Rousseff draws women into politics

Popular president appoints some, is models for others

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Brazilian women make up 60 percent of college graduates, but the gender gap in politics remains wide.

The number of female mayors in Brazil went from 317 in 2000 to 405 in 2004 to 504 in 2008, but that’s just 9 percent of the total.

In federal politics, Brazil lags far behind its neighbors. Last year, just 8.6 percent of House members and 16 percent of senators were female, according to the Interparliamentary Union.

The world average is 19.4 percent of women in both houses, and the average for the Americas is 21.5 percent.

Globally, Brazil is near the bottom of the list, ranking 109 out of 136 countries.

In her inaugural address, Mrs. Rousseff promised to work on behalf of Brazilian women. Indeed, some of her policies will enable girls to spend more time in the classroom and women to devote more time to their careers.

She inaugurated 1,500 new day care centers in 2011 and plans 14,500 more over the next three years.

Another program reaches into rural areas to give official documents to women who have never had an ID or a birth certificate so they can receive benefits.

A health program targets women before, during and after childbirth.

“Many of the things that you’re seeing put in place now are opening up the workforce for women,” said Susan Segal, president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

“She’s driving these issues not because she’s a woman but because these are the right issues. Diversity, education, equal opportunity: This is what will change Brazil.”

The president also expanded a network of social welfare programs created by Mr. da Silva that have helped lift almost 30 million Brazilians out of poverty in the past decade.

A transfer-of-wealth program that rewards poor families if they keep their children in school reaches about a quarter of Brazil’s 190 million people.

The program, Bolsa Familia, also is increasing the influence of women at home and in the economy. Funds are handed to the woman in the family in 93 percent of cases, by government policy.

This means women in Brazil are in charge of an additional $645 million per month.

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