Hundreds of thousands of women turned out for a wave of nationwide protests in Brazil on Saturday against the candidacy of the right-wing frontrunner in next week's presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro.
The outspoken and controversial congressman, who was released from hospital on Saturday after being stabbed and seriously wounded by a left-wing activist during a rally on September 6, is currently leading in opinion polls.
Marches organised by a social media campaign under the hashtag #EleNao ("Not Him") began in earnest around midday in dozens of cities including Rio de Janeiro, where thousands of women converged at vast Cinelandia square, to be joined by a column of others marching from the Avenida Rio Branco, a major thoroughfare, AFP journalists reported.
Small groups took to the streets even earlier in São Paulo and other locations. Demonstrations also took place abroad, from Dublin and Paris to Budapest and Beirut. Superstar Madonna proclaimed her solidarity with the cause in an Instagram post that included the hashtag #endfascism.
The Time's Up movement which supports victims of sexual abuse tweeted its support: "To our sisters in Brazil: We are all in this together. We see you and hear you. We are with you."
"Women of Brazil, women outside Brazil, all women, it's time to join in," said Ludimilla Teixeira, one of the march organisers. "Either we join now to fight or we're going to gather to mourn later."
By the time the women headed home, organisers claimed that at least a half million took part. Police did not offer figures.
'Leap into the abyss'
Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old former Army captain, has been branded racist, misogynist and homophobic by his detractors.
He has specifically angered women by seeking to justify a yawning gender wage gap, and has argued against employing women if it was likely they would become pregnant.
Bolsonaro further inflamed his opponents on Friday by saying he would accept no outcome in the October 7 balloting but his own victory.
"From what I see on the streets, I do not accept any election result that is not my election," he said in an interview with a local television network.
That drew a withering response from opponents.
Center-left candidate Ciro Gomes said that Bolsonaro would be "striking a blow against our democracy" and that the best antidote was "not to vote Bolsonaro in the first round in order to protect Brazil from a leap into the abyss."
The women's campaign, launched on Facebook in early September, called on women of all political persuasions to come together "against the advancement and strengthening of machismo, misogyny, racism, homophobia and other prejudice."
"We cannot allow fascism to advance in Brazil," Teixeira said, calling Bolsonaro a "disastrous" candidate.
Beatriz Lorena, 33, told AFP the colorful crowd of all types represented Brazil's diversity, while Bolsonaro and his style did not.
"You see white people, black people here, gays and straights, mothers and fathers with their kids. All kinds of diverse families," she stressed, warning that Bolsonaro "is outside Brazil's cultural mainstream."
Yet Bolsonaro's supporters laud both his tough stance on tackling Brazil's rising crime rate and his pledge to protect traditional family values.
Hundreds of his female supporters staged pro-Bolsonaro rallies on Rio's Copacabana beach and in Sao Paulo.
"I support Bolsonaro because he has a clean record," Elizabeth Resende, a regional candidate with Bolsonaro's Social Liberal Party, said in São Paulo. "He is not homophobic or macho. I'm with him because I'm not a feminist – I'm female -– and want respect for my children and a better country."
João Feres Junior, professor of political science at Rio de Janeiro's State University, said women were making gender an election issue in Brazil for the first time, acting "not to support a candidate, but as citizens faced with a political project that excludes them."
Analyst Ligia Fabris Campos, of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said "there is no record of such a broad mobilisation of women" in recent Brazilian history.
Bolsonaro "underestimates women, underestimates homosexuals, underestimates blacks," said actress Caroline Abras, one of dozens of celebrities backing the "Not Him" campaign.
According to the latest opinion poll released Friday by Datafolha, Bolsonaro leads with 28 percent support to 22 percent for his nearest rival, Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad.
Those two are expected to go head-to-head in a second round run-off three weeks later.
Haddad is a replacement candidate for former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is in jail for corruption and who was barred from running by the nation's Supreme Electoral Court.
Datafolha's survey shows Haddad triumphing in an eventual run-off with Bolsonaro, 43 percent to 37 percent.