The social withdrawal that the population has been experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to profoundly modifying family routines, has made daily living among its members much more intense. For many people, this has been an opportunity to strengthen affective bonds; however, for women living in abusive relationships, the occasion is being marked by the worsening of domestic violence, as they are facing a long period of isolation with the aggressors inside their own homes. According to data from the Cartilha de Violência Doméstica e Familiar na COVID-19 (Primer on Domestic and Family Violence in COVID-19) published by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), in Brazil, it is estimated that the registered complaints have increased by up to 50% since the quarantine began in March.
This form of violation of human rights, which affects the life, health, and both physical and psychological integrity of women, however, does not originate in the current situation. It is a structuring issue of gender inequality that has long required efforts in search of effective solutions. With a focus on this harsh reality, the project Porque também temos que falar de violência? (Why do we also have to talk about violence?), coordinated by Professor Paula Curi of the Institute of Psychology, takes the debate on the topic beyond the academic universe. “The title was designed to suggest a question that, rhetorically, includes the answer: we have to talk about violence,” points out the teacher.
Paula explains that the idea for the project came after her first contact, in 2016, with SOS Mulher, a program aimed at women victims of sexual and domestic violence, developed at Antonio Pedro University Hospital. “At the same time, I participated in an event of the UFF Woman program, developed by the Office of Outreach Affairs, which promotes different activities related to gender throughout the year, mainly debates that permeate from the quality of life, insertion in the labor market and tackling violence against women. In this contact, I also obtained information on how university extension projects work.”
The teacher points out that the work she coordinates is based on three axes: training, territory, and the provision of services to the community. “In training, the objective is to insert the theme of women and gender-based violence. Teaching in psychology is still very disciplinary and tied to the so-called noble fields. The intention, in this sense, is to build feminist psychology centered on social and gender structures, with an emphasis on women’s rights,” she highlights.
The outreach part of the project is formed when going to the territory. “The exchanges that take place in these direct contacts are always very rich and open up the possibility for people to really talk about what they are experiencing. Through the joint struggle of the group with other projects in the municipality, it was possible to strengthen the interaction with the Department of Technical-Methodological Supervision of Niterói’s Health Secretariat — where women’s health programs are located in Niterói — and the Niterói Women’s Rights and Policies Coordination. Subsequently, social assistance and education devices were also opened to our participation,” he adds.
The question we must answer is: how can we build a more egalitarian society where women can live freely without being targets of oppression, discrimination, and violence? There is no magic answer, but it is necessary to resist and make information reach people.
Currently, the project has 25 students, who participate in different scopes of activities. “When the student enters, around the sixth period of the Psychology course, he/she gradually composes the activities. When advancing in their basic training, the student can participate in the outpatient group entitled Cuidar de Mulheres (Caring for Women), another outreach project focused on assisting victims of gender violence. In addition to providing psychological assistance, students who deal with patients in situations of violence also have to attend clinical supervision groups,” says Paula.
Student Natalya da Silva Jacintho, from the tenth semester of Psychology, highlights how enriching her trajectory in the project was. “I started to participate in the fifth semester of the course. The study in the group laid the foundations, helped in the construction of knowledge, and in the practice of the territory, we did several dynamics, workshops, and tasks, in addition to outpatient care. The passage through the program was decisive and contributed to the conception of a clinical perspective that is not individual, as it makes evident the position of women in the patriarchal society and the demand for the construction of a unique and public network to confront violence.”
Domestic violence is alarming in Brazil
We live in a country of diverse social inequalities, including in terms of gender. According to the Dossiê Mulher (year-base 2018), of the Public Security Institute of the State of Rio de Janeiro, every five days a woman is a victim of femicide, and, every 24 hours, twelve women are victims of rape and four with intentional bodily injury. Paula explains that the index that measures the disadvantages and losses of women shows the neglect of working for a more egalitarian society, free from violence. “We do not even occupy the first fifty places in the world ranking to combat gender-based violence. In addition, we must remember that domestic violence has a history of impunity, since here many penalties have been mitigated in the name of man’s honor in the past,” highlights Paula Curi.
The teacher explains that domestic and family violence can happen in the context of any intimate relationship of affection and manifest itself in different forms — physical, psychological, sexual, patrimonial, and moral. The Maria da Penha Law itself, the most fundamental legal instrument to curb such violence, was created from the story of a woman who suffered aggression to the point of almost being a victim of femicide by her partner. “But the creation of the legislation was not due to the legitimate concern with gender inequalities, but because of Maria da Penha’s struggle as a woman and the international sanctions imposed in the face of the repercussion of the case at the time.”
All of this shows that, regardless of the pandemic, the domestic violence scenario has always been alarming, as the consolidated data shows. Paula points out that gender violence is historical and social; therefore, the moment we live in just opened this other pandemic that was already underway. “Although the coronavirus gives some visibility to the history of Brazilian women subjected to this experience, one cannot forget the centuries of patriarchy that underlie these practices.”
Therefore, we live in a reality in which it is necessary to emphasize social distance in order to safeguard lives while maintaining attention to the increase in domestic violence data. According to Paula, at this moment the virus aggravates these aggressions, especially because it distances women from their support networks and the possibility of seeking help on the devices and services that can assist them.
“The question we must answer is: how can we build a more egalitarian society where women can live freely without being targets of oppression, discrimination, and violence? There is no magic answer, but it is necessary to resist and make information reach people. It is essential to effectively denaturalize gender-based violence and make it clear that it is not normal to live with it on a daily basis, whether in personal life or in the regrettable news that we learn about through the media,” stresses the teacher.
The teacher points out that the public authorities also have to invest in policies for women, as well as looking for ways to diagnose problems and transform demands and numbers into public policies. “People must be aware not only of gender-based violence but also of where their municipality’s devices and services are located to call for help when needed. It is up to the State to take care of the population and sustain the entire network for confronting, assisting, treating, and fighting violence. As citizens, we have a duty to demand not only the implementation of public policies but also their effective and efficient operationalization,” she concludes.
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