Femicide has been in the news lately.
This week a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan by a mob of angry men for allegedly burning a Quran. After she was killed, her body was thrown off the roof, set on fire, run over by a car and thrown into the river. Her brutal murder has been a rallying point for women’s rights activists in Afghanistan. #JusticeForFarkhunda
Last month in Turkey, 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan was murdered after resisting rape by a minibus driver while she was traveling home from university. Her murder sparked protests advocating for harsher punishments for gender-based killings.
According to the New York Times, “In hundreds of cases [in Turkey], men who murdered were able to argue that a woman provoked them, or that their dignity was impugned, and they received a reduced sentence, some to just a few years in prison” (NYT, 2015).
Mexico has been called out for having a femicide epidemic, averaging six murders of women each day. These murders are often categorized as “crimes of passion.” According to Al Jazeera, of the nearly 4000 femicides identified in 2012 and 2013, 1.6% led to sentencing (Al Jazeera, 2015).
During my two-year stint of living in a town of ~10,000 in Nicaragua, a young girl was killed by her boyfriend and a woman’s rights activist from the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (Network of Women Against Violence) was attacked with a machete because of her views. She luckily survived. According to La Prensa, 75 women were killed last year “the majority of whom were killed by their husbands, boyfriends, or partners in their home” (La Prensa, 2015).
I would be remiss if I did not also include examples of femicide in the United States because violence against women in general, and femicide in particular, is a global phenomenon. The UN recently said that no country has achieved equality for women.
Now let’s return to the discussion of femicide in the United States. I googled “woman killed” today and 27,100,000 results popped up in 0.43 seconds. Most of the articles are about women being killed by their significant others, which reflects statistics that say that “between 40-70% of female murder victims in the United States were killed by their intimate partner” (ACUNS, 2013).
Yet when I googled “femicide,” hardly any articles about femicide in the United States appear in the search.
According to a report on femicide by the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), the criminal justice system in the United States doesn’t specify these killings as femicides, but rather as homicides or “intimate homicides” (ACUNS, 2013).
An average of 1500 women are killed each year in the United States (ACUNS, 2013). Why are we so far behind the rest of the world in using words like “femicide” to classify these murders?
Language is our most powerful tool to enact change. The words we use to define an issue is the difference between “murder” and “friendly fire;” it’s the difference between “climate change” and the “statewide jacuzzification” of Florida;” it’s the difference between enacting policy on a real issue and pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Brazil understands this. This month Brazil passed a law that will impose harsher punishments for cases of femicide, which they defined as “any crime that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women.
The head of United Nations Women in Brazil told Reuters that “it has taken us a long time to say that the killing of a woman is a different phenomenon. Men are killed in the street, women are killed in the home.”
The World Health Organization defines femicide as the “intentional murder of women because they are women” (WHO, 2012). This definition includes intimate femicide (such as by a significant other), honor killings, dowry-related femicide, and non-intimate femicide (like what happened to Farkhunda and Ozgecan).
An organization in the UK called Women’s Aid is working to create a census on femicide to get accurate data on the phenomenon. It’s amazing to me that there is so little data on femicide, considering the extent to which it happens every day in every part of the globe.
This blog post is a plea to the United States – as well as the rest of the world – to recognize femicide as a specific category of hate crime. Only after defining our terms can we hope to collect any meaningful data and legislate policies that work. #Femicide