with the permanence of President Dilma Roussef, than with the achievement or not of a gold medal in the Olympics.

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  1. WSU 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this in-depth insight Izzy.

  2. keithboanas 5 years ago

    Obviously i am a man , but a man that has worked tirelessly in and for the womens game to gain credibility and respect , Also mentored hundreds of female coaches from C licence. level 1 & 2 up tp B , A and even Pro licence . The guys comments above are reminiscent of Sepp Blatters about womens kit . Shocking , ignorant and absolutely Sexist I hope the team can have a successful Olympics and it may just raise the profile to a new level as it did for GB in 2012 . Best of luck and keep reporting .
    Keith Boanas

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