Abstract – Brazilian policy responses to violence against women: Government strategy and the help-seeking behaviors of women who experience violence

Ligia Kiss, Ana Flavia Lucas d’Oliveira, Cathy Zimmerman, Lori Heise, Lilia Blima Schraiber, Charlotte Watts

Health and Human Rights 14/1

Published June 2012


Over the past three decades, international covenants have been signed and countries have implemented strategies and legislation to address violence against women. Concurrently, strong evidence on the magnitude and impact of violence against women has emerged from around the world. Despite a growing understanding of factors that may influence women’s vulnerability to violence and its effects, key questions about intervention options persist. Using evidence from a WHO household survey on domestic violence, our paper discusses women’s help-seeking patterns and considers these findings in relation to Brazil’s policies and strategies on violence against women. For the WHO survey, data from a large urban center (the city of São Paulo) and from a rural region (Zona da Mata Pernambucana [ZMP]) was collected. Findings from this survey indicate that in São Paulo, only 33.8% of women who experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) sought help from a formal service provider, including health, legal, social, or women’s support services; in the Forest Zone of the State of Pernambuco, an even smaller proportion (17.1%) sought formal assistance. The majority of women were likely to contact only informal sources of support, such as family, friends, and neighbors. Women who used formal services were primarily those who experienced more severe levels of violence, were severely injured, had children who witnessed the violence, or whose work was disrupted by the violence. Brazil adopted progressive laws and national and local strategies to address violence against women (VAW). Messages about violence and equality now need to reach informal networks and the wider community in order for national anti-violence policies  to be successful in supporting women before violence reaches the more extreme levels of severity at which women seek formal help. To translate international standards and national policies into actions that genuinely reach women experiencing violence, states must carefully consider evidence on women’s options and decision making.