Cristina Azevedo (Fiocruz News Agency)
The homicide rate of women in Brazil increased 31.46% in the period from 1980 to 2019, from 4.40 (1980-1984) to 6.09 (2015-2019) per 100,000 women, reveals the study Female homicides in Brazil and its major regions (1980-2019): An analysis of age, period, and cohort effects, to be published in the journal Violence Against Women. Conducted by researchers from Fiocruz, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), the National Cancer Institute (Inca) and the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj), the research employs a correction method when analyzing the violent deaths of women to try to identify gender violence. Thus, it shows the impact of this correction on female homicide rates in large Brazilian regions according to age group, period of death and generation to which the woman belonged.
In Rio de Janeiro, protesters defend women's rights and protest against gender violence (Photo: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)
Identifying when the murder of a woman is in fact a case of femicide is not an easy task. In Brazil, a country where the legislation on the subject is still recent, the data available in the Mortality Information System (SIM) are not sufficient to discriminate whether they are related to gender violence, either because of the limitations of the information systems themselves, which do not allow to evaluate the relationship of the victim with the aggressor, or because the police forces are not necessarily prepared to identify this type of occurrence, the authors of the study ponder. Given this fragility, the article proposes the use of indirect indicators to assess gender violence, such as whether the crime occurred inside the victim's home and by use of a firearm. In all indirect indicators, there is an increase in violent deaths of women with higher rates among young women and a higher proportion in the black population.
There is a high frequency of records of deaths from violent causes classified as “undetermined intent” and reporting problems, which leads us to believe that the numbers are underestimated. In the North Region, for example, this type of occurrence was higher 49.88% than that indicated by the government. This represents 6.46 violent deaths of women per 100,000 inhabitants and not 4.31/100,000 as shown by the SIM. The Northeast soon followed, with an increase of 41.03% (from 5.58 to 7.87 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants). The lowest index was observed in the South Region, although an upward difference of 9.13% was also recorded.
The Southeast reports an average of 3.45 murders per 100,000 women, while the Midwest appears at 8.55 per 100,000. “It is noteworthy that this last region, more Northeast and North, have a coefficient above the national average,” says the text. South and Southeast, therefore, appear below the national average. Similar results are observed when analyzing the deaths of women by firearms: the national average is 2.57 for every 100,000, ranging from 2.01 in the South to 3.28 in the Midwest.
“For the World Health Organization (WHO) deaths above 3 already characterize the region as extreme violence for women. The Midwest and North regions presented rates similar to those of countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador, ”explains Karina Meira, a researcher at UFRN and coordinator of the study.
Brazilian women between the ages of 20 and 39 face a higher risk of violence, aggression or being murdered than women of other age groups. The study also shows that the average mortality rate of firearm homicides has a progressive increase from the age group of 15-19 years to the age group of 40-44 years, decreasing after that of 45-49 in all regions of the country.
“Our study brings a different look. Brazil is a very large country, with diversities of all kinds: cultural, racial, geographical... Looking at femicide without looking at these characteristics ends up making us see Brazil as an average, which does not translate the reality of the country as a whole, ”says Fiocruz researcher Raphael Guimarães, who like Karina participates in the Violence Working Group of the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (ABRASCO) and is a co-author of the study. Raphael explains that this segmented view helps to understand and subsidize the formulation of more targeted and effective public policies.
Underreporting and race
The violent death of women often appears classified as “undetermined intention”, that is, without indicating whether it was an accident, suicide or caused by a third party. That is why correction techniques have to be applied. The correction of data from the death registry of the Information System on Mortality (Sistema de Informação sobre Mortalidade) of the Unified Health System (SIM/Datasus) showed that female homicide rates were underreported in Brazil over a period of 40 years (1980 - 2019). The survey updates the numbers and shows that this type of crime was higher 28.62% than the one presented by SIM.
“In Brazil, the main methods employed in the murder of women were the use of firearms, blunt/piercing objects, strangulation and suffocation. It is important to highlight that the temporal trend of homicides with firearms is related to factors associated with the commercialization, circulation and acquisition of these weapons”, highlights the research. A reduction in the murders of women in the early 2000s in the South and Southeast would therefore be related to the Disarmament Statute and the Maria da Penha Law, in addition to other factors.
The place also influences. A woman with financial autonomy in places where patriarchal culture is more conservative faces a higher risk of domestic violence than women with financial autonomy in places where there is more discussion about violence and that is not so conservative. “Whoever breaks with the role of submission in these communities becomes a target. This community will use all means to show that women must return to their role of submission. Hence, the difficulty of breaking the cycle of violence. This is not a matter of the individual, but of the state”, says Karina.
Women in the Southeast, for example, have a larger support network. Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) show that in 2019 only 137 of the 5,570 (2.4%) Brazilian municipalities had shelters for women in situations of domestic violence, concentrated mainly in the South and Southeast. “Less than 10% of Brazilian municipalities offered specialized services for sexual assault, and only 8.3% of cities had specialized police stations for the care of women. From 2017 to 2019, there was a 75% reduction in the transfer of funds to combat violence against women. It is not enough to have legal provisions if you do not have funding for protection, ”says Karina.
The indexes also vary according to race. Between 2009 and 2019, Brazil recorded a reduction in homicides of white women, and an increase among black women. In 2019, a black woman was 1.7 times more likely to be murdered overall. “Race, gender and social inequalities have intensified in the poorest regions of the country – North and Northeast. In 2019, a black woman living in Rio Grande do Norte faced a 5.1 times higher risk of being murdered than a non-black woman.
Raphael recalls that these numbers are related only to homicides. “Death is the most extreme event. The number of black women victims of aggression is even greater. Women who suffer violence day after day, which does not necessarily evolve to death, but which has serious effects on their lives, ”says the Fiocruz researcher. “Our article can act as an inducer to start evaluating data from women who have not died, but have had a profound damage in their lives as a result of violence of all kinds: physical, psychological, sexual, intradomiciliary. It can be a starting point to better examine this issue, ”he adds.
“Measures are urgently needed to protect women in situations of violence. Expansion of funding for violence prevention programmes against women is also needed, alongside measures to reverse the dismantling of the Disarmament Statute, as the existence of a gun at home is one of the biggest risk factors for gender-based violence and femicide.