News

Brazil's First Woman Leader

Dilma Rousseff is the Latin American country's first female president

November 10, 2010

 

Dilma Rousseff made history on Sunday when she was elected the first female President of Brazil, the largest country in Latin America. With 56% of the vote, she defeated José Serra, the former governor of São Paulo. Rousseff will officially take office on January 1, 2011.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (left) campaigned tirelessly for President-elect Dilma Rousseff.
RICARDO STUCKERT—HO/REUTERS
Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (left) campaigned tirelessly for President-elect Dilma Rousseff.

"I'm very happy," Rousseff told reporters. "I want to thank all Brazilians for this moment, and I promise to honor the trust they have shown me."

Rousseff will replace President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known popularly as Lula. Lula served two four-year terms. Brazil's constitution barred him from seeking a third consecutive term. Under Lula's leadership, Brazil's economy grew. His government helped lift 20 million people out of poverty and another 29 million into the middle class. Lula used his popularity to campaign for Rousseff, who served as his chief of staff.

Time to Celebrate

Within 20 minutes of the announcement of Rousseff's victory, her supporters began streaming onto a main avenue in São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. Eight years ago, a huge gathering celebrated Lula's win there. Police blocked off the road, and workers built a stage for a party expected to last the entire night.

"Now we are certain that the country will continue in the right direction," said schoolteacher Hobert dos Santos. He waved campaign flags at the victory celebration in São Paulo. "Dilma will be able to continue working for the people, to continue improving many of the things that Lula started and didn't have time to finish."

In her victory speech, Rousseff promised to build on Lula's successes. She said she would focus on ridding the country of poverty, fighting against inequality and promoting human rights.

About Rousseff

Rousseff's father, an immigrant from Bulgaria, was a lawyer. He died when she was 14 years old. Her Brazilian mother worked as a schoolteacher.

Supporters of President-elect Dilma Rousseff wave flags while waiting for her at a victory rally in Brasilia, Brazil, on Sunday.
ERALDO PERES—AP
Supporters of President-elect Dilma Rousseff wave flags while waiting for her at a victory rally in Brasilia, Brazil, on Sunday.

In 1967, when Rousseff was a 19-year-old economics student, she joined a militant political group opposing the dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. A dictatorship is a form of government in which one person holds complete power. Rousseff was captured in 1970 by Brazil's military police and imprisoned.

After being released, in 1973, Rousseff finished her economics degree and went on to hold appointed positions in city and state governments. She served as the nation's Energy Minister when Lula took office in 2003. She became his chief of staff in 2005. She left that post earlier this year to campaign.

The Challenges Ahead

Rousseff has a big job ahead of her. Brazil is expected to be the world's fifth-largest economy by the time it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics. What's more, the country has recently discovered huge oil reserves off its coast that will have to be developed. Rousseff, who has never held elected office, will be charged with the tough task of managing the country's growth. She says she is ready to lead and hopes that her victory will empower women across the country.

"I hope the fathers and mothers of little girls will look at them and say, 'Yes, women can,'" said Rousseff.

 

 

 

Click here to return to Women's History Month Mini-Site.


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