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Domestic Violence in Brazil

Publication Date: 
January 13, 2012

This post is by Leticia Zenevich as part of the Culture and Human Rights series (Part II)

Twenty-three percent of Brazilian women are likely to suffer from domestic violence. That includes physical, psychological, emotional abuse as well as marital rape. The problem is a widespread phenomenon against which the Brazilian society both struggles and reinforces with gender stereotypes of men and women, which are common in patriarchal societies.

In combating domestic violence the interaction between individual, society and its ever-changing, although sometimes at a slow-pace, perspectives on gender, must be taken into account, in order to explore its ambiguity and movements. Governments across Latin American countries have enacted legislation against domestic violence and this is powerful as well as symbolic tool. It is a demonstration that this kind of violence will no longer remain forgotten or in a private sphere, as it has been for so many decades. However, this type of legislation, while being a paradigmatic change in the way societies have dealt with this issue, fails to encompass the complexities of the matter. Generally, this kind of legislation comprehends violence as an act, not as a process.

Latin American researchers have found that if violence persists to be understood as a frozen moment, as an isolated instant, this act may be punished, but this will not necessarily lead to the termination of this kind of violence.

Violence should be understood as an active process: it correlates to seduction, passion and power in a flexible and fluid manner in cultural and societal contexts that permit it to go unchecked.

The static roles: that of the victim, in this case usually the woman, and that of the aggressor, in this case usually the man should not taken as givens and should not be allowed to be perpetuated as givens. Culture must evolve and adapt to redefine men and women, otherwise the violence laws are trying to combat will continue as both men and women are merely assuming their “roles.”

As so, to really tackle domestic violence in Brazil, more importantly than punishing the aggressor is finally realizing he is also a bypass product of a false idea revolving the interaction of romanticism and love with a historically patriarchal society.

I´m not proposing the aggressor should not be punished, but that this alone, and the past five years since the enactment of legislation against domestic violence in Brazil has show this is not sufficient to put an end to a phenomenon which surpasses the rule of criminal Law.

To repel this process, it is important to change the very stereotype of the traditional attractive man, known even abroad by his “macho” qualities, regarding Latin America. The man “with blood rushing in his veins” ends up too often having blood rushing in his fists.

Also, the idea of relationship itself has to be changed: women and men should understand that it is less and less about who “pays the bills” (a traditional Brazilian saying) and more about companionship; that a relation should not define one´s role in society (a society in which marriage is still considered to be almost as aconditio sine qua non of happiness), but what one does, parallel to his personal life, also counts; that is, a single person is not necessarily less happy than a married one.

Public campaigns redefining a man, a woman and a relationship are needed. Currently, in Brazil we urge women to denounce they aggressor, but in addition to this we should spread the message tha love is something soft, it is hugging, not hurting, it is “more kiss than fist” campaigns. Schools should be invited to participate in this debate, discussing “desirables stereotypes” and how they hide a patriarchal idea in which a “real man” should be able to “control” his woman at all costs.

As well, dialogue should be promoted within civil society, through seminars, concerts and also through the media, through the Brazilian typical novelas (soap-operas), which usually reinforce stereotypes more than break them, but which would be priceless if engaged in the standing out for more gender equality.

Once the real roots of domestic violence are mapped, action towards its end can be more effective than the mere punishing of someone who is, arguably, at a very last level, trying to live up to the expectations of the “macho” role in a patriarchal society.

As so, it is imperative that not only violent acts cease, but that violence itself comes to an end. By solely condemning the aggression, we are punishing the violent act, but leaving the violence intact.

Letícia Zenevich is a Brazilian Law student. During her studies she has offered free legal assistance to women who suffer from domestic violence as part of the in the first Brazilian Law school group focused on gender issues. Currently she is researching the traumas suffered by transgender persons who have undergone sexual redesignation surgery and the legal implications. She also interns with the  first Brazilian Law office specialized in gender cases, Maria Berenice Dias and Associated Lawyers. The Firm tries to achieve decisions that will make life fairer for the LGBTI population in Brazil.  She is passionate about gender issues.