By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Though presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad dominated Brazil’s post-election headlines, two traditionally disenfranchised groups earned hard-fought victories on Sunday as Brazil elected its first-ever indigenous woman and transgender to Congress.
With more than eight thousand votes, Joênia Wapichana, a lawyer from the the northern state of Roraima, became the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s lower house of Congress.
“Everybody has a mission in life. Mine is to defend indigenous collective rights,” wrote Wapichana on her Instagram account.
Under the slogan “Making History with Everyone to Improve the Lives of Indigenous Peoples,” the 43-year-old ran on a platform promoting indigenous rights and sustainability. Her name, “Wapichana,” comes from the indigenous group from which she hails.
Wapichana is the first indigenous person elected to Congress since Mario Juruna won a representative seat from Rio de Janeiro in 1982. Juruna failed to be re-elected four years later and since then Congress has not had any indigenous representatives.
Erica Malunguinho, a 36-year-old transgender woman, became the first transgender to be elected a state representative. With some 55,200 votes, the history and art teacher won a seat representing São Paulo state.
Malunguinho, who is also black, ran on a platform focusing on combating racism and discrimination against both blacks and transgenders.
In addition to president and state governors, all 513 seats in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies were up for grabs in Sunday’s election.
When the dust settled, 72 women were elected to the lower house, which represents fourteen percent of the Chamber of Deputies. That figure represents an increase from 2014 when 51 women were elected to the lower house, comprising approximately ten percent of the representatives.
However, despite the increase in the number of women elected, female legislative representation in Brazil still lags far behind the population figures, where 52 percent are women.
The biggest winner in the legislative races on Sunday was Jair Bolsonaro’s conservative party, the PSL. They surged from a scant eight seats to 52 in the lower house.
Fernando Haddad’s Workers’ Party (PT) lost five seats, dropping their total to 56. However, that remains the largest number of seats of any party in the lower house.