📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event
In this article, I’m going to talk about what an innovative legislative house is. An innovative legislative house is one that understands the challenges of its time. The challenges of our time are challenges that change. The global coronavirus pandemic forced us to innovate. This pandemic that was so harsh in all parts of the world, that forced public servants, self-employed professionals, all service providers to change their routines, forced us to innovate.
How do we innovate in the Federal Senate of Brazil? What did we do to be able to work during the pandemic?
An innovative legislative house, as I already said, is one that is suited to its time, and in that time we need creativity, care for people’s lives and to know the values that we must pass on. The first value that the Federal Senate implemented was the value of caring for people’s lives. That is why we moved quickly to remote working. We gave instruments so that people, the public servants of the Federal Senate could continue to meet, to work, and continue to interact. After all, it is at the time of a pandemic that this Legislative House was in great demand to serve our country with the laws that were necessary.
We also innovated with the way of doing the sessions, we innovated with our virtual plenary and with our lovely “bunker” that today (February, 2021) continues to function, because it proved to be an effective way of making deliberations and the Brazilian representative system to keep working. But as I said, an innovative Legislative House is one that innovates in values. And to innovate is not always to bring something new. Often to innovate is to reaffirm to society those important values for their continuity. Diversity and inclusion are fundamental values for all Legislative Houses and that is why the Brazilian Senate has been working on the issue of gender and race equality, accessibility and inclusion, and socio environmental policies.
Figure: Prodasen Room in the Brazilian Federal Senate being used in Remote Session. Photo credit: Presentation of the Federal Senate Remote Deliberation System from Mr. Bandeira de Mello.
These are four of the important contributions the Senate has made to Brazilian society and given to all those parliaments that want to understand how we can make laws and at the same time internalise the values that we are communicating to society in our organizational actions. The Brazilian Federal Senate is the first public institution in our country to have a gender and race equality plan.
What is this gender and race equality plan?
These are the actions that were discussed by all areas of the House and that became a document that guides the goals and objectives for 24 months. In September 2019, we had the release of our gender and race equality plan and the actions that we will have to take in 24 months. In the first survey in September 2020, we already had a very clear idea that we were working according to the plan, despite some actions that had to be modified, exactly because of the pandemic.
We changed from the physical to the virtual environment, but we did not change the actions and we managed to achieve the objective of the plan. The plan is based on the idea of the plurality of Brazilian society. Brazilian society is a plural environment. What we call minorities, in fact, are the numerical majorities: more than 50% of the population is made up of women and 56% of the population is made up of black and brown brazilians.
To work on gender and race equality is to work on plurality, that plurality that is in our society. A legislative house that understands this plurality is able to better represent its country. Brazil is a country made up of men and women, blacks, whites and asians, it is made up of heterosexuals and other sexualities, made up of cisgenders and non-cisgenders, and all of this is included in our gender equality plan. It is important to say the issue of gender has appeared since 2015 as a strong feature of the management of the Federal Senate, and for this reason we have tripled the number of women in leadership positions from 12% to 36%. Certainly, other initiatives have helped these conditions for female public servants, but they also found in the Federal Senate an adequate environment for them to assume leadership positions.
One of these initiatives is that plan that we call “Mãe Nutriz“, which allows women to have a workload reduced to 6 hours, with no reduction in pay, until the child’s 24 months. Therefore, after the first six months of maternity leave, she still has 18 months in which she can work for 6 hours and without any reduction in her wages, having more time for her son or daughter’s early childhood. This is not just an action that benefits women, this is an action that benefits the entire Brazilian society, because we know the importance of early childhood in the formation of a healthy society. When a woman discovers that she will be able to be closer to her son or daughter in that first moment in which values are formed, she values the organisation, does not decrease productivity and continues to exercise her leadership role.
Another very important initiative that brought to the Federal Senate a discussion, unfortunately still necessary, was the program that reserves 2% of the outsourcing vacancies for women in economic vulnerability due to domestic violence. In addition to opening a place for this group of women who need economic independence to get out of the cycle of violence, this action brought into the Senate the reality of domestic violence. Unfortunately, in our country, the home is not always a safe environment, and during the coronavirus pandemic, with social isolation, it became even more insecure. However, the Federal Senate made the issue of domestic violence not just an issue that we read in the newspapers, but it brought it into our lives, since we have colleagues here who are victims of domestic violence.
That was very important for us to get into other topics that talk about safety and the non-violent work environment in the creation of an organisational climate that does not allow cases of moral and sexual harassment. We have been working over the past five years and we reaped, as fruits, the recognition of a safer organisational climate, which was proven in the biennial surveys, but also the recognition of other public bodies that today are mirrored in the Federal Senate for being able to develop their policies.
When we started our system for creating an environment free from violence, from moral and sexual harassment, we didn’t have an example nor protocols in other public organizations, and that’s why we created it. Today, these protocols are already acts, they have already been internalised, evaluated, improved and they can be an example for any other public, private, federal, state or municipal institution. It is the Federal Senate, from its administration, showing how we can internalise public policies and how we can strengthen the federation from our example.
Once we understood that the issue of gender equality was already well understood, we moved on to the issue of racism. In our country, racism is a veiled truth. In 2020, Brazil had a very bad example, similar to what happened to George Floyd in the United States – a black man was killed in the parking lot of a supermarket. This brought up how racism is still structural in our country, and issues of race that, at first in the history of Brazil, intended to be part of the past because of miscegenation, are not part of the past. They are a reality that has to be faced head on.
That is why the Senate created, within the scope of the gender and race equality committee, a working group to focus solely and exclusively on anti-racist initiatives. As in the case of gender, we do not find other examples, and that is why we are creating one. In the year 2021, the Senate’s annual agenda pays tribute to black artists and, based on their productions, discusses the issue of racism in the country and the way in which it is represented. During our discussions, we visited several institutions, including universities dedicated to the theme of race, and there we could see that the figure of a great Brazilian writer, Machado de Assis, has been whitened over time. It was so whitened that an exhibition was needed at this University, which is called Zumbi dos Palmares University, to prove that Machado de Assis was black. Look at how far structural racism goes. Also, in the annual calendar of the Federal Senate we are paying homage to black Brazilian icons, and to mention one of them we had in the Federal Senate, occupying the seat of senator, one of the main pioneers in the struggle of black Brazilians, I speak of Senator Abdias do Nascimento. This senator, who was one of the forerunners of the Brazilian issue in relation to the black people, marked the history of the Federal Senate, because it internalised the discussions.
Even today, if we look in the plenary of the Federal Senate, we will find few women and very few black senators. We have a representation that is not plural, and plurality is the wealth of our country. This action that we did in the calendar, we repeated in our internal communications in such a way that we have weekly black public servants telling their story. When we started this work, we realised that one of the main points that we had to work on was representativeness. Because if there is a woman in the chair of the Federal Senate today, it is clear to women that in the Federal Senate there is room for them to reach all the posts. But if we are not seeing black colleagues in senior management and advisory positions, this message is not passed on. That is why we brought to light the story of our colleagues, black men and women, who are part of the Federal Senate, who develop their work here, to show to everyone in the Senate and all public organizations, that black men and women are also part of it.
We have another project, which is to create a gallery of black parliamentarians, black senators, who contributed to this House, to show that its decisions are of all colors and all races.
For many years, Brazilian society preferred to hide people with disabilities. But nowadays, the Federal Senate recognises that the House that represents all Brazilian citizens must be accessible. This accessibility ranges from a physical environment, that is, from the possibility that people are here, to the virtual environment. In fact, because today the communication strategies at a distance, social media strategies have a great impact on the communication of the Federal Senate, and we have to provide conditions, so that all Brazilian citizens, including people with disabilities, can be heard and can participate in the process. That is why, as of that year, TV Senado, which is our television channel, started operating with a window in sign language (Libras – brazilian sign language), in such a way that the entire plenary decision is already covered with the window in sign language. We also have in the Federal Senate the only public printing company that prints in Braille, which gives us conditions to take publications of both literature and legislation for the publication of books in any Brazilian state.
In the beginning, we had only legislation as the main editorial line, but we realised that there is such a lack of publications in Braille that we have extended this work to other types of literature as well. Today the Senate is an accessible home, physically and virtually, to give all the conditions so that our colleagues with disabilities can develop their activities in the same physical environment as those who do not have disabilities .
Finally, it is necessary to talk about a whole socio-environmental policy, that values the environment, through education policies. Environment is a theme that has already been widely explored in our country, since debates in Rio de Janeiro, where all the public authorities of many countries have been here. It also has to be present in the daily practice of our institution, from the creation of solidarity hitchhiking programs, a policy of encouragement to electric cars, waste management, and the reduction of the use of power and water.
Many of these actions depend on managerial decisions, but others are educational. We started these educational activities here so that we can take them to our homes, so that we can share them with our family and friends, and we can also be vectors of important changes in other public agencies. We can discuss with other public agencies, for example, the creation of a fleet of electric or hybrid cars negotiating with the market values that are more appropriate, so that we can reduce the use of gas, and protect the environment .
In relation to the accessibility and the environmental area, networks were already created. It started with the participation of other bodies of the Federal Legislative, such as the House of Representatives and the Court of Auditors, and later were opened for the participation of Legislative Assemblies, and City Councils. In 2021, we are also creating a legislative network of gender and race equality to facilitate the exchange of information and so that the actions that are being carried out by any entity of the Union and any federative entity can be shared.
Certainly, these are themes of attention to society and therefore, not only the Federal Senate, but several other bodies are working on them. The legislative gender and race equality network will bring the opportunity to exchange information and good experiences and also a good discussion, so that we can understand the strategies and results.
These four pillars of ESG show that public governance is very advanced in the Senate of Brazil, and the results that we have achieved have been recognised by the Federal Court of Auditors and by all Brazilian society. Being an example is not just something that makes us proud, proud of our group of employees, but being an example is an obligation of any public institution. Those who make laws have to set an example first, and that is what the Federal Senate of Brazil has been doing.
[header image source: unsplash]
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