Open Data about femicide in Brazil
Femicide is recognized globally as one of the harshests manifestations of violence against women – and Brazil is one of the countries with the highest prevalence of that crime. According to ‘Mapa da Violência’, a study published by FLACSO in 2015, the national female murder rate in Brazil is 4,8 homicides per 100,000 women, which makes it the country with the fifth highest rate of femicide in the world.
BRAZILIAN FEMICIDE LAW
In March 2015, Brazil’s then-president Dilma Rousseff approved a new piece of legislation that criminalized femicide – the gender-motivated killing of women – while also setting tougher penalties for those responsible for such crimes.
The new legislation establishes that “femicide” is any crime that involves domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women which results in their death. The bill imposes harder sentences and includes longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and women and girls with disabilities.
MEASURING FEMICIDE: PUBLIC DATA
Invisibility of most aspects of violence against women is one of the main reasons for setting up femicide as a specific crime. Despite that, and the prevalence of the crime in Brazil, measuring and quantifying this pervasive phenomenon remains a huge challenge.
Different studies have pointed out that lack of information and updated and trustworthy data on violence against women is a crucial barrier to effective preventive and protective measures in the area. This is also a reality in Brazil. There is limited data available and most of what is available is not adequate.
The fact that the country’s femicide law is relatively recent also means that official statistics are still going through an adaptation phase: from the way the cases are registered by the police, to the conclusion of each case in court.
While the type of information provided by reports such as ‘Mapa da Violência’ can be extremely useful in bringing the issue of violence against women into the public eye and raising awareness of policymakers, it is still insufficient. Civil society organizations, scholars, and social movements have been highlighting the need for more in-depth and detailed official data about femicide, arguing that it is essential to create effective public policies and prevention mechanisms.
The current reality is that despite the high number of femicide cases, most of the official data available is based on the findings of incomplete data collection systems. To start a dialogue on what could be done to improve the quality of the databases regarding femicide, ARTICLE 19 Brazil launched its latest report: “Data on femicide in Brazil”, which provided an initial analysis of the availability and quality of data on femicide in the country.
ARTICLE 19 Brazil aims to contribute to the collection and dissemination of quality data which can be used effectively in the fight against femicide. Given that efforts in the area are relatively recent and under consolidation, the publication is not an exhaustive study of all possible sources of data on the subject. The underreporting of femicide cases is still very much a reality, and police authorities have been failing in their obligation to properly register femicide – both situations can generate inconclusive data that can lead to misinterpretations and erroneous conclusions.
From September to November 2017, we evaluated nine databases that contained information about femicide, according to fifteen criteria around open data standards for public policies. The report provides recommendations on how data can be improved from the point of view of intersectionality, quality, and information value.
Our results show that most of the data analyzed does not contextualize the cases and that compromises the understanding of the crime’s dynamics. The licenses and formats used to publish data are somewhat flawed, as the usage of proprietary software is common and databases lack indications regarding their protection and copyright issues. The widespread use of proprietary software for publication of public data is a concern, since it may make such data inaccessible to individuals and organizations that cannot afford the cost of acquiring such softwares or have no interest in doing so.
LACK OF AN INTERSECTIONAL PERSPECTIVE
The databases assessed in our research lack an intersectional perspective. Brazil is a country deeply marked by racism. Consequently, violence disproportionately affects women on the basis of their gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Black women in Brazil, being simultaneously subjected to gender and racial oppression, are the majority of victims in various indicators of violence. According to Bruna Cristina Jaquetto Pereira, a visiting researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, “violence in Brazil is not a phenomenon that affects everyone equally. On the contrary, violence is more often than not, carried out on the basis of gender and race”. ‘Mapa da Violência’ shows that the annual number of violent deaths of black women increased by 54% from 2003 to 2013. Contrastingly, during that same period, the murder rate for white women decreased by 9.8%.
Nonetheless, many Brazilian databases analyzed fail to categorize female homicide victims on the basis of race or class, which could lead to the spreading of erroneous narratives that ignore the intersectional aspect of femicide. Despite the importance of race and ethnic disaggregation in databases provided by public sources, in our research we verified that only three of the analyzed databases included filters based on those criteria.
Another concern is the lack of information about violence against Brazil’s transgender population. In spite of the fact that such information is essential to develop effective public policies to mitigate gender-based violence, during our research we found it was impossible to identify transgender victims.
Our research demonstrated that standardization of the variables collected about feminicide and the creation of a national database to centralize this information are key initial actions for understanding and combating this phenomenon in Brazil. Refining the processes of data collection, systematization and dissemination is a requirement and strategies must be developed to increase cooperation between different levels and spheres of government and civil society.
The knowledge base on the cases of VAW and on the functioning of support services to victims must be significantly improved so that policy decisions at the provincial and national levels can be evidence-based and better respond to the critical situation faced by women and girls in Brazil.