Women in Brazil: So Protected Still So Abused

Brazilian mother with her babyWomen are granted by the Brazilian Constitution with an impressive quantity of ‘fundamental’ rights. The Constitution fully recognizes the equal value of both sexes, manifesting for their equality of basic rights and obligations before the law.

In its Article 5, provision XLI, the Brazilian Constitution says that it is an obligation of the state to promote the welfare of everyone without sexual discrimination.

In relation to matters of labour law, it is good to remember that women have more rights than men, as Article 7 establishes special rights for them, including an earlier retirement and protection at the job market.

Whereas the Brazilian Constitution says that everyone possesses the same legal rights, ordinary legislation has provided penalties of prison and fine against sexist behaviour, including the use of pejorative term against women.

The law has even established special police stations for women, offering them relevant services like psychological counselling for victims of domestic violence, hospital treatment for victims of rape, and investigation of crimes against women.

Thus the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regards the Brazilian model of legislation, particularly in what it says about ‘gender-specific police station’, as ‘unprecedented’ and an ‘influential model’ to be imitated by all other nations.(1)

Despite of what the law describes, everybody knows that violence against women has occurred with an utmost frequency. According to the United Nations (UN), Brazilian women are ‘frequently exposed’ to sexual victimization.

A document released in 2004 by the UN-Habitat reveals that Brazil has one of the highest levels of incidents described as rape, attempted rape, and indecent assault against women. What is worst, the report suggests that such crimes are normally underreported, with perpetrators unlikely to be punished.(2)

The vast majority of criminal complaints related to violence against women are suspended without their final conclusion.

In 2002, the World Organization Against Torture (WOAT) reported that only 2 percent of all complaints involving acts of violence against women led to any sort of conviction.

For the cases resulting in conviction, the WOAT comments that punishment for heinous crimes like first-degree murder and rape are ‘very light’.(3)

In regard to working rights, the Brazilian Constitution has forbidden salary differentiation between both sexes, although, as a matter of legal fact, it actually upholds a ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of women.

As mentioned earlier, women have been granted with special constitutional rights which include, among others, three months of paid maternity leave and legal protection against dismissal for pregnancy.

In practice, however, the Organization of American States (OAS) has reported that women bearing children can be dismissed regardless of legislation to the contrary.

The same report suggests that some employers have illegally required ‘proof of sterilization’ as a basic condition for women to be employed.(4)

Finally, the OAS says in its official document that even the government itself recognized that the average salary of women is 54% below of what is normally paid for male counterparts at similar level of education and qualification.(5)


(1) Organization of American States; Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1997. http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/brazil-eng/index%20-%20brazil.htm

(2) UN-Habitat; State of the World’s Cities: Trends in Latin America & the Carribean. 2004. http://www.unhabitat.org/mediacentre/documents/sowc/RegionalLAC.pdf

(3) U.S. Department of State; Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Brazil. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, February 25, 2004. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27888.htm

(4) Organization of American States; Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil. , Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1997. http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/brazil-eng/index%20-%20brazil.htm

(5) Organization of American States; Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil. , Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1997. http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/brazil-eng/index%20-%20brazil.htm

Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and PhD candidate for Monash University – Faculty of Law, in Australia. The topic of his research is the (un)rule of law and legal culture in Brazil. He holds a LL.B and a LL.M (Hons.) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Among others, he has published many articles in several languages and countries, and two law books on the subject of democratic federalism and constitutional law. His e-mail is: augustozimmermann@hotmail.com.


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