According to a 2005 World Health Organization study on Domestic Violence, violence against women is accepted as “normal” within many countries. The study is one of the largest done on the subject and collected data from 10 countries around the world, interviewing nearly 25,000 women and many groups that work with the issue of violence.
Brazil was one of the countries cited in the study and is indicated as a country with a high index of domestic violence against women.
Violence by an intimate partner is a common experience worldwide. Women are at far greater risk of physical or sexual violence by a partner in the home than from violence on the street or from other people. This violence has devastating consequences, not only for the women who experience it, but also for the children who witness it.
According to studies by Brazil’s Perseu Abramo Foundation, every 15 seconds a Brazilian woman suffers from violence, most of it in the home.
As of August 7, 2006, Brazil has a Domestic Violence Law. Before that date, Brazil was the only Latin American country without a specific law for domestic violence. The new Law 11.340 or Maria da Penha Law emphasizes that domestic violence is a human rights’ violation and provides stiffer penalties for the crime.
These penalties include prison for aggressors “caught in the act”; prison sentences of up to three years for those found guilty of domestic violence; protective measures for women and children; court-appointed lawyers for the victims; and the set-up of special courts to deal with family and domestic violence.
The law is named in homage of Maria da Penha, who struggled for 20 years for justice in her case of domestic violence. In 1983, Maria da Penha , a biologist/pharmacist, was shot a number of times in the back by her husband, Marco Antonio Viveiros, a university professor.
She is now a paraplegic as a result of these injuries. This action was the culmination of years of violence at the hands of her husband. In spite of being condemned to 20 years in prison by two Brazilian tribunals (1991 and 1996), Viveiros remained in freedom.
In 1998, a denouncement was made to the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights. In 2001, the Commission denounced Brazil as negligent and omissive in the case of Penha and in relation to domestic violence against women in the country.
It was only in 2003, twenty years after the crime, that Viveiros began his prison sentence. He served little time and is now free. Maria da Penha continues to work to stop violence against women and is the author of a book, I Survived, in which she tells her story and inspires other women to denounce violence.
The results of domestic violence studies in Brazil and, in particular, the World Health Organization study, highlight the need for gender equality programs and action plans in schools and communities to address violence against women.
In Brazil and many other countries, there will be a campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence to raise awareness about violence against women and to find new strategies to deal with violence as well as pressure governments to develop and implement programs.
This international campaign in 130 countries began in 1991 and officially begins on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to stress that violence against women is a violation of human rights.
These 16 days also commemorate other significant dates including December 1st, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre of women university students in 1989.
In Brazil, November 20, the National Day of Afro-Brazilian Consciousness, will also be commemorated in honor of Afro-Brazilian women. This day is a holiday in memory of Zumbi dos Palmares, a great leader who established the Quilombo das Palmares that provided freedom for slaves.
Deise Benedito, president of Fala Preta, an Afro-Brazilian organization that works against racism, states that, “November 20 is a day for debates and reflection, a denouncement of racism, and a demand for public policies for the Afro-Brazilian population, especially women.”
Throughout the 16-day campaign, all forms of gender violence will be denounced from beatings to rape and sexual harassment to state violence against women prisoners.
Participate in the campaign in your area and work to end violence against women. This year’s theme is “Celebrate 16 Years of 16 Days: Advance Human Rights! End Violence Against Women”!
Joanne Blaney is a Maryknoll lay missioner who works with adolescents and women in situations of domestic violence in Brazil.