Benedita da Silva

Benedita Souza da Silva Sampaio (Portuguese pronunciation: [beneˈdʒitɐ ˈsowzɐ da ˈsiwvɐ sɐ̃ˈpaju], born in Rio de Janeiro, 26 April 1943) is a Brazilian politician. During her life she faced prejudice for her humble origin, but overcoming this, became the first female and Afro-Brazilian governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro and, later, Minister of the said Secretary of State[1] as well in the Government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.


Benedita Souza da Silva Sampaio, was born on March 11, 1943 in Praia do Pinto, in Rio de Janeiro to Ovídia da Silva out of wedlock, despite the fact that Ovídia was married to someone other than Benedita’s father. Her mother later revealed to Benedita who her real father was. She is one of Ovídia’s 13 children. Benedita da Silva is also known as Bene and is a key Afro-Brazilian politician.


According to da Silva her mother’s matriarchal tendencies have profoundly influenced her development. From her, she learned the virtues of independence and self-determination. She grew up in the slum or Favela of Chapéu Mangueira in Copacabana. Growing up in an urban setting allowed her to read and write unlike some of her siblings who grew up in the country. Forced by circumstances, she found herself a victim of child labor, which was common in her region. Silva underwent a difficult childhood, being exposed to rape at the age of seven, several miscarriages, and having a baby which died soon after birth. At 16 she started working with the community school of the Chapéu Mangueira favela. She also established a women’s association in the favela where she lived and a women’s branch of the Rio de Janeiro Federation of Slums. She also found time to work as a nursing aide and study Social Studies. Moreover, at the age of forty, Da Silva received her high school diploma, and began to attend college at the same time as her 20 year-old daughter. During this period she also married a man named Manshino[2].

After Manshino’s death, Da Silva became involved in community service where she met her second husband Bola. Bola inspired her politically and coordinated her campaign, which resulted in Da Silva’s historic election as the first Workers’ Party governor in Rio. Five years later, Da Silva became a widow for the second time. She would later meet her new husband, the actor Pitanga, as she campaigned for as a senator candidate. These relationships and the dynamics of Brazilian life combined with her activism propelled Da Silva to political prominence and controversy.

She did so at a time when both women and black people were not visible in Brazil’s political process. Neither the loss of two husbands, nor the hostility of the Brazilian press deterred her politically. Today, she is an advocate of women’s rights both in Brazil and Latin America. Egalitarianism is her goal, not just for her constituents but to persons everywhere who are adversely affected by prejudice and poverty. According to da Silva, “Racial democracy only exists in school books and official speeches; the elite in Brazil have promoted the myth of racial harmony to make people accept certain forms of discrimination and to deny the need for affirmative action.” As a member of the African diaspora which came to the Americas as a result of the Maafa, and which stills suffer discrimination around the world based in the social relations constructed thereafter, Mrs. Da Silva’s career is an important figure to the guarantee the benefits of full citizenship for racial and minorities in Latin America.

Political career

Miro Teixeira (left side) and Benedita da Silva (right side)

  • 1982 – Elected city councilor of Rio de Janeiro for the Worker’s Party.
  • 1986 – Elected to the National Congress; fought to make amendments to the Brazilian Constitution on racial crimes, 120 days maternity leave, prohibition of difference of wages and right of the prison inmates to breast-feed their children.
  • 1994 – Elected to the Senate, becoming the first female senator in Brazil.
  • 1998 – Became Vice-Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro on the Anthony Garotinho ticket.
  • 2002 – With Governor Anthony Garotinho resigning to run for President, Da Silva assumes the Governorship of the State of Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first woman and the first black to occupy the office.
  • 2003 – Leaving the State government, Silva takes the post of Social Action Secretary, where she remains until January 2004.
  • 2006 – Assumed the general coordination of the campaign of re-election of current president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Some periodicals speculated that, she would run for mayor of the City of Rio de Janeiro in 2008. It didn’t happen.


  1. Jump up ^ Silvera, Guto (2010-04-10). “Gavetas limpas” (in Portuguese). Gazeta de Ribeirao. Retrieved 2010-12-03.

2. Silva, B. ., Benjamin, M., & Mendonça, M. (1997). Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian woman’s story of politics and love. Oakland, Ca: Institute for Food and Development Policy.