Case study

COVID-19, social distancing and violence against women in Brazil

York researchers evaluate the impact of social distancing on domestic violence in Brazil.

The issue

Domestic violence against women is a major issue in Brazil. Before COVID-19, Brazil ranked fifth in the world for femicides (killing of women), with 50 per cent of cases conducted by an intimate partner. Domestic violence tends to disproportionately affect women of disadvantaged backgrounds, putting them at higher risk of poverty and gender-based inequities. 

Commentators have linked social distancing measures in Brazil to significant increases in domestic violence cases against women. When social distancing rules were implemented between March and April 2020, femicides rose by 22 per cent on average in 12 states compared to the previous year. During the same period, São Paulo saw a 54 per cent rise, and 44 per cent increase in police calls reporting domestic violence against women. There are similar reports in other countries. 

Stay-at-home and social distancing policies have increased the length of time women are exposed to their violent partners, and isolated them from support services and family networks which help discourage violent behaviour. Many households have also experienced financial pressures due to reduced economic activity which has heightened tensions. 

With COVID-19 cases forecast to increase in Brazil, it is likely there will be further social distancing measures in place. There is an urgent need for evidence to guide pandemic-related policies to protect vulnerable women and mitigate the issue in Brazil and beyond.

The research

Researchers at York will work alongside the University of São Paulo to evaluate the impact of social distancing on domestic violence. Their research will focus on the two largest metropolitan regions of Brazil, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with some national-level analysis. The study - COVID-19, social distancing and violence against women in Brazil (BRAVE) - also aims to assess the indirect social consequences of increased domestic violence on health costs, labour productivity and supply and other issues.

Secondary data will be used to measure the impact of violence across different socio-economic and demographic groups. This data will be provided by the local public authorities, law enforcement and household surveys, complemented by mobile phone location data indicating the degree of social distancing across areas. The data will also be used to assess the success of related public policies such as financial support for families during the pandemic and the presence of police stations specialised in dealing with gender-based violence. 

BRAVE researchers will work closely with partners involved in municipal and state-level public policies for victims of domestic violence. The findings will inform further policy design in Brazil and elsewhere.

The BRAVE project will improve our understanding of the consequences of social distancing on domestic violence against women, and help inform policies around safeguarding women during situations like the current pandemic.

Rodrigo Moreno-Serra
Principal investigator
Featured researcher

Rodrigo Moreno-Serra

Dr Moreno-Serra’s research interests include a variety of topics in the fields of health economics, global health and development economics.

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Featured researcher

Noemi Kreif

Dr Kreif’s work is centred on econometric evaluations of health policies in low and middle-income countries, with a continued interest in applying advanced causal inference and machine learning tools.

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Featured researcher

Samuel Lordemus

Samuel Lordemus’ research focuses on development economics, health and conflict, with an emphasis on economic history.

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Research and Innovation Development Team