Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff Signs New Zero-Tolerance Femicide Law


Every five minutes in Brazil, a woman is beaten, and in 70 percent of the cases, the aggressor is a boyfriend, husband, ex-partner or male family member. A study from 2010 showed an average of 137 cases a day of violence or threats against women – in Rio de Janeiro alone.

According to estimates published by the Brazilian Institute for Applied Research, between 2001 and 2011, fifty-thousand women were murdered in Brazil, mainly as a result of domestic violence.

The number of women murdered in Brazil rose by 230 percent from 1980 to 2010, government figures show. An average of 4,500 women are killed in the country every year, and an estimated 500,000 women and girls are raped annually.

In 2006 former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a very important anti-violence bill into law called the “Maria da Penha” law, named after activist Maria da Penha Fernandes who was beaten by her husband for 14 years. In 1983, he shot her while she was asleep leaving her paraplegic.

Two weeks after she came home from hospital, he tried to electrocute her. She took her case to court, but it took TWO DECADES for a ruling to be made! In that time, the Court of Human Rights criticized the Brazilian justice system for not taking effective measures to prosecute domestic violence cases.

The entire time the case was in court Maria’s husband was able to roam free. In response to this harrowing case, President da Silva created the Maria de Penha law. Today Maria is one of the most well-known anti-domestic violence advocates in the country.

Current president Dilma Rousseff has just signed legislative paperwork that would enforce this bill and ensure tougher sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence against women and girls. Murders linked to domestic violence will carry sentences of between 12 and 30 years, reports the BBC, and President Rousseff is sending a loud and clear message to women in Brazil that the state is looking out for them.The “Maria da Penha” law stated that aggressors were no longer to be punished with alternative sentences. It increased the maximum sentence from one to three years. It also ordered the removal of abusers from the home and banned them from proximity to the woman or children attacked.

The new legislation changes the description of femicide as any crime that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Similar legislation has been introduced in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador, which has the highest murder rate for women in the world.

“This law typifies femicide as a grave crime and identifies it as a specific crime against women. It’s a way to talk about this problem, make it visible by giving it a name and increasing sanctions for this crime,” said The Representative of UN Women in Brazil, Nadine Gasman.

“It has taken us a long time to say that the killing of a woman is a different phenomenon. Men are killed in the street, women are killed in the home. Men are killed with guns, women with knives and hands,” she continued.


According to a report form Reuters, Femicide stems from a macho culture that tends to condone violence against women and blames women for it, which in turn leads to low prosecution rates for gender-related crimes.

“Femicide is part of the big increase in violence in general in Brazil. The underlying causes are discrimination against women and inequality, and in Brazil black women are the poorest and the most discriminated against.”

It is clear that President Rousseff is a big advocate of women’s and girl’s rights in a country where they have not previously been a priority, or so it seems. The signing of these tougher sentences was a welcome move by other legislators.

“This is a further step in Brazil’s legislation in the fight against sexism that kills women daily in our country,” Brazilian congresswoman Maria do Rosario said on her Facebook page, after the femicide law was introduced.

In August 2013, she signed legislation requiring all public hospitals to provide treatment against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/Aids for rape victims. It requires that victims be given access to emergency contraception, and in the case of pregnancy they have the right to an abortion, illegal in Brazil in most cases.


In 2011, on the 5th anniversary of the Maria da Penha law, data was presented by the UN which showed more than 331,000 prosecutions and 110,000 final judgments had been made, and nearly 2 million calls to the Service Center for Women had been placed.At the time Maria herself was cautiously hopeful.“Before the Act, the domestic violence was a crime considered of low potential offensive, she says. “That reality has changed, and indeed in all the places I go to give talks women find themselves ‘saved by the Law,’ but we need more financial resources to implement it in all its power. The problem is not the law but in its application,” she said.

“It’s always a challenge implementing laws but having this law makes it compulsory to investigate this crime with a gender perspective,” said Nadine Gasman about Dilma Rousseff’s bill. It will now be up to local authorities, prosecutors and the justice system to treat these crimes as the grossly heinous acts they are, in the hope to decrease violence against women.

We give this law the double thumbs in the fight against femicide.



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