Date: 9 August 2006
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed a new law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women on 7 August 2006 in Brasilia. The law is the result of an extensive process of consultation and discussion, in which key women's organizations played a crucial role. The process was promoted by the State Secretariat of Policies for Women and supported by UNIFEM.
The law changes the Penal Code, allowing an aggressor to be arrested not only in the act of committing an offence, but also preventively, if the aggressor's freedom is determined to be a threat to a victim's life. The law also provides for gender-based crimes against women to be judged in special courts. The law's enactment fulfills a commitment made by Brazil when it signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The new legislation provides for unprecedented measures to protect women in situations of violence or under risk of death. Depending on the case, a perpetrator can be prevented from approaching the woman and her children. A victim may also recover property and cancel a power of attorney held by the aggressor. In detention cases, penalties have tripled: jail time, which used to be six months to one year, has increased to up to three years. Pecuniary penalties, that is, small fines used to punish perpetrators, have been eliminated.
The law is not limited to making penalties more severe, however. It also establishes social measures to assist women. For example, those at risk may be included in government welfare programmes, and the law provides for the inclusion of basic information on violence against women in school materials.
A particularly innovative aspect of the law is that it provides protection for domestic workers from physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Domestic workers are the labour force category employing the largest number of women in Brazil, consisting of approximately 6.5 million women in the country, 500,000 of them less than 18 years old.
Homage to a Survivor
The law is being referred to as the "Maria da Penha law." Maria da Penha was continuously beaten by her husband for many years in the early '80s. He tried to kill her twice. The second time, he shot her in the spine, paralyzing her permanently. Ms. da Penha then initiated a long struggle to have her husband punished for his crimes.
It was a story of frustration and disappointment because the courts repeatedly found him not guilty, a powerful example of the impunity enjoyed by gender-based violence perpetrators in Brazil. He was finally arrested almost twenty years later, staying in prison for only two years. Encouraged and supported by women's organizations, Maria da Penha resorted to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which found the Brazilian State guilty of negligence.
Ms. da Penha shared her experience in the book titled "Sobrevivi ... posso contar" (I survived ... I can tell my story).