Brazil Law Against Domestic Violence Makes a Difference

Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes Two years after the launching of the Maria da Penha Law in Brazil, a milestone in the fight to combat violence against women, the majority of Brazilians say they are familiar with the law.  Organizations which work to promote women's rights have taken advantage of this occasion to disseminate data about the implementation of the law and to present a document with recommendations to the public powers.

"The law is making a difference.  Even though the women don't know how it functions, at least they know it exists," said the biochemical pharmacist Maria da Penha, for whom the law is named.  Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes became a paraplegic after having been shot by her husband in 1983 and spent many years fighting for justice. 

The study Ibope/Themis – Legal Advisory and Gender Studies, which had the support of the Special Secretariat for Policies for Women (SPM), revealed positive numbers in the evaluation of the implementation of the law in the country.  Of the 2002 people interviewed in 142 Brazilian municipalities, 68% affirmed that they had at least heard of the Maria da Penha law; 83% approved its efficacy.

According to the study, 33% of those interviewed believe that the law punishes domestic violence; 21% think that the law can eliminate or diminish violence against women; 13% think the law has helped to resolve the problem of violence. 

The perception that the law places the aggressor in jail was found in 20% of those interviewed.  However, 5% believe that the law has not resolved the problems of women who suffer violence and 6% believe that the law doesn't work because it is not well known.

In the first six months of 2008, the Center for Women's Services documented 121,891 clients served, signifying an increase of 107.9% in relation to the same period of 2007.  Among the factors which contributed to this increase are a greater awareness of the law, technological improvements, perfecting the system and the training of attendants.

The reports of physical violence was the greatest, with 5879 cases – four of them resulting in homicide.  The other reports were caused by other types of violence, including psychological, sexual, moral, and patrimonial, as well as homicide attempts, private incarcerations, and threats.

One journey to Brasí­lia culminated in the delivery to the president of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Gilmar Mendes, of a document with recommendations elaborated by the Popular Legal Prosecutors (PLPs).  These prosecutors are community leaders who participate in legal courses and are educated about the structure of the State and in Law, especially the principal laws relating to the issues of human rights for women.  They also promote the exercise of citizenship.

Maria da Penha, who currently is an honorary collaborator with the Coordination of Public Policies for Women in the City Hall of Fortaleza (in the state of Ceará), was present for the occasion.  She emphasized that there needs to be a standardization of information about the law so that it can have greater effectiveness.

It is also necessary to invest: "The capitals already have a good structure, but the cities located in the agricultural zones need more resources to build a structure." 

In 2008, the federal government invested 10 million Brazilian reais (US$ 6.13 million) to support the creation of new courts, centers, and state prosecutor's offices which specialize in serving women, as well as 7 million reais (US$ 4.3 million) in the creation of resource centers, re-equipping shelters, and other services for women which contribute to the full application of the law.

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