The troubling reality of gender-based violence in Brazil

. Aug 06, 2019
#MeToo movement in Brazil

In 1983, decades before the #MeToo movement, Marco Antônio Heredia Viveros made two attempts to kill his wife, Maria da Penha. Using a gun, his first attack left Ms. da Penha paraplegic. Afterwards, Mr. Viveros electrocuted and attempted to drown her, though he was unsuccessful. After facing domestic abuse for 23 years, Ms. da Penha reported her husband to the police, and her case inspired the 2006 “Maria da Penha Law,” sanctioned by then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, imposing stricter punishments for violent acts against women.

In 2015, then-President Dilma Rousseff approved the “Femicide Law,” which classed the killing of women on account of their gender as a heinous crime.

</p> <p>President Jair Bolsonaro has been an extremely controversial figure when it comes to women’s rights. In one of his infamous brawls, he told congresswoman Maria do Rosário that she wasn&#8217;t “worth raping.” On April 2017, Mr. Bolsonaro said that his last child was born a girl because he had a moment of “weakness.” Nonetheless, the President approved a law in May that allowed police to impose urgent protective measures for victims of domestic abuse.</p> <p>Despite the government’s attempts at mitigating abuse, violence against women is still soaring in Brazil. Women account for 67 percent of the country’s victims of aggression. Additionally, at least three femicides occur every day. A woman is raped every nine minutes, according to the Patrícia Galvão Institute, a feminist advocacy agency.</p> <h2>Violence against women is increasing</h2> <p>Between 2016 and 2017, cases of domestic abuse decreased, but the number of femicides and sexual assaults increased. There were 926 registered femicides in 2016 and one year later, 1,133 cases were recorded, according to the 2018 Brazilian Public Safety Yearbook.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/571595"></div><script src=""></script> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/571609"></div><script src=""></script> <p>There were 55,070 registered cases of sexual assault in 2016. In 2017, there were an additional 207 cases, according to the 2018 Brazilian Public Safety Yearbook. 88.5 percent of rape cases in Brazil are committed against women and over 90 percent of aggressors are men. 50.7 percent of the victims are children, most commonly abused by fathers, stepfathers or family friends. Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 account for 19.4 percent of registered rape cases. Their aggressors are most often unknown perpetrators, according to the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Ipea).&nbsp;</p> <h2>Unreported cases</h2> <p>Indexes of violence against women are extremely alarming, especially since they only account for reported cases. In fact, it is estimated that only 19.1 percent of occurrences are registered.&nbsp;</p> <p>“[Many women] don’t report [their aggressors] because they’re afraid. Other times, looking back on their experience is too painful,” said Flavia Piovesan, a law professor at São Paulo&#8217;s Pontifical Catholic University, and a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “Reporting violence is important to make those cases more visible. A victim’s voice can empower so many others.” </p> <p>As cases go unreported, many aggressors are left unpunished, which in turn promotes more violence. In fact, impunity can be considered perpetration of violence by the state. Moreover, if police and judges are not sensitized and don’t take victims seriously, women are more likely to stay quiet, said Ms. Piovesan. </p> <h2>Does the law effectively represent women?</h2> <p>Legislation defending women’s rights is largely written by men. While Brazil’s current House of Representatives features the largest number of women members in its history, they still make up only 15 percent.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is imperative that we have more women in the legislature and that we focus on gender issues. In this regard, Brazil is far behind its South American counterparts,” said Ms. Piovesan.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/571615"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Though some laws in favor of women’s rights look good on paper, they don’t offer much help in practice. For example, abortion is legal in Brazil under three circumstances: if the fetus is anencephalic, if the mother’s life is at risk, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. In reality, victims of rape may find it hard to find hospitals that will actually perform the procedure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many hospitals will conscientiously object to performing an abortion,” said Ms. Piovesan. “Forcing a woman to bear the fruit of her rape is comparable to torture.”</p> <h2>What happened to the #MeToo movement in Brazil?</h2> <p>The #MeToo movement began at the end of 2017 when a series of women began reporting harassment in their workplaces. One of the most famous cases involved allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein.</p> <p>Despite going viral around the world, the movement never flourished in Brazil. Of at least 33 million registered workers, only 340 cases of sexual assault were reported to the now extinct Ministry of Labor in 2017.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ms. Piovesan believes that the #MeToo movement never picked up because <a href="">Brazil’s culture is still very sexist</a>. She explains that women are hypersexualized and that the objectification of women is entrenched in our culture. Nonetheless, she believes this is slowly changing. </p> <p>“As a university professor, I’ve noticed a recent wave of empowered women that gives me a lot of hope,” said Ms. Piovesan. “Women are more aware of their rights and they want to fight for equality. We have to provide an egalitarian education for the younger generations.”

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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