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News > Latin America

Brazilian Women Celebrate 10 Years of Law Against Femicide

  • Women protest femicide in Brazil.

    Women protest femicide in Brazil. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 August 2016

The "Maria da Penha Law" gave a legal definition to the crime of femicide — the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender.

Brazil is celebrating the 10-year anniversary Sunday of one of the first laws in South America to address gender violence.

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The "Maria da Penha Law," named after a Brazilian woman who was repeatedly beaten and rendered a paraplegic by her husband, who also tried to kill her at least two times, gave a legal definition to the crime of femicide—the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender—and created specialized jurisdictions and a support network to protect women from gender violence.

According to a senate database, over 98 percent of Brazilian women affirm they know the text, proving the widespread success of a law that became a reference point for the the world.

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“Before the law came into effect, there was no possibility of resorting to protective measures when women were confronted with violence,” said feminist lawyer Keli de Oliveira Rodrigues, coordinator of the Attention Center for Women Victims of Violence in Sao Paolo. The center, founded two years before the bill was introduced, had a crucial role caring for women affected by domestic violence in the region.

However, one decade later, experts and feminist groups have admitted that the law has failed to properly tackle the issue, and recommended the increase in the number of protection facilities for women, specialized police stations and courts, among other measures.

One woman is killed every two hours in Brazil, with an average of 4,500 women killed every year. The number of women murdered rose by 230 percent from 1980 to 2010, according to government figures.

In 2015, a new bill introduced by President Dilma Rousseff imposed tougher punishments on those who murder women and girls, as part of a government bid to stem a rise in gender killings.

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The new law set jail sentences of 12 to 30 years for convicted offenders and included longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60 and people with disabilities.

More than half of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in the Americas, according to a 2012 report based on 2004 to 2009 figures by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project in Geneva.

It is common for victims of femicide to have a long history of domestic violence and the perpetrators are often the victims' current or former partners, family members or friends, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

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