Maria da Penha’s Case in Upholding Human Rights.

By Alinne Lopes Gomes

Photo Credit: CNJ


Maria da Penha’s case and the importance of International organizations in upholding human rights. 

“Maria da Penha’s case is an example of important legislation being draft and changes being made by the efforts of civil individuals and organizations to protect human rights.”

Maria da Penha Maia Fernandes is a Brazilian pharmacist that was, in 1983, severely injured by her husband, the Colombian Marco Antonio Heredia Viveros. Maria became paraplegic after being shot with a shotgun. 
After spending several months under hospital care, she returned home, where her husband tried to electrocute her during a shower. Her assailant was the subject of three different judicial processes; the first in 1991, when he was convicted, but had the trial discarded under technical errors. The second trial happened in 1996, being also discarded under similar protests. The process remained going for a few more years, all the while Heredia was a free man. 
Maria da Penha worked tireless with the help of civil organizations to see the man arrested. In 1998, the case hadn’t reached an official end yet, which led the survivor to file, together with the Center for Justice and International Law and the Latin-American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Right, an official complaint against Brazil in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (OAS). Their file contained allegations that Brazil was being silently tolerant and negligent towards domestic violence.
In 2001, the Court found the allegations against Brazil regarding the Penha case to be legitimate and convicted the country of institutional omission; within the recommendations made were the fast conclusion of Heredia’s criminal case, the material reparation of the damage towards Maria and the creation of legislation and public policies to help eradicate domestic abuse and protect women. The process against Penha’s assailant was only concluded in the end of 2002, almost two decades after the crime. 
The bill 11.340/2006 received Maria da Penha’s name and it was the mechanism the legislative found to adapt to the institutional violence towards women. Before the new law, the cases of domestic violence were judged as a crime with a minor offensive potential, which meant it was not judge in the courts, but in special organ inside the judiciary, assigned to small cases. The document established important guidelines as to the procedures due in cases of violence against women. It erased the possibility of the conviction imply in financial compensations and it brought the option of the aggressor being arrest preventively if needed be to guarantee the victim’s safety. 
ONU recognizes the Maria da Penha law as the third best policy to deal with domestic violence worldwide. This bill was approved in Congress by unanimity and it proved to be a necessity to face the staggering numbers regarding female assault; in fact, even after the institution of the new mechanism, the violence against women didn’t seem to go down. A research conducted by the Perseu Abramo Foundation in 2010, revealed that 5 women suffer physical violence in Brazil every 2 minutes; 80% of the aggressions are caused by the partner. It also showed that six in every seven women and men know about the law and four in every five see it with a positive perception.
In 2016, the understanding the law started to count for transsexual and transvestite women was consolidated by the National Council of Prosecutors; practically, it means that the Courts can apply the instruments of the law to cases involving transgender women. There are doctrinal conflicts regarding whether the protection extends, as well, to lesbian couples, but the overall understanding is that it does. 
In 2015, a bill was introduced to Congress which viewed to replace the word “gender” for the word “sex; removing the possibility of transgender women being included. Currently, this bill is not moving on the houses. 





This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'LGBT Policies and Overall Safety in Brazil'  in Chapter 4 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Outreach Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.








The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:


  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.


SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.

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