Brazilian Women Everyone Should Know

Carmen Miranda a Brazilian woman grafitti

From the word go Brazilian women had their fingers in all Brazil’s big pie moments.

Campaigning, saving the planet and inspiring women around the world. I think there’s a lesson or two to be learnt from Brazilian women.

Let’s start at the beginning…

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Brazilian Women at the Dawn of Time (of the New World at least…)

In the early 1500s Diogo Álvares Correia rocked up on the shores of Brazil. Gobsmacked at the palm tree laden beaches, the size of the Amazon river and very much shipwrecked in Brazil.

Correia was swept into the arms of the chief’s gorgeous daughter and they marry. Dubbing him his shiny new native name Caramuru.

Of course, I am romanticizing the story.

However, it was this alignment with the beautiful lady Paraguaçu, that encompasses the first political campaign run by a Brazilian woman. From this point forward some would even say this relationship was a principal reason that many Portuguese didn’t end up on a dinner plate.

Born a Slave became an All-Powerful Mistress

In the 1700s, Chica da Silva or in Portuguese Xica da Silva was an influential Brazilian woman whose rose to power through the country’s diamond industry.

Xica da Silva was the baby of a slave and Portuguese colonist. She had a challenging life, nonetheless, she earned her own freedom and her children became members of the Portuguese court.

Xica’s most powerful impact in Brazil though, was based on her relationship with a diamond contractor named João Fernandes de Oliveira. Legend has it, he was under Xica’s thumb and therefore so were the Diamond mines of Brazil.

Painting of Rio de Janeiro in the 18th century

Other Historical (half) Brazilian Women

Dona Isabel, daughter of Emperor Don Pedro II. Princess Imperial Isabel was born in Brazil but had an Italian Momma, Teresa Cristina. As her father traveled abroad frequently for months at a time, Isabel acted as regent of Brazil. Imperial Isabel promoted and signed the law that would abolish slavery in Brazil. The last place in entire world where slavery was still legal. 

Carmem Miranda was a Brazilian singer and actress who popularized Brazilian culture internationally in the 1900s. She was in fact born in Portugal to Portuguese parents. She remains a symbol of Brazil and Brazilian women.

Maria Leopoldina was an Austrian married to Emperor Don Pedro. Don Pedro grew up in Brazil and was a bit wild. He was known to refuse to take baths. Leopoldina arriving to her arranged marriage brought civilization and BATHS to Brazil. Brazilians now take on average two showers a day, so I would say she influenced the culture significantly.

Dilma Rouseff was the first woman president of Brazil though she was impeached in 2016. The first woman president and the first woman president to be impeached. Like so many Brazilians, Dilma is also a baby of immigrants, her father was Bulgarian and her mother was form Minas Gerais.

A reference list of Brazilian female musicians:

  • Rita Lee
  • Maria Bethânia
  • Elza Soares
  • Ivete Sangalo
  • Maria Rita
  • Alcione
  • Nara Leão
  • Adriana Calconhotto
  • Vanessa Da Mata
  • Gal Costa
  • Elba Ramalho
  • Marisa Monte
  • Elis Regina
  • Maria Gadú
  • Ana Carolina
  • Anitta
  • Pabllo Vittar
  • Beth Cavalho

4 Brazilian Women You Should Know

Bela Gil | Chef

Bela Gil - Brazilian Women

Bela Gil is one of the 8 children of Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil. She built her career on cooking sustainable, nutritional Brazilian food that benefits environmental conservation. Overtime Bela’s brand has expanded to integrate campaigns promoting a natural lifestyle. 

 Bela Gil’s projects: 

4 Recipe Books: 

  • Bela Cozinha 1: As Receitas. Includes 50 recipes that were presented on her GNT T.V program.
  • Bela Cozinha 2. A collection of summer recipes with natural ingredients. Includes Bela’s comments about how what we eat impacts the environment.
  • Bela Cozinha 3: Ingredientes do Brasil. This book includes only vegan and gluten free recipes. The chapters are divided by ingredient rather than meal-time.
  • Bela Maternidade. Focuses on Bela’s experience becoming a mother, offering advice on food to eat before becoming pregnant, during pregnancy and after giving birth.

T.V. and Tutorials 

Bela appears on two cooking programs in Brazil, Bela Cozinhaand Vida Mais Bela. She also has a YouTube channel, Canal da Bela, with 380 thousand subscribers. It is an excellent free resource for recipes using natural Brazilian ingredients. 

Marielle Franco | Politician

Who is Marielle Franco? 

Marielle Franco was a council woman for the city of Rio de Janeiro. Ms. Franco was elected with 46,502 votes, the fifth most voted in Rio. She grew up in the favela community of Maré. She was a single women, gay, Afro-Brazilian who advocated for the rights of these minority groups. 

On March 14, 2018 has was murdered after her car was hit by 18 bullets. Her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes also died at the scene. Though the police have arrested some suspects the investigation is still open. 

Marielle graduated in Business Administration from PUC-Rio and concluded her Master in Sociology at Fluminense Federal University (UFF). 

Marielle Franco’s Principal Areas of Advocacy

  • Women’s rights 
  • Working against police violence and corruption 
  • LGBTIQA+ Rights
  • Afro-Brazilian rights 
  • Rights for those living in favela communities

3 laws approved whilst in office with her party PSOL 

Regulating mototáxis (motorbike taxis are one a the main forms of transportation in favelas where the roads can be irregular. Most favelas are built into hillsides and grew informally).

Law allowing and promoting for Delivery Houses for natural births in Rio de Janeiro. 

Regulation of city government contracts with social organization. Often these partnerships are flagged for investigations of corruption. 

You can read more on issues involved in making donations in Brazil in our article on Redistribution of Wealth in Brazil

7 Laws Approved (since her assassination) 

Content curated and translated from Quais são os sete projetos de lei propostos pela vereadora Marielle Franco? by Jacqueline Saraiva and Hellen Leite in Correio Braziliense.

  • Espaço Coruja (PL 17/2017) (Owl Space)

Created a space to provide childcare during the night while parents work or study. It aims at improving equality between men and women, allowing mothers who work during the day to continue their studies at night. 

  • Dia de Thereza de Benguela no Dia da Mulher Negra (PL 103/2017) (Thereza de Benguela Day for Black Women)

Included an official holiday in the city called Black Women Day. Thereza de Benguela was a leader of a quilombo and is a symbol of strength and resistance. A quilombo is a settlement built by escaped slaves. 

  • Assédio não é passageiro (PL 417/2017) Harrasment is not a passenger

Created a campaign that raises awareness and confronts Harassment and Sexual Violence in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The campaign covers public spaces, transportation and facilities. 

  • Efetivação das Medidas Socioeducativas em Meio Aberto (PL 515/2017) Establishing Open Socio-educational programs 

Ensures the government is responsible for its legal obligations pertaining to socio-educational programs that are open and accessible for teenagers and giving them opportunities in the work market. 

  • Dossiê Mulher Carioca (PL 555/2017) Portfolio for Women from Rio

Created a portfolio based on surveys of women from the city of Rio de Janeiro. This will be used to help create public policies that protect these women.  

Further Resources on Marielle Franco

  1.– list of truths on Marielle Franco, as well as the official website for the movement created in her name and honour. 
  2.– website in English with information on Ms. Franco.
  3. Documentary Marielle and Monica: the LGBT activists resisting Bolsonaro’s Brazil produced by The Guardian.

Deborah Colker | Dancer and Choreographer

Deborah Colker is a Brazilian Dancer and choreographer. She won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance in 2001, the only Brazilian to ever win such award. She co-founded the dance company Cia de Dança Deborah Colker in 1994, which continues to showcase performances worldwide. 

Deborah Colker Some Notable Works

Ovo, viagem pelo mundo dos insetos (Cirque du Soleil production) 

Celebrating 10 years of continuous production, Ovo is a collaboration with Cirque Du Soleil. The story follows a foreign insect that arrives in a new community carrying an egg. The community doesn’t accept him and the strange object he’s carrying. During two hours the Cirque du Soleil dancers depict the change of heart and the acceptance of the insect as a new member. 

Read the interview with Colker in Correio Brasiliense by Nahima Maciel (Portuguese.)

Deborah Colker sobre Ovo, do Cirque du Soleil: ‘tem uma atemporalidade.’

Cão Sem Plumas

Translated as “Dog without Feathers,” Colker’s most recent dance production is based on the poem of the same name by João Cabral de Melo Neto. A running narration of this poem tells of the difficulties of living in the Sertão, an arid area in the Northeast of Brazil. As well as the dependence on the Capibaribe river there. 

This dance production uses film previously recorded in the Sertão of the company dancing in the mud. This plays in the background whilst in the foreground dancers covered in mud run through the movement. 

Read a review from the world tour of “Dog without Feathers” by Sarah L. Kaufman on the Washington Post.

Resources on Deborah Colker

Dance company website:

YouTube Channel:


 Gisele Bündchen | Supermodel and Designer

Gisele Bundchen-012 (16251942066) (cropped)
By Renan Katayama (Gisele Bundchen-012) [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gisele Bündchen is a Brazilian supermodel who grew up in the Horizontina in Rio Grande do Sul. She is one of 6 sisters, one being her twin Patrícia. She has been elected by Forbe’s as one of the top 100 powerful women in the world. According to Business Insider Bündchen’s combined wealth with husband Tom Brady is estimated at US$580 million. 

Gisele Bündchen Environmental Partnerships

Grendene flip-flop range – the shoes are 100% synthetic and 99% of any surplus material in the production process is recycled.

The Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Environment Program

Board member of the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability.

Leads a project called Projeto Água Limpa, which focuses on sustainability. They planted a whopping 40,000 new trees in Brazil.

Further Resources

My Path to a Meaningful Life, 2018

Gisele appeared on National Geographic’sYears of Living Dangerously, that tackles the issue of climate change.

Follow her Instagram



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