By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s President announced during International Women’s Day that she was signing into law a bill to toughen legislation on domestic abuse and crimes against women. The new femicide (killing of women because of gender) law will carry sentences of twelve to thirty years for those convicted of the crime. If the victim is pregnant, under fourteen years old or over sixty, or has a disability, the sentence could be thirty percent higher.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during ceremony where she sanctioned femicide law, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during the ceremony where she sanctioned the femicide law, photo by Valter Campanato/Agencia Brasil.

“Nearly fifteen women are killed per day in Brazil. Their deaths are due to the fact that they are women, it is a gender issue,” said President Rousseff on Sunday night (March 8th) during a national televised speech in which she announced the new law.

According to Elenora Menicucci, who heads the federal government’s Secretariat of Policies for Women, Brazil occupies the seventh position, among 84 countries, with the highest rate of violent deaths among women.

“In Brazil, since 1980, almost one hundred thousand women have lost their lives in a violent manner,” she said adding that 68.8 percent of those deaths occurred in the victim’s residence and were committed by another person who lived in the residence with the victim, usually a husband, a partner or a son/daughter.

The new law will be harsher than the legislation signed by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2006, known as Maria da Penha law. Maria da Penha was a woman who was left paraplegic after her husband tried to murder her.

With the 2006 law those who commit domestic abuse against women will serve jail time, and not receive alternative sentences, such as community service. According to data from IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research) since the Maria da Penha law was implemented violent deaths among women in the household have decreased by ten percent in Brazil.

Maria da Penha, left paraplegic by her husband, is one of the protagonists in Brazil's fight of violence against women, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Maria da Penha, left paraplegic by her husband, is one of the protagonists in Brazil’s fight of violence against women, photo by Fabio Rodrigues/Agencia Brasil.

In a press release, the United Nations representative in Brazil, Nadine Gasman welcomed the new law. “The country is now among fifteen other Latin American nations, which are legally committed to facing the phenomenon in the region,” said the U.N. representative.

Mexico, Chile and Argentina are just three of the countries in Latin America which already have laws against femicide. According to Gasman the law shows the political commitment set by the President of a zero tolerance in regards to gender violence.

During her speech President Rousseff also noted that over 500,000 women are victims of rape in Brazil every year and that only ten percent of these crimes are reported to authorities. “These numbers are shocking and show that Brazilian women are submitted to an unacceptable violence which is found in all social classes, in the streets, in the workplace, in the schools and especially in the home,” said Rousseff.

“In fights between husband and wife we believe we should interfere,” said the President, going against a popular saying that ‘in fights between husband and wife one should keep away’.

The bill was prepared by the Mixed Congressional Committee on Violence against Women, whose data showed that between 2000 and 2014 43,700 women were murdered in Brazil, with forty percent being killed inside their own homes.

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