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How is Open Government related to Violence Against Women in Brazil?

¿Qué tiene que ver el gobierno abierto con la violencia en contra de las mujeres en Brasil?

Bárbara Paes|

Violence against women is a global phenomenon that affects the lives of countless women each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime[i]. The WHO also indicates that as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner. In 2014, the Brazilian female population reached over 103 million people, and an estimate 20% of those women declare to have had suffered some sort of violence perpetrated by a man[ii]. Despite the widespread occurrence of violence against women, up until a decade ago, Brazil did not have specific laws prohibiting such practices. It was only in 2006 that the country approved a bill to prevent and punish domestic violence against women, the Maria da Penha Law.

Who is Maria da Penha?

Maria da Penha suffered domestic violence throughout twenty-three years of marriage. In 1983, her husband tried to murder her twice and as a result of those attacks, she became paraplegic. After the attempted murder, Maria collected the strength to report him. The trial lasted over nineteen years and her husband ended up serving only two years in jail. On August 20, 1998, Maria da Penha, along with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), filed a petition at the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), alleging that Brazil condoned the domestic violence perpetrated by Maria’s husband. Once the case was analyzed, the Commission recognized that Maria da Penha’s case was part of a pattern of discrimination evidenced by the condoning of domestic violence against women in Brazil through ineffective judicial action.  The Commission held the view that the Brazilian judicial decisions in this case revealed inefficiency and negligence and it recommended the adoption of measures at the national level to eliminate tolerance by the State of domestic violence against women[iii]. Maria da Penha became a symbol of the fight to end violence against women and in 2006, when Brazil finally created legislation to restrain and prevent domestic violence against women, the law received her name.

The Maria da Penha Law

Before the enactment of the Maria da Penha Law, violence against women cases were considered a lesser offense and punishment depended heavily on the judge’s interpretation. In this context, many Brazilian women did not report the aggressions because they knew they would probably be ignored by the authorities and their spouses would not be punished. The Maria da Penha Law identifies as domestic and family violence against women any action or omission based on gender that causes death, injury, physical, sexual or psychological suffering and moral or property damage. One major improvement this law brought is the speed in handling cases. After the woman files a complaint at the police station or court, the judge has a period of up to 48 hours to review her request for protection.

The law has also increased general awareness on violence against women. In 2002, before the existence of the Maria da Penha Law, a study by the WHO estimated that about 20% of the women who had been physically assaulted by their husbands in Brazil remained in silence and did not report the experience – not even to friends and family[iv]. A survey performed seven years after the enactment of the Maria da Penha Law, showed a different scenario: that 86% of the public believes that women should report domestic violence cases to the police[v]. The survey also demonstrated that 98% of the population has heard of this law and a large portion of the population feels like more women are reporting thanks to the Maria da Penha Law.

Access to Information

Violence against women is an issue that calls for incisive action by the Brazilian State, through the promotion of public policies aimed at guaranteeing the security of women. In this sense, it is imperative that quality information is being and made available. One of the mechanisms the Maria da Penha Law sought to implement was a National Data System on Violence against Women. This mechanism would be a  prevention tool to help the fight to end violence against women: it would include the publishing of studies and research, statistics and other relevant information, with a gender and race perspective, concerning the causes, consequences and frequency of domestic violence against women. Data would be organized in a national level and the findings would be evaluated periodically.

This data system is yet to be created and the lack of official information on violence against women in Brazil leads to at least two major complications. The first, and most evident, is the difficulty to elaborate public policies aimed at mitigating violence against women. The second complication stems from the fact this information is important for women to be able to recognize situations of violence, to be aware of their rights, and to know about services that can give them protection.

Open Government

One of the commitments established by Brazil’s Second Action Plan within the Open Government Partnership is the development of an Information System on the Maria da Penha Law. The system was intended to collect and store standardized information on the public policies related to the Maria da Penha Law. The commitment has not been fully achieved yet, but important steps have been taken to implementing the System. Interministerial meetings were held to discuss the implementation of the commitment with different Ministries and research institutions in order to build and systematize information on Violence against Women, which led to the definition of an ideal structure for the Information System. Another advance was obtaining valuable data from the governmental phone line that works as a Women’s Assistance Center and which has become a consolidated channel of information.

Nevertheless, during the political crisis in 2016, the Secretariat for Women’s Policies (agency responsible for the commitment) was incorporated into the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, a structural change that has slowed the  implementation of the commitment. Soon after this change, ARTICLE 19 Brazil filed information requests to find which of the policies conducted by the former Secretariat for Women’s Policies would be continued in the new administration. The official answer said that the responsibility for the creation of the Information System on the Maria da Penha Law was still to be redefined internally, which means there is not a prediction of when the commitment will be fully met.

States have many obligations regarding the production of information aimed to diminish discrimination and gender-based violence. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, held in 1994, established that countries must adopt a set of measures and programs in order to guarantee women’s right to justice. These measures include conducting researches and compiling statistics and data about the causes, consequences and frequency of violence against women. In order to mitigate violence against women in the country, it is imperative that Brazil works towards accomplishing those measures and that includes the implementation of Information System on the Maria da Penha Law.

[i]              World Health Organization –

[iii]             Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Report Nº 54/01, 2001.

[iv]            Estudio Multipais de la OMS sobre la salud de la mujer y violencia domestica,  World Health Organization –

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