By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year to varying degrees around the world, and the theme for this year is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. Domestic violence is responsible for the deaths of five women per hour in the world, according to the non-governmental organization (NGO) ActionAid, and in Brazil, from 1980 to 2013 another report shows the number has increased by over 250 percent.
Since the early 1980s the fight against violence has been a central theme of the feminist movement in Brazil. The secretary for Women’s Autonomy Policy Secretariat for Women of the Ministry of Citizenship, Tatau Godinho told government press that, “[It] was a long process to build a police apparatus, healthcare and justice with particular care for those who suffer violence.”
According to the secretary, public policies such as the Maria da Penha Law – which increased the severity of penalties for crimes of domestic violence and family – the special courts responsible for the care for women, call centers and the House of the Brazilian Women encourage many Brazilians to speak out. “There are many elements that are becoming safer to report, as they [now] will find support.”
Yet according to the Map of Violence 2015 between 1980 and 2013, there have been 106,093 recorded deaths of women as homicide victims. The number of victims increased from 1,353 women in 1980, to 4,762 in 2013, an increase of 252 percent.
Secretary Tatau Godinho believes that the increase in assaults and murders of women is explained in part by the increasing number of complaints, and the macho reaction to the popularization of feminism. “The conservative reaction is negative and violent,” which for her shows tension between the advancement of women’s demands and the more traditional forces of machismo.
“Machismo is very strong in Brazilian society. It is shocking to realize the increase, for example, of complaints of violence against women in universities, a place for young people, better educated and with better economic conditions than most of the population, therefore, you expect to have the need of gender equality already assimilated.”
Rane Souza, director at RS Language Services, is from Minas Gerais but has lived in Rio for years, and at age 32 shares her experience during her lifetime. “I have seen improvement especially in the legislation concerning violence against women and women’s rights in Brazil. The change in legislation is due to the fact that women’s civil movements have been successful at making their claims come true.”
“For instance, until 2002 a man could divorce his wife on the grounds that she had had sex before marriage. The law that backed such claims has been lifted. In 2006, the Maria da Penha Bill was enacted as federal law. This law has fostered women to try and fight domestic violence.”
Still, other activists agree that the increased violence in Brazil today is a sexist reaction to greater female freedom. Jéssica Barbosa, assistant to the women’s rights program ActionAid Brazil explains, “Here in Latin America, in violence against women Brazil is the fifth country. According to the Avon Institute, three out of five women have experienced violence in relationships in our country.”
In Brazil, the organization promotes the Cidade Segura para as Mulheres (Safe City campaign for Women), which seeks the commitment of the government with a fair and equitable city for all genres. “Many women can not exercise their right to come and go. The city was not meant for women, the alleys are too narrow and dark in Brazil. There must be the empowerment of women to overcome the violence,” adds Barbosa.