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Global leadership: Brazil enters the power surge of women

Entering the ranks of global leadership, Brazil's President-elect Dilma Rousseff becomes the 18th woman head of state currently in power when she takes office in January.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, right, and president-elect Dilma Rousseff arrive at the G-20 working dinner, at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Nov. 11.

Yonhap News Agency/AP Photo

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Even before Dilma Rousseff takes office here Jan. 1, some are already calling her “the most powerful woman in the world” as the president-elect of this nation, home to a third of Latin Americans whose $1.5 trillion economy is bigger than that of India or Russia.

But what’s perhaps most surprising about the Oct. 31 Brazilian elections is that the sweeping victory of Ms. Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla tortured under the 1964-85 military dictatorship, had little to do with her being Brazil’s first viable female presidential candidate.

The real story here – and to a certain extent across the Latin American region, historically known for its machismo – is that Brazilian voters were largely unconcerned about electing a woman as president. In the past five years, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Chile have also elected women leaders, and now Latin America has 4 of the world’s 18 female heads of state. While they are held up as symbols of women’s rights in the nations they head, voters have said that other considerations – from their economic policies to keeping the status quo in the nation – have played a far greater role in their choices than gender.
Ms. Rousseff’s 12 percent margin of victory here had a lot to do with being the chosen successor and former chief of staff of the most popular male president, Luiz Inácio da Silva, whose approval ratings hover around 80 percent.

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