Silva, Benedita da (1942–)

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Silva, Benedita da (1942–)

Benedita da Silva (Benedita Souza da Silva; b. 11 March 1942), first Afro-Brazilian woman to be elected to Brazil's congress. Da Silva, known as Bené, was one of thirteen children born to a poor Rio de Janeiro family. Married at sixteen, she had five children in rapid succession, of whom only two survived. She was an early member of the newly formed Worker's Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores—PT), and in 1982 successfully ran on the PT ticket for Rio's city council. In 1986, having campaigned largely in Rio's favelas (slums), she was elected as a federal deputy to the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil's lower house, becoming one of only nine blacks and twenty-five women in Brazil's 559-member Congress. She was reelected in 1990.

An energetic supporter of the rights of the oppressed, da Silva has described herself as "three times a minority," stating: "As a black, a woman, and a favelada [slum dweller], I have a special responsibility to speak out on the subjects that I know about—against racial discrimination, against the unequal rights of women, and against the injustices suffered by the poor." An evangelical Christian, da Silva is a member of Brazil's rapidly growing Assembly of God Church. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In 1994 she was elected senator from Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first black woman to serve in the Senate. In 1997 her autobiography, Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman's Story of Politics and Love, was published in English. In 1998, she was elected deputy governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. In 2000, a documentary based on her life, I Was Born a Black Woman (directed by Maisa Mendonça and Vicente Franco), won the prize for best documentary at the Latino Film Festival of San Francisco, Marin, and Berkeley. In 2002, she became governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro when the standing governor resigned in order to run for president. From 2003 to 2004, she served as Brazil's minister of social action. In 2006, she ran the presidential campaign of Luiz Inácio da Silva in the state of Rio. In 2007, she became the secretary of human rights of Rio State.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Workers Party (PT); Women.


Crook, Larry, and Randal Johnson, eds. Black Brazil: Culture, Identity, and Social Mobilization. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles, 1999.

Hanchard, Michael, ed. Racial Politics in Contemporary Brazil. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

Langfur, Hal. "From Slums of Rio to Halls of Power," Christian Science Monitor, 24 September 1987, 1.

Marcom, John, Jr. "The Fire Down South," Forbes, 15 October 1990, 56.

McFarlane-Taylor, Joann. "Benedita da Silva Fighting for the Favelas," Essence, June 1991, 36.

Riding, Alan. "One Woman's Mission: To Make Brasília Sensitive," New York Times, 19 February 1987, 4.

                                      Daphne Patai