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Luiza Erundina

Date Born.:

Politics, councilor, social worker.

Social services.

Luiza Erundina

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 15/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

On 30 November 1934, Luíza Erundina de Sousa was born on the outskirts of the village of Belém do Rio do Peixe (today the city of Uiraúna) in the interior of Paraíba. Her father, Antonio Evangelista de Sousa – known as master Tonheiro – was a farmer and manufacturer of saddles and leather harnesses for horses, and her mother, Enedina de Sousa Carvalho, sold coffee and cake at the local fair, in addition to struggling at home to raise the ten children.

From an early age, Erundina helped her father manipulate leather. At the age of 10, she moved to Patos (PB), going to live with an aunt, to attend primary and gymnasium (now called elementary school). So that her brothers could also study, the young adolescent had to work as a clerk in a warehouse. Later, she became a teacher, going to teach in the College of Sisters of Charity. Already in Campina Grande, she would teach at a religious school and lead a choir.

Luíza Erundina dreamed of being a doctor, however, due to various difficulties, she was forced to suspend her studies for nine years. Even so, she would help found the Faculty of Social Services in Campina Grande.

Because of her competence and intense militant Catholicism, she would assume her first public position in 1958: at the age of 24, she would become Director of Education and Culture for the Campina Grande city council, and in 1964, would be named secretary of Education and Culture for the city.

Erundina graduated as a social worker in 1966 from the Federal University of Paraíba and completed his master’s degree in Social Sciences from the School of Sociology and Politics Foundation at the University of São Paulo in 1970.

It is worth mentioning that in Campina Grande in the 1970s, she began to work in the political realm, participating in the Peasant Leagues and opposing the Military Coup. In that city and historical period, the participation of Northeast women in politics was practically nonexistent. For this reason, she would be persecuted.

It was in 1971 that Erundina decided to move to São Paulo definitively, and later that year, she passed in a public contest to be social worker for the city council, going to work with migrant Northeast people in the favelas on the periphery of the State.

Due to her enormous professional prestige, she was elected president of the São Paulo Professional Association of Social Workers in 1979, and along with union leaders of the São Paulo satellite cities, she was invited by the then metallurgist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to be one of the founders of the Workers Party (PT).

As a result of her great political militancy, she was also elected as a councilwoman with the PT of São Paulo with 26 thousand votes in 1982. In the following election, she obtained 35 thousand votes for state representative; in 1986, she is re-elected state deputy; and in 1988, defeating the candidates Paulo Maluf and José Serra, she became the first female mayor in the history of São Paulo with 1,534,547 votes, governing the city until 1992.

During Erundina’s management, the first service for women in cases of legal abortions (in cases of rape and risk to the mother’s life) was inaugurated at the Jabaquara Hospital. At the request of family members of political prisoners who died and disappeared during the Military Regime, she supported the creation of the Special Commission for the Investigation of the Perus Bones, which was designed to establish an independent commission to investigate irregularities in clandestine graves that were discovered.

Through this Commission in 1993, the Institute for Studies on State Violence (IEVE 1) was created on the occasion of the discovery of the clandestine grave in Perus (SP). There, 1,049 bones from political prisoners, indigents and victims of the death squad were found. The Institute would also aim to identify those responsible for the torture, murder and disappearance of political prisoners (including those who participated in the Araguaia guerrilla) since 1964, and the moral and material reparation of victims of political repression.

With the advent of Fernando Collor’s impeachment in 1992, Luiza Erundina was invited by then-President Itamar Franco (1992-1994) to become chief minister of the Federal Administration Secretariat. For having accepted the position, contrary to will of her party, the National Directory of the PT decided to suspend all her rights and partisan duties for a year. At the time, according to a note released by the PT, the representative had broken with party discipline, not consulting the board on the subject, and disrespecting the party’s decision to oppose Itamar. Thus in 1997, after 17 years of militancy, she would leave the PT.

In 1998, quite worn out, Erundina transferred to the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), and in that year, she was elected federal deputy for the 1999-2003 legislature. In the year 2000, she ran once again for the São Paulo mayoralty, but lost the election to Marta Suplicy (PT). On the other hand, she was re-elected federal representative in 2002, for the 2003-2007 term, supporting the candidacy of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for the Presidency of the Republic.

It should be noted that the entire political practice of Erundina contains a pedagogical emphasis, as a result of her vocation as an educator, as well as her academic formation and union and professional activities. According to her, politics is an instrument of education and organisation of the people; and women have not yet been able to occupy the place to which they are entitled, since their qualifications are still insufficient.

Therefore, the struggle between the sexes demands of the women a much greater effort, since their upbringing always places them on a secondary level in the sphere of power. Plus, society is much more tolerant of men. Thus, boys’ education is focused on the values that enable access to public offices – such as the development of leadership, competition – while the training of girls is always geared towards domestic work, marriage, for motherhood and the education of children. This process is so strong that, as they mature, they reproduce such values throughout their lives.

So politics, Erundina believes, represents an instrument of change, the possibility of building a more just, fraternal and egalitarian society, where everyone has the right to the basic and the fundamental.

Luíza Erundina de Sousa, a Northeast woman, migrant, socialist, has dedicated her entire life to the work of raising awareness among the needy population, in particular the female portion of the population, helping them to better organise themselves.

Recife, 29 March 2005.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

BIOGRAFIA de Luíza Erundina (1989-1992). Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005.

LUÍZA Erundina; a mulher que deixou o sertão para comandar São Paulo. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005. 

MORAES, Moisés. Uma mulher em movimento. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005.

ONDE estão? Instituto de Estudos sobre a Violência do Estado. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005.

LUIZA Erundina; ela quer briga. Disponível em: <,6993,EPT739089-1666,00.html> Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005.

LUIZA Erundina de Sousa. Disponível em: <>.  Acesso em: 12 mar. 2005.

SCHUMAHER, Schuma; BRAZIL, Érico Vital (Org.). Dicionário mulheres do Brasil: de 1500 até a atualidade. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Luiza Erundina. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.