Brazil: Protecting Domestic Violence Victims Takes Center Stage

March 5, 2013


"Real men don't beat women," says the sign held by Maria da Penha Fernandes. The biochemist served as inspiration for key legislation against domestic violence in Brazil.

Mariana Ceratti / World Bank

  • Twenty-two films from all over the country were submitted to the first short documentary contest about the “Maria da Penha Law” against gender violence.
  • The best ones were awarded this evening at the National Congress in Brasilia.
  • The documentaries will be available for free streaming at the World Bank’s websites and social media channels.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Brazilians are getting a closer look at the ugly reality of domestic violence, which affects one in three women worldwide.
A series of documentaries portraying the plight of victims in painful detail of high-definition, debuted last night in Congress as part of an awareness campaign against gender violence in Brazil. 

Five filmmakers took center-stage as their work received awards as well as the recognition of Brazilian lawmakers, who have been instrumental in passing tough laws against gender violence.
All the documentaries tell dramatic stories of women struggling with abusive relationships with their spouses. But the silent protagonist of it all was there only in spirit: Maria da Penha, a biochemist by training who became paraplegic after repeated attacks by her husband. She served as inspiration for key legislation against domestic violence in Brazil.

True stories

Twenty-two films entered the competition. Some of the true stories which made it to the finals include:

  • Silvia, an activist for women’s rights, murdered by her son in law, who used to beat her daughter
  • Veronica, Carmen, and Sara, who managed to free themselves from abusive husbands
  • Lucilia, an indigenous woman, who repeatedly tried to file a report against her ex-partner, but the police never investigated 
  • A group of women working against gender violence in Sao Paulo

Winners were awarded a prize of BRL 10,000 (US$ 5,038) each.

Their work will be available in English, French and Spanish and streamed for free on the World Bank’s website and social media channels. The movies will also be exhibited by TV Câmara, as well as by Brazilian cable TV channel GNT.

" Real men give emotional security to their partners and children "

Maria da Penha

Improving lives

“The documentary contest allowed us to evaluate how the Maria da Penha Law is perceived by society and how it’s helping to improve lives,” said Congresswoman Elcione Barbalho, Head of Office at the Procuradoria da Mulher.

“Some of them even point to flaws in implementation, which is also important,” Barbalho said.

Since the law passed in 2006 the number of specialized police stations and courts increased by 78 percent, according to a study by the National Justice Council. A lot still remains to be done. One in five Brazilian women still suffer some form of violence – a vast majority by their husbands and partners.

Alongside with the documentary contest, the World Bank is running the “Real Men don’t Beat Women” campaign,  launched on the Bank’s online channels in late February, engaging with male celebrities as well as Brazilian social media users.

Both on Twitter and Instagram, supporters have been posting self-pics holding a sign featuring the campaign slogan. All the posts have then been tagged #souhomemdeverdade, which is Portuguese for “I‘m a real man“.

For Maria da Penha herself, this campaign, inspired by her struggle, should be used as an opportunity to understand what should be the role of men in their relationships. "Real men give emotional security to their partners and children," she said.