Dilma Rousseff

Top 100 women: politics

The teenage socialist guerilla withstood imprisonment and torture and went on to become the first female president of Brazil.

A teenage socialist guerrilla who withstood imprisonment and torture, Rousseff is the first female president of Brazil. Aged 63, she is said to be a tough, no-nonsense manager, who won power by promising economic stability, to reduce poverty and improve education and healthcare. She also promised to improve the lot of women, saying in her inaugaration speech: "I would like for fathers and mothers to look into their daughters' eyes today and tell them: 'Yes, women can.'" She vowed that nine of her 37 ministers would be women – a record for Brazil. (Although critics noted she not only ignored women's issues during her election campaign, but that the twice-divorced grandmother also publicly reversed her position on the legal right to an abortion to placate the religious right and underwent several rounds of plastic surgery to gain her place.)

The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant her childhood was affluent until the death of her father when she was just 14 when her life changed dramatically. The family struggled financially and Rousseff became involved with socialist and workers groups - eventually joining Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard, which seized foreign diplomats for ransom and shot foreign torture experts sent to train the generals' death squads (although Rousseff says she never used any weapons herself.) She was captured and tortured. After her release she returned to University, had a daughter with her second husband and started working for the government, eventually becoming finance chief of Porto Alegre, the state capital. In 2000 she threw her lot in with Lula and his Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers' Party.

She is already facing a huge test - the recent floods which have killed hundreds and buried entire towns.

(Published by The Guardian - March 8, 2011)

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