Domestic violence

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Structural violence is camouflaged by its conformity to the rules; it is naturalized by its permanent presence in the fabric of social relations; it is made invisible because, unlike open violence, it does not appear as a break from normality. In particular, structural violence has beneficiaries, but not necessarily particularizable perpetrators.

An issue that has stood out as a problem in the situation of social confinement due to the pandemic is both the worsening and the increase in domestic violence against women. Leaders from all over the world reinforce and take measures to implement social isolation as a fundamental measure to contain the virus. #Fiqueemcasa is among the most used hashtags in recent weeks on all social networks, by personalities, international organizations and States. The Bolsonaro government remains isolated, paddling against the tide. Even Donald Trump, who tried to be against social isolation measures, has revised his position. 

What is the solution to contain the rate of contamination of the virus that causes a worldwide pandemic, is also the trigger for the significant increase in violence against women - and also against girls and children. According to a report by Folha de São Paulo, “murders of women at home doubled in São Paulo during the quarantine”. In the second half of March, with the increase in social isolation, the Dial 180 service for reporting situations of violence against women recorded a 9% increase in complaints compared to the first half of the same month [1]. If the space of the house is a safe environment for many people, for many women it can mean a place of violence and fear.

Faced with this fact, women move in different ways. Many are organizing themselves to create support and protection networks, such as the “As Justiceiras” project, which already brings together more than 700 volunteers on a whatsapp list to provide medical, psychosocial and legal assistance to women in situations of domestic violence. Others are hanging white cloths on the windows to denounce that domestic violence is taking place there. Still others are preparing articles and analyzes with complaints, pleading with parliamentarians and public authorities for effective responses to this situation. These actions show how a problem that seems to affect only a few affects, causes indignation and mobilizes all women in search of alleviating the victims' pain, denouncing this injustice and demanding solutions to the problem. 

For us, feminists organized in movements that fight for equal rights based on the concrete and daily lives of women, in addition to these actions, it is necessary to understand violence as something structural. Violence against us is a pillar of patriarchal power, one of the strongest expressions of inequalities between men and women. Since the period of re-democratization, feminist and women's movements, in their wide diversity - from the countryside, forests and cities, from unionized and non-unionized class categories, domestic workers, sex workers, indigenous women, black feminists, young people, women with disabilities, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals – have been denouncing the violence suffered in the daily lives of Brazilian women.

A few years ago, militants from the Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras decided to carry out a training process to deepen the reflection on violence as a common element of our experience as women. The general understanding was that we needed to complexify our look to see the inequalities between men and women, also structured by racism and capitalism, and still considering the age dimension, lesbophobia and the contexts where violence occurs - urban or rural space, where disputes over territories, split by militias and traffickers and agrarian conflicts make the violence suffered by women even more complex, such as indigenous people, quilombolas, artisanal fisherwomen, extractivists, etc.

There were many lessons learned and we highlight here two points discussed in this process that help us to understand how the issue of violence and its confrontation is central to the alternative construction of more egalitarian, fair and democratic projects for society.

The first point concerns the way in which violence, through the use of force, of the subjugation of native peoples, of the enslaved African population, was and continues to be present in the Brazilian social formation – and also in Latin America. Societies that were historically structured by the use of force and massacre for exploitation and economic, cultural and political domination. In Brazil, the use of violence left deep marks and was perpetuated in gender, class and race/ethnicity-based relations. It was an instrument for patriarchal oppression in the private sphere, against women, as well as in the field of economics and politics, through patriarchy and authoritarianism [2].

The second point concerns the issue of violence as a factor in the democratic deficit. A society that passively coexists with the yoke and domination of a significant portion of the population, keeping it permanently under threat and fear cannot be considered democratic. We are talking about girls raped by fathers, stepfathers, older brothers, lesbian women raped by neighbors and relatives to “correct” their sexuality, women raped by husbands who believe that their bodies are available to serve their personal urges and desires. Indigenous women, extractivists, quilombolas murdered and raped by land grabbers and ranchers for demanding the right to their land and respect for our common goods. Young black people from the outskirts of Brazil, killed daily by state agents of necropolitics.

If we link the problem of violence as a founding element of our country's social base with the command of the nation in the hands of a patriarch, a former military man who has been propagating the discourse of violence to combat violence for decades, we have a dramatic result. In general, the disregard for the deaths of Brazilian men and women resulting from the lack of access to minimum sanitary and health conditions in the president's speech is heartbreaking. Bolsonaro has been an international laughingstock and his reaction to the pandemic problem makes him the world's worst leader in dealing with the issue. We heard not once, but sometimes people who support him spread speeches that a few thousand deaths would be nothing more than a side effect in the face of the greater risk that economic losses can represent for the country, which quickly generated different reactions with the motto of what Lives Are Worth More Than Profit!

On the other hand, we can ask ourselves what is the impact of such trivialization of violence, and also, of its permission for it to continue being part of the social relations between us, given that even the president of the country legitimizes its perpetuation. When confronted with the problem of the growth of domestic violence in the context of the pandemic, the president neglected its structural causes and distilled yet another of his disgusting findings by stating that women are being beaten at home during the quarantine because men are not going out to work and earn the livelihood of the family. The reproduction of this speech by a national leader is not only frivolous and prejudiced in relation to the millions of unemployed men and women who live in the country today, but it also fulfills the role of naturalizing violence as something that can necessarily happen, and “authorizing” men to be violent with their companions when they are going through difficult situations, when I should condemn her under any circumstances.

Based on this common experience lived by us women, the feminist movements articulated and pressed for effective actions by public authorities to combat violence, based on the assumption that it was necessary to have a legal framework that guaranteed the rights of Brazilian women and that such laws could be effective, through the execution of public policies with real resources and social equipment capable of transforming the unequal relations between men and women, between the white and black population, between workers and owners.  

And we had many victories. The Maria da Penha Law and the Femicide Law are some of the achievements in the legislation, as well as the promotion of a care and assistance network, the construction of protocols for dealing with situations of sexual violence in health services, among others. Most of these achievements were only possible with the creation of organizations dedicated to the defense of women's rights, and with institutional advocacy and resistance by feminist collectives and movements. They were possible thanks to redemocratization and the opportunities that opened up with the end of the military dictatorship, the creation of spaces for social participation, the actions of national movements and agreements signed in international spaces. Achievements that, to a large extent, have been weakened after the 2016 coup.

As it is the basis of patriarchy, violence is also directly related to other systems of oppression – capitalism and racism – and other forms of violence, such as LGBTphobia, ableism, among others. Thus, it affects women in different ways and contributes to the maintenance of social inequalities. Violence does not happen in the same way everywhere and that is why its confrontation cannot be thought of from a single parameter.

The increase in violence against women has been real since this misogynistic – which does not like women – and racist government came to power. We watched with astonishment the increase in cases of femicide, women being thrown out of windows, murdered inside the house; and all of this associated with the drastic reduction of public resources destined to confront violence, and the dismantling of assistance services for women victims of violence. At the same time, it is precisely at the head of the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights – yes “woman” in the singular because it does not govern for the diversity of Brazilian women as a whole – that the junction between patriarchal conservatism and religious fundamentalism takes shape in the scariest, most anti-feminist version possible. What to say about Damares' statement that the cause of the daily rapes and sexual exploitation of young girls in the north of the country is the lack of panties, and the solution would then be to manufacture them, instead of interrupting the cycle of violence which authorizes adult men to rape girls. 

If it is already serious not having public resources to face the “democratic” problem of violence against women, what can be expected from a government that underestimates the need for effective policies to face the structuring problem of violence? With this government's inefficient response and encouraging violence, it is predictable that, in this extreme emergency situation that has demanded social isolation as a way to contain the contamination of Covid-19, many women, girls and children would be in danger in their own homes, than in other contexts. Silence about the need for effective government proposals to curb violence against women in times of crisis is criminal.  

Within the scope of the legislative branch, a series of proposals are being discussed and approved to face the crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic, some to support women and vulnerable populations, such as the project that created the Emergency Basic Income for workers and informal and self-employed workers. Others are more concerned about economic elites sacrificing labor rights and making the working class pay for the crisis, such as the Provisional Measure 905 / 2019 that creates the green and yellow employment contract, or the PEC 20/2020 (War Budget), which increases the power of the federal government in the management of public resources during the crisis. 

In order to try to contain the increase in the number of cases of violence, women parliamentarians proposed a series of measures. Among the projects under debate (perhaps they had already been approved when this text was published), the PL 1267 / 2020, by Deputy Talíria Petrone and others, aims to expand the dissemination of Dial 180 while the covid-19 pandemic lasts. O PL 1291 / 2020, presented by Deputy Maria do Rosário, among others, which aims to ensure measures to combat and prevent domestic violence already provided for in the Brazilian penal code for the duration of the declaration of a state of emergency of a humanitarian and health nature in the national territory. O PL 1552 / 2020, by Deputy Sâmia and others, which provides for the protection of women in situations of violence while the quarantine measures and activity restrictions last in the context of the covid-19 pandemic.

These are important, albeit insufficient, measures, since they are centered on punitivism, making use of a service network that was already fragile and that in recent years has been dismantled. During the Lula and Dilma Governments, we rehearsed the construction of a National Network that could implement a policy accessible to all women. However, the lack of prioritization of resources and the way the policy was conducted maintained several inequalities between states and failed to scale up the proposal and ensure its universalization. Now, in the Bolsonaro Government, contrary to what the minister responsible for the issue boasts, we have an increasingly reduced budget, which does not even support existing services and equipment.

The greater visibility of the debate on violence in society is undeniable. However, this debate is still very much centered around the need to denounce and punish the aggressor. The focus is on violence open, the one that is immediately recognized by society. The anti-racist feminist perspective challenges us to go further, we need to face structural or systemic violence, linked to the prevailing forms of domination and oppression. We have seen proposals in different countries to create emergency alternatives for places to house women living in this situation during the pandemic, such as the use of hotels and public spaces in disuse during isolation, a debate that we have been having in women's movements along with the dissemination the services that are working, in addition to solidary welcoming networks with listening for these women to encourage themselves to get out of this situation; after all, giving in to various forms of violence does not mean accepting.

Structural violence is camouflaged by its conformity to the rules; it is naturalized by its permanent presence in the fabric of social relations; it is made invisible because, unlike open violence, it does not appear as a break from normality. In particular, structural violence has beneficiaries, but not necessarily particularizable perpetrators.

The demand of the feminist movement cannot be guided by punishment, strengthening of security forces, the judiciary and the prison system. Because in the face of a prison system like ours, marked by class and racial inequality, it would be illusory to imagine that punishment would be enough to end the problem of violence. It is necessary to create cultural and social mechanisms. It is necessary to advance in the deconstruction of the unequal relations of patriarchal power.

For this, the construction of women's autonomy is fundamental. It is necessary to create conditions for women to break with the cycle of violence, helping the women around them to do the same. It is necessary to strengthen feminist collective action and ensure adequate resources and policies for the care, reception and protection of women victims so that they are not the ones punished and removed from their homes; it is urgent that men discuss, listen to our plea and also be actors for the interruption of this cycle that is maintained by male social connivance. Finally, the issue needs to be widely discussed as a democratic issue of respect and dignity for each of us women who have our main territory, our physical body and our subjectivity, violated on a daily basis.

*CFEMEA is an anti-racist feminist organization.

Article originally published on the website Other words


[1] Coronavirus: the number of calls to the channel for reporting domestic violence in quarantine rises.

[2] The training process carried out at Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras was systematized in the form of an internal document with a theoretical framework on violence against women. Part of the reflection brought in this text comes from this systematization.

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