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(CNN) — Before the murder of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher murdered in London, some were already talking about an “epidemic of femicides”. But what is femicide?
Here’s what you need to know about the term, how different parts of the world compare, and what can be done to reduce femicide.
What is femicide?
Femicide, also known as femicide, is the most extreme form of gender-based violence (GBV) and is defined as the “intentional killing of women for being women.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the majority of cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve continuous abuse at home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations in which women have less power. or fewer resources than their partner.
Femicides are divided into two categories: intimate and non-intimate femicides. The first refers to the murder of women by partners or ex-partners, while the second summarizes the murder of women by people with whom they did not have an intimate relationship.
This includes women killed during armed conflict as weapons of war; so-called “honor” killings, in which a woman is killed for allegedly shaming her family; the murder of women because of their race or sexuality; femicides perpetrated by other women, acting as “agent(s) of the patriarchy”; and the murder of transgender women.
How serious is the problem?
There is no global, standardized or consistently recorded data on femicide.
The most recent global report on homicide from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was published in July 2019, presenting data from 2017.
That year, 87,000 women worldwide were intentionally killed, more than half of them (50,000) by intimate partners or family members. The total number has increased from an estimated 48,000 in 2012.
But the problem is probably bigger. “Data gaps mask the true scale of violence,” wrote the European Institute for Gender Equality, whose EU-wide gender-based violence survey results are expected in 2023.
How do the regions of the world compare?
In the UK, between 2009 and 2018 “a woman is killed by a man every three days”, according to the 10-year report of the Census of Femicides, published in November 2020.
In 2017, the highest recorded number of women was killed in Asia, followed by Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania.
A 2016 study, “A Gender Analysis of Violent Deaths,” reported that although their overall homicide numbers were low, Slovenia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Austria were the top four “high-income countries in which the female homicide rate is greater than or equal to the male homicide rate.
Germany and Hong Kong are tied for fifth place, although Hong Kong is not a country but a territory.
Although the UNODC reports that femicides generally make up a small percentage of all murders, the global trend remains worrying. German broadcaster DW reported in November 2020 that “every day in Germany a man tries to kill his or his ex-partner. Every three days, an attempt is successful.”
There have been protests around the world over the number of women murdered, from the United States to Albania and Mexico, from South Africa to Australia.
Is femicide different from homicide in criminal law?
No, in most countries it is not.
Only a handful of countries legally recognize femicide as distinctly different from homicide. Most of them are in Latin America, where 16 countries have included femicide as a specific crime.
No EU Member State has defined femicide in its legislation. Neither does the United States, although the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2018 and is awaiting reauthorization by Congress, is considered “landmark legislation” because it makes it the responsibility of the federal government to prosecute domestic violence and support the victims.
The UK Parliament recently rejected a petition calling for femicide to be made a crime, saying: “It is not clear what the petition asks of the UK Government or Parliament. Murder is already a crime, so We’re not sure what they want to happen by creating a new crime.”
However, Ivana Milovanović, a Serbian judge expert on gender-based violence, told UN Women, a UN organization that advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality: “Femicide must be recognized as a specific criminal offence.” .
“Femicide differs from other forms of murder because it is the gender-based murder of a woman just because she is a woman,” she explained. This indicates that the root causes of femicide differ from other types of murder and are related to the general position of women in society, discrimination against women, gender roles, the unequal distribution of power between men and women, habitual gender stereotypes, prejudice and violence against women”.
Does the drafting of the femicide law help women obtain justice?
It has been argued that by including femicide in the criminal code, first the misogynistic nature of these crimes is recognized, but it also leads to more accurate data collection which, in turn, can lead to better policies and practices that protect women. women.
In Mexico, for example, femicide is not only recognized in law, but in 2020 the country’s Congress approved harsher sentences for femicide: from 45 to 65 years in prison if convicted.
Also in Latin America, Guatemala has a similar system, with specialized judges and prosecutors trained to deal with femicide cases.
But these provisions and penalties have not led to higher conviction rates or a decrease in these crimes. The UNODC writes: “Countries in Latin America have adopted legislation criminalizing femicide as a specific crime in their penal codes. However, there are no signs of a decrease in the number of gender-based murders of women and girls.” .
Looking specifically at Mexico, Meghan Beatley reports: “Paradoxically, even when the killers of women are caught and prosecuted, the category of femicide has made it more difficult to convict them.”
This is because prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was perpetuated because the victim was a woman.
“The notion of gender-related homicide, or femicide, requires an understanding of what acts are gender-related, something that is subject to some degree of interpretation,” the UNODC writes in its 2019 global homicide study. In many cases, there is a continuum of (partner) violence that culminates in the murder of women even when the perpetrators have no specific (misogynistic) motives.”
How can we reduce femicides?
Well, first, here’s what doesn’t work: telling women what to do or wear, and how to behave to avoid becoming victims of violence.
Following Nessa’s murder, there was outrage after the local council handed over 200 security alarms to women and vulnerable people in the area where the teacher’s body was found.
Writer Sophie Gallagher expressed her frustration in a column saying that this kind of response from authorities, as well as guidance from police advising women on how to stay out of harm’s way, “aggressively perpetuates women’s position as second-class citizens.” class, whose duty it is to yield to the inalienable rights of violent men to exist”.
He added: “These ‘safety rules’ are false guarantees that society gives us to rid us of responsibility for what happens to us at the hands of the insidious misogyny that allows it to run rampant.”
So what is it like to take responsibility? The Small Arms Survey report called data collection “indispensable” to prevent gender-based violence. “Data disaggregated by sex, age, ethnicity, victim-perpetrator relationship, and motivation for violence, along with contextual information, such as the place, time, and instrument of violence, will benefit efforts to diagnose, reduce, and prevent violence, including lethal violence,” its authors wrote.
When it comes to best practices, the government of Peru is often cited. Its action plan includes “several agencies with specialized working groups [que trabajan] for the reduction of femicides and the prosecution of abusers, including emergency centers for women, a hotline for victims of violence against women and the Specialized Police Brigade for the Prevention of Domestic Violence”.
Ultimately, however, to reduce gender-based violence in all its forms, cultural and social norms must change. Research published by Bristol University Press suggests that societies need to take a close look at their views on “masculinity and femininity, gender equality, domestic violence and femicide laws, patriarchal ideology, traditional values, the role of religion in society and media coverage of femicide and violence against women”.