Abuse of women in Brazil

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Abuse of women in Brazil

Melanie Hargreaves looks at a ‘safe house’ that helps women after domestic violence.

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© Christian Aid/Tom Price

Brazil has the seventh-highest rate of violence against women in the world. A woman is attacked every 15 seconds and a woman is murdered every two hours. Since 1985, 92,000 women have died, often killed by a husband, partner or family member.

Fran is a shy, quiet 25-year-old. She lives in the violent city of Ariquemes in Rondonia, northern Brazil. Many women like her have been saved there because of a small safe house, Casa Noeli dos Santos. ‘Without the safe house, I’d be dead,’ she says.

And she’s not alone.

Casa Noeli is a small house with two bedrooms, an open living room, kitchen and vegetable area. It opened in 2011 for women running away from violent men.

The Anglican Service of Diakonia and Development (SADD), supported by Christian Aid, supports the house. There are a few more safe houses in this big country, but only 2.5 per cent of cities have this kind of service.

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Christian Aid/Tom Price

10 women and their children can live there at one time. It helps women from a population of 150,000 people, from 8 different cities.

There are pictures on the walls by the children who have lived here with their mothers. There are coloured walls and colourful covers on the sofas and photos of smiling women on a noticeboard. It could be someone’s home.

But the locked front gate and electric fence across the top of the high wall around the house protect it. Fran, a mother-of-two, came to Casa Noeli a year ago to escape her violent husband. He is now waiting for his trial for 12 murders – Fran’s father and brother.

Fran is not the only one. Reverend Elineide Ferreiro Oliveira, 29 has managed Casa Noeli since it opened. She also has her story of violence. Her sister Eliane, 35, was stabbed 7 times by her ex-husband when she asked for a divorce more than 15 years ago. Thankfully, she survived. Eliane now works with Reverend Elineide and the psychologist, Lucimere.

Every week, women who have nowhere to go come to the home. Some women come because the police or social services tell them about the home. The women get psychological support and learn how to get basic state benefits.

Each woman stays a maximum of three months. They still get care and support after they leave. So there are never too many women there.

The women were often dependent on their partners for money. This forced them to stay in violent relationships. But Reverend Elineide and her team help the women learn new skills, eg. baking and handicrafts, so they can make their own money.

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Christian Aid/Tom Price

When Fran first came to Casa Noeli, she had only the clothes she was wearing. Now she is safer, but she still does not know about her future until her ex-husband goes to court.

‘Elineide is like a mother. Wherever we go, she’s here with us,’ she says.

Fran is planning a new life. She hopes to leave Ariquemes and make a new life in another area. ‘The safe house is a special place, and it’s because of this house I’m alive. If I didn’t have the house I would be in the same life, beaten and threatened. The house is very important to break this pattern.’

‘The justice system often fails, but I encourage women to be strong and report these crimes, because then they’ll find Elineide,’ she adds.

There are laws to protect women like Fran, eg. the Maria de Penha law. This came in in 2006 to punish people who are violent against women.

In March, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff started to be very tough on violence against women and girls. And the Brazilian Congress brought in a new crime - ‘femicide’ – any crime that causes a woman to die from anything related to domestic violence or discrimination.

But this law is often not followed. So many women do not want to report domestic violence.

Officer Danubio Gurgel, from the local police station, agreed that women are protected on paper, and the new law has helped people know about the problems. But, in practice, the law doesn’t always work.

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Reverend Elineide Ferreiro Oliveira, 29, manager of Casa Noeli. Christian Aid/Tom Price

He said: ‘Brazil is a very violent country. Violence against women is part of that, and our legal system doesn’t always work.’

‘Brazilian society is very macho, but since this law, things have started to change. Men still believe that women are their property, and this happens in all parts of society, from lawyers to manual labourers.’

Reverend Elineide knows that we need people to change attitudes towards women, to protect their rights.

‘The new law could make things better, but it will take some time,’ she says. ‘They have to see that violence against women is serious. But even in the court system, some judges or lawyers say that it’s a private problem when a husband and wife fight - we have no right to do anything. Many people think violence is normal – it’s not.’

So until the law protects women, we have safe houses like Casa Noeli. They offer vulnerable women the chance to protect their children and control some parts of their lives.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2015/05/13/brazil-domestic-violence/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).