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Da Silva, Benedita (1942 - )

Senator Benedita da Silva, ca. 2000
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Benedita Souza da Silva Sampaio, prominent Brazilian politician and first Afro-Brazilian member of the Senate in the country, was born on April 26, 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to José Tobias de Souza and Maria da Conceição de Souza. Mother of two children, Benedita is married to the Brazilian actor Antonio Pitanga.

Trained as a social worker, Bene, as she is commonly referred to, entered politics in 1983, as a member of the Rio de Janeiro city government. She was elected to the Brazilian Congress in 1991 and Senator in 1995. In 1998, she was deputy governor for the state of Rio de Janeiro. In 2004, she became Federal Secretary for Social Services and later occupying a similar position in the State government of Rio de Janeiro.

Da Silva worked as a teacher and social worker before pursing her political career. Once in office, she championed the cause of Afro-Brazilian women in particular, seeking to raise awareness not only about their actual condition but also about their contribution to Brazilian history and society. In efforts to raise recognition about Brazilian black history, Benedita was a force behind the establishment of the National Awareness day of Black Consciousness, celebrating Zumbi dos Palmares, the Afro-Brazilian hero.  

Throughout her career, da Silva has occupied groundbreaking positions for women in general and for Afro-Brazilian women in particular in legislative and executive functions. As Rio de Janeiro State Secretary for Social Services, she has actively sought to combat human trafficking, in addition to tackling the many state social problems, such as combating poverty, promoting access to health and education.

Benedita da Silva’s biography is inspirational for Brazilians, especially for the marginalized population, given her rising from very humble beginnings to high political posts.

Medea Benjamin and Maria Luisa Mendonca, “Benedita da Silva: Community activist and Senator, Brazil,” NACLA Report on the Americas, 31:1 (1997): 13; Biography of Brazilian Senators; available at /senadores_biografia.asp?codparl=7&li=50&lcab=1995-1999&lf=50; Women in Government, Mulher Governo,; Virtual Library, Biblioteca Virtual

Martins, Ana Nina
Independent Historian

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