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Journal of Human Growth and Development

versão impressa ISSN 0104-1282versão On-line ISSN 2175-3598

J. Hum. Growth Dev. vol.31 no.2 Santo André maio/ago. 2021 



Is there race/color differential on femicide in Brazil? The inequality of mortality rates for violent causes among white and black women



Mario Francisco Giani MonteiroI; Jackeline Aparecida Ferreira RomioII; Jefferson DrezettIII

IUniversidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)
IIInstituto de Psicologia da Universidade de São Paulo (USP)
IIIFaculdade de Saúde Pública da Universidade de São Paulo (USP) - Faculdade de Medicina do ABC





INTRODUCTION: Femicide is considered the extreme expression of gender violence. The Brazilian scenario points to a complex public health problem, with evidence of a more severe social phenomenon for black women
OBJECTIVE: To compare mortality rates due to violent causes in white and black women
METHODS: Ecological study of temporal series with secondary data obtained from the Mortality Information System of DATASUS. We estimated the mortality rate from 2016-2018 about suicides, aggressions, and undetermined death by violence in the range of ages 15-29 and 30-59 years among white and non-white women. Femicide cases were compared using firearms or other means. Statistical analysis employed the chi-square test, with a significance level of p<0.05, Confidence Interval of 95%. According to resolution 510/2016 of the National Health Council, the study is exempted from Research Ethics Committee´s evaluation
RESULTS: Between 15 and 29 years, the mortality rate due to aggression was higher for black, 10.5/100,000, than for white women, 4.9/100,000. The same occurred between 30 and 59 years, with 12.5/100,000 deaths among black and 5.9/100,000 deaths among white women. Suicide rates were lower for black than for white women aged 15 to 29 years (1.2/100,000 versus 2.8/100,000) and between 30-59 years (2.0/100,000 versus 5.2/100,000). Among non-white women, the use of firearms was higher and, among white women, hanging was used the most
CONCLUSION: Violent deaths of women by aggression affect more forcefully Brazilian black women, regardless of age. Firearms remain the aggressor's main resource for practicing femicide, especially against non-white women

Keywords: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, violence against women, aggression, external causes.



Authors summary

Why was this study done?

Feminicide is a serious health and safety problem in Brazil, with rates among the highest in the world. Considering the increasing indicators available until 2017, the authors assumed that feminicide rates could have worsened, seeking to detail the impact of the phenomenon on black women.

What did the researchers do and find?

The authors conducted a study with data from DATASUS, period 2016-2018, estimating mortality rates due to aggression among white and black Brazilian women in different age groups. The authors found higher rates of feminicide among black and brown women at all ages, especially with the use of firearms.

What do these findings mean?

The findings mean that Brazilian black women are the most impacted by this extreme form of gender violence.



The term feminicídio or femicídio (in Portuguese) derives from the English language, femicide, coined by Diana Russell in 1976, during the First International Court of Crimes against Women, in Brussels, Belgium, to refer to the violent death of women in the perspective of sociology and studies of gender1. Since then, the understanding of femicide has consolidated itself as the death of a woman due to gender in different social and political contexts, the result of a culture of domination and inequality of powers between male and female, that inferiors and subordinates the woman2.

Femicide is, above all, a category of feminist analysis that gives social visibility to the different forms of extreme violence against women, while it bases its legal recognition and establishes the responsibilities of the State3. In addition, the incorporation of the gender category and the concepts of human and social rights in the field of public health allow new configurations for the models of care for women in situations of violence, questioning the essentiality of the differences between the sexes and breaking up with the concept of biological determinism4.

A significant part of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean incorporated femicide into their criminal laws between 1995 and 20172. Even though the Brazilian State has recognized femicide as a crime against humanity since 2002, according to Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the Criminal Court5, its classification as a heinous crime occurred only in 2015, through Law No. 13,1046. Since then, the country has come to recognize the brutal gravity of this violation of women's human rights, as well as the need to promote gender justice to stop historic discriminatory practices7.

Brazil has high and growing indicators of femicide, ranking fifth among the highest rates in the world, with only El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, and the Russian Federation ahead of it8. In addition, data published in 2019 by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IAER) indicate that between 2007 and 2017 there was a 30.7% increase in the number of femicides in Brazil, with an increase in rates from 3.9 to 4.7/100,000 in the period9.

This evolution was notably heterogeneous among the States of the Federation, resulting, in 2017, in the highest rate of femicide estimated for Roraima (10.6/1,000,000), in the North region, and in the lowest rate reported for São Paulo (2.2/100,000), in the Southeast region. Additionally, there was an increase of 29.8% in femicides practiced with firearms in the same period9. Femicide in Brazil also shows different patterns according to geographic regions according to factors expressed by the Human Development Index (HDI), reflecting the social and economic inequalities of the phenomenon10.

IAER data also point to a significant inequality of femicide in relation to the race/color of women, with a 4.5% increase in the rate among white women and 29.9% among black women (black and mixed black women) for the same decade. Considering absolute numbers of lethal violence against women, the growth for white women was 1.7%, in sharp contrast to the 60.5% increase for black women in the same period9.

Another aspect that should be noted in femicide, which is potentially more adverse for black women, is the different methodologies for recording violent deaths by the Public Security and Health sectors. Legislation on femicide is relatively new, what is requiring a constant process of improving records by the judicial authorities9. It is worth mentioning that the estimation of the number of deaths by femicides through health information is an interpretation and a strategy to overcome the absence of direct data on them due to the recent classification in criminal justice.

In the health sphere, data on interpersonal and self-inflicted violence became compulsory notification as of 2009 by the Violence Surveillance System of Ministry of Health, being unified and universalized only in 2016 by Ordinance No. 2049. In this way, epidemiological information on femicide in the country can face situations of both underreporting and inadequacy of records, resulting in different statistics according to the document chosen to produce them11.

Despite these indicators, there is still little information about femicide when stratified by race/color and age ranges, or about the means of death used against black women. Thus, the objective of this study is to describe female mortality rates due to violent causes and to compare the means and instruments used by the aggressor in the femicide of white and black women.



This is an ecological study of time series. Secondary data on mortality from violent causes were obtained from the Mortality Information System (SIM), Secretary of Health Surveillance, accessed on the website of the Department of Informatics of the Unified Health System (DATASUS), in the triennium of 2016 to 2018 (

Death rates were calculated for 100,000 women classified as self-harmed, for aggression and for undetermined intent, according to age ranges from 15 to 29 years and from 30 to 59 years and by race/color record. Skin color was categorized as white, black, or mixed, according to the census criteria of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE)12. By the same criterion, black women were characterized by the sum of black and mixed.

To classify deaths by aggression, we adopted the codes X91 (hanging, strangulation or asphyxiation), X95 (aggression by a firearm), X99 (aggression by a sharp or penetrating object) and Y00 (aggression by a sharp object), from the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10). Femicides were analyzed according to these codes, comparing white women with black and mixed women. The data were entered into the Epi Info software, version Statistical analysis employed Pearson's chi-square test, being significant with p<0.05 and a confidence interval (CI) of 95%.

The study involved only secondary data collected from the SIM/DATASUS system with information from a wide public domain, exempting it from submission and opinion from the Research Ethics Committee (REC), according to Resolution No. 510/2016 of the National Health Council (NHC).



Estimates of mortality because of aggression in Brazil increased from 4.4/100,000 to 4.6/100,000 between 2011 and 2017. Estimates decreased to 4.2/100,000 in 2018, because of increased rates of self-inflicted injuries and events of undetermined intent (table 1).

Table 2 shows the mortality rates per 100,000 women in the period from 2016 to 2018, described according to type of death, age intervals and race/color recorded. The highest death rates from aggression were observed for non-white women in both age ranges, reaching the highest value of 12.5/100,000 among mixed women between 30 and 59 years old. Deaths considered undetermined intention showed the lowest rates according to the variables studied. On the other hand, self-inflicted death rates were higher for white women in both age ranges.

Table 3 shows the comparison of femicides among white and non-white women between 15 and 59 years old, according to the means or instrument used by the aggressor. Femicides with firearms were more frequent among non-white women, while hanging, strangulation or suffocation was more applied means for white women.



The most prevalent and most socially visible form of femicide is strictly linked to the violence perpetrated by people with whom women had conjugal, domestic, or family relationships, at some point in their lives, called intimate femicide2,13. Usually preceded by increasing acts of physical, sexual, or psychological violence, intimate femicide is established by the convergence of diverse social, economic and cultural factors related to gender2.

The low level of education of women is often associated with domestic violence14,15, as well as the low level of education of the aggressor intimate partner16,17, or when the woman's education or professional qualification is higher than that of the partner18. Religious practices can also relate to higher levels of intimate partner violence, as observed among Brazilian evangelical women19 or among Iraqi Muslims20. In the USA, women in situation of domestic violence who resorted to religious support were the ones who remained most within an abusive interpersonal relationship21.

Domestic violence also strikes women with no formal job or occupation22,23. On the other hand, the greater economic autonomy of women can be considered a protective element to suffer this form of violence17. The lower the woman's income the greater the risk suffering violence, giving the phenomenon meaning according to social stratification24. This dimension of domestic violence in Brazil has a direct impact on the spaces where femicides occur, resulting in 27.6% of cases consumed at the victim's residence9.

In Brazil, it is estimated that about 30% of women experience some form of physical violence practiced by their intimate partner during their lives25. In fact, the records of the National Council of Justice (NCJ) point to 1,448,716 cases of domestic violence processed in the country. In 2017 alone, protective measures totaled 236,641 requests, indicating a significant increase of 21% over the previous year26.

However, other types of femicide must be considered, such as non-intimate femicide, practiced without affective ties. These murders often compete with sexual violence, called sexual femicide13. Although less reported, a nationwide study in South Africa found that almost 20% of femicides were preceded by sexual crimes27. It is also worth mentioning the violent murder of women encoded by torture, racial hatred, transphobia, misogyny, sexism, genital mutilation, or other forms of heteronormative male domination, defining systemic femicide or femicide by connection13.

According to the Map of Violence, published in 2015, the number of femicides among white women in Brazil decreased from 1,747 cases in 2003 to 1,576 cases in 2013, indicating a 9.8% reduction. On the other hand, the femicide of black women increased 54.2% in the same period, going from 1,864 to 2,875 registered cases8. In another study, published by IAER, femicide in the country also proved to be increasing and higher for black women, reaching a rate of 5.6/100,000 in 2017, against 3.2/100,000 for white women in the same year9.

The results of this study, referring to the most recent period from 2016 to 2018, show higher rates of femicide in the two age ranges evaluated, both for white and black women. However, intentional lethal violence against mixed women is alarming, reaching 10.5/100,000 between 15 and 29 years old, and 12.5/100,000 from 30 to 59 years old, significantly higher than that observed in the same intervals for white women, 4.9/100,000 and 5.9/100.00, respectively. We highlight that the values found for mixed women exceed the highest rate of femicide in the world, attributed to El Salvador, in 2012, estimated at 8.9/100,0008.

This inequality requires reflection based on an outline of gender-based violence against black women that meets their historical dimension in Brazilian society as a bitter legacy from the slavery period. In fact, IBGE census data indicate evident social and economic disadvantages of black women in the country when considering HDI indicators12. In addition, black women face greater obstacles in accessing qualified health services and a higher prevalence of sexual and reproductive health problems28.

This unfavorable and unjustifiable situation of black women can also be seen in the indicators of violence they experience. Recent survey on intimate partner violence carried out in 86 emergency services in 25 Brazilian capitals found almost 70% of cases involving black women11. Another Brazilian study found that black women reported suffering violence significantly more frequently than white women, reiterating color/ethnicity as an important element that permeates domestic violence and gender conflicts24.

Even in other social and cultural contexts, higher rates of violence against black women are observed, particularly when practiced by an intimate partner29. Even during pregnancy, domestic violence is more prevalent among black women30. In this respect, little is known about the situation of the murder of black women during pregnancy. However, there is evidence that women who belong to minority ethnic groups or with greater social vulnerability are at greater risk of suffering this lethal form of aggression, especially in the domestic space, with mortality rates ranging between 0.97 and 10.6/100,00031.

The means and ways in which women are beaten and lethally victimized also require attention. There is ample evidence of the negative impacts to society of expanding access to firearms. Robust econometric study conducted by Donohue et al. (2019) concluded that the relaxation of laws was associated with a ten-year increase of 13% to 15% in violent crimes32. In the same sense, it is estimated that in the absence of the Disarmament Statute, aggression rates in Brazil could have increased by 12% between the years 2004 and 200733. Aggressions represent the second leading cause of premature deaths and with an increasing participation of firearms, affecting 5.9% of the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (GDP)9.

A similar relationship has been described between firearms and domestic violence by the intimate partner. A study involving 45 American states between 1980 and 2013 indicates that the prohibition on the possession of firearms in a restrictive order reduced intimate femicides by 10%. When legal restrictions were applied to men convicted of violent crimes, the reduction in intimate femicides was even greater, reaching 23%34.

In this study, the number of femicides practiced with firearms was notably higher for all categories of women aged 15 to 59 years, reaching the highest value of 4,263 cases among non-white women. Our results corroborate the Brazilian findings of 2013, with 48.8% of femicides practiced with firearms and 25.3% with sharp or penetrating objects8. However, we found a significant difference in gun deaths among mixed women when compared to white women.

This pattern of femicide found in Brazil seems to differ from other countries. In Taiwan, a retrospective study of forensic examinations of women's murders showed that neck injuries were more common in intimate femicides and injuries to the upper limbs in non-intimate cases. Intracranial injuries and bruises were also more frequent when the aggressor was unknown, while cardiac injuries occur more in intimate femicide. Despite these differences, the most common causes of death were attributed to strangulation and acute injuries using force35.

Although aggressions in Brazil show significantly higher absolute numbers for males, the analysis according to age indicates a similar distribution for both sexes. The incidences are described as very low until the age of ten, followed by steep growth until the age of 19 and a tendency of slow decline until the age of 698. In this study, we found a different situation for femicide, with higher rates of lethality between 30 and 59 years of age than between 15 and 29 years, both for white women and for black and mixed women.

Other research corroborates our results, indicating that femicide may be more frequent among more mature women. In the municipality of Campinas, Southeast region, the average age of femicide victims was 31.5±7.18 years, with an estimated rate of 3.2/100,000 for 201536. In Taiwan, the average age of intimate femicides was 40.0 years, less than that for non-intimate cases, 48.6 years35.

With increasing and high rates in Brazil, femicide has become a complex and challenging issue, both for the spheres of security and accountability and for public health. In recent years, the Brazilian State has shown some advances in the formulation and implementation of public policies for women in situations of violence. In this context, Law No. 11,340 of 2006, known as the Maria da Penha Law, which establishes protective measures for women at risk, such as the removal of the aggressor from the home, the prohibition of approaching and contacting the victim and restricting visits to children37.

Although there is an increase in complaints and records of violence against women after the Maria da Penha Law38, the legal provision has not yet had expected effects on rates of femicide. In fact, the NCJ recognizes the existence of a jurisdictional imbalance in the State Courts in the face of the problem of domestic violence, one of the most relevant components of the violent death of women26. Although these limitations matter, confronting femicide cannot be based only on the force of laws, requiring public policies that reduce gender inequities and inequalities in all areas of society2,7. Furthermore, analyses indicate a relationship between the decrease in homicides and improvement in the Human Development Index (HDI) over the years in Brazil39.

In this sense, we believe that the results of this study can contribute to the understanding of femicide and the improvement of public policies for women, particularly black women. The scarcity of research with this cut justifies its originality and the death rates for assault with firearms against mixed women requires reflection for its magnitude. On the other hand, we note that the complexity of femicide requires care not to generalize the results of this study to other social and cultural contexts.

The small number of femicides registered as black women should be considered. As self-declaration of color/race is not possible in these cases, the records end up consolidated by less reliable subjective criteria, possibly due to the social phenomenon of whitening of the black population40. This number should be interpreted according to the proportion of the self-declared black population in Brazil (7.6%) and the self-declared mixed population (43.1%), together making up 51% of the black Brazilian population, according to the 2010 census12. Even so, there is evidence that black Brazilian women have a higher chance of domestic feminicide and sexual feminicide2.

The scenario of femicide in Brazil still is worrying. Since 2019, the Executive Branch has been moving towards trying to approve measures that facilitate the population's access to firearms, which can potentially aggravate the problem. Likewise, it seeks to combat what it calls "gender ideology", based on a conservative fundamentalist perspective, which hinders the confrontation of a patriarchal culture tolerant of gender violence.



Femicide rates in Brazil showed growth in the 2016-2108 triennium, remaining among the highest in the world. Violent deaths of women due to aggression hit Brazilian mixed women with greater force, regardless of the age range. Firearms represented the aggressor's main resource for consummating femicide, especially against mixed women aged 15 to 59, while deaths by hanging, strangulation or suffocation were more frequent among white women.


The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article

Disclosure statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Orcid Authors

Mario Francisco Giani Monteiro - ORCID: 0000-0002-4795-9812

Jackeline Aparecida Ferreira Romio - ORCID: 0000-0001-8473-1684

Jefferson Drezett - ORCID: 0000-0003-4072-3636

Author contributions

M.F.G.M, and J.A.F.R. developed the research question. M.F.G.M, and J.D. performed the statistical analysis. M.F.G.M., J.A.F.R, and J.D. interpreted the results. M.F.G.M, and JD provided the tables. M.F.G.M., and J.D. drafted the manuscript. M.F.G.M., J.A.F.R, and J.D. have reviewed and approved the manuscript.

Abbreviations and Symbols

REC Research Ethics Committee

NCJ National Council of Justice

NHC National Health Council

DATASUS Department of Informatics of the Unified Health System

HDI Human Development Index

IBGE Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics

ICD International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems

IAER Institute for Applied Economic Research

SIM Mortality Information System



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Jefferson Drezett

Manuscript received: May 2021
Manuscript accepted: June 2021
Version of record online: July 2021

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