Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes is a brazilian woman who endured years of domestic violence from her husband. On May 1983, he shot her in the back while she slept and left her paraplegic. He alleged to the police that there was an attempt robbery and the criminals shot his wife. Months after her recovery, once again he attempted to electrocute her while she showered.
Maria went to the brazilian courts to seek justice. The first trial began in 1991 and ended up being annulled. Later in 1996, the husband was convicted to ten years and six months of incarceration. In 2001 he was sentenced to eight years, he left after one year for good behavior. The justice system took nineteen years to arrest and incarcerate her husband, while she was convicted to a paraplegic life.
The impunity pattern displayed by the brazilian justice system led to the presentation of a case by Maria, with the help of the Latin American Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women and the Center of Justice and International Law, to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
In April 16, 2001, the Commission concluded that the State was responsible for violating the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, infringing the American Convention, the Convention of Belém do Pará and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Thus, the IACHR provided several recommendations to the Brazilian State. Nevertheless, their recommendations are not binding; the compliance with them relies solely in the good will of the State.
In 2006, it was published the “Law Maria da Penha”, creating mechanisms for inhibiting domestic and family violence against women such as specialized courts and offices of ombudspersons for women, among other measures, addressing the recommendations of the Commission by the Brazilian State.
Although, even after the Law passed, a research shows that currently there is a case of aggression each 4 minutes in the country. In 2018 there were 145.000 cases of gender-based violence registered (counting only the ones where the victim survived). The aggressions comprise physical, sexual and psychological violence.
Another controversial modification in the law has been recently vetoed by President Bolsonaro. According to the current law, each time a woman requires medical assistance and the agent identifies she has been a victim of gender-based violence, they are legally compelled to notify the Health Secretariat. However, a bill has been passed in Congress enhancing this requirement to be reported also to the police, leading to a potential trial.
The President’s stand on the matter alleged that “the bill does not serve public interest”. Bolsonaro is a known chauvinist leading a country with one of the highest rates of gender inequality, but this time, did he finally get it right?
Considering the aforementioned case, even though it became a law supposed to tackle the judicial inefficiency and provide a faster support to victims of GBV, we still face thousands of cases in the country and it is unrealistic to think they are dealt with the expected efficiency. Therefore, forcing victims to be submitted to a trial that might take years, would make them constantly relive the attacks they suffered, potentially being exposed to humiliation from the defense attorney and possibly while still living with their aggressor – in fact it does not sound like it serves public interest, once the victim could be forced to face a trial they did not even ask for.
The brazilian Feminist Group of Gynecologists and Obstetricians positioned themselves against the bill as well, claiming that “the compulsory report to authorities might reduce the chances of women seeking for assistance. It infringes the right to privacy and professional trust, once as a social custom: gender-based violence could be associated with humiliation and women are often blamed by suffering it”.
Progress has been made since Maria da Penha became paraplegic, but we still have a long way to go. However, the answer is not removing the power of decision from the victim’s hands, but raising awareness of the justice mechanisms at their disposition, even about the international conventions on the matters and how international courts are there to provide assistance. These are the measures that serve public interest and the President should focus on.
As perfectly posed by Bruna de Lara for The Intercept “all boys and girls deserve receiving proper education and information to be able to distinguish what is violence from what is love, what is sex from what is rape. Our focus should be on prevention, not on punishment”.
While we do not start from the bottom, raising awareness regardless of social class, gender and age, we will never achieve the structural changes required to release the next generations from norms and customs that do not fit our society anymore – and more “Marias” will remain to suffer in silence or become data.
Aviso obrigatório de dados sobre a violência contra a mulher seria desastroso. By Bruna de Lara. Retrieved from: https://theintercept.com/2019/10/11/veto-bolsonaro-violencia-mulher/
Dados de violência contra a mulher são a evidência da desigualdade de gênero no Brasil. Retrieved from: https://g1.globo.com/monitor-da-violencia/noticia/2019/03/08/dados-de-violencia-contra-a-mulher-sao-a-evidencia-da-desigualdade-de-genero-no-brasil.ghtml
Brasil registra 1 caso de agressão a mulher a cada 4 minutos, mostra levantamento. Retrieved from:
PL 2538/2019 (Nº Anterior: PL 3837/2015). Retrieved from:
NOTA PÚBLICA DA REDE FEMINISTA DE GINECOLOGISTAS E OBSTETRAS CONTRA PROJETO DE LEI 2.538/2019. Retrieved from:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2008: Case 12.051, Report No. 54/01, Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes (Brazil). In:
London School of Economics: Centre for Women, Peace and Security. In:
A tireless struggle to reverse the pattern of impunity in cases of domestic violence against women in Brazil. CEJIL. In: https://cejil.org/en/maria-da-penha
I was born in the triple border of Brazil with Paraguay and Argentina, in 1996. Since childhood, I realized that the world we live in is not the same for everyone. Therefore, I am currently in the second year of the B.A. in Global Governance at the University of Rome Tor Vergata to learn how we can change this scenario to provide an environment where individuals can be themselves without fear and with similar opportunities. Personally, I believe we are here to grow and be useful to our community. I hope to spend my life acting to leave this place better than it was when I arrived.