The term “Femicide” was coined to spread awareness about the exponential violence against women by the hands of a male perpetrator who often goes unpunished. It is a global transgression endured by the majority of the female population, not limited to any particular country. This gender-specific crime has been an issue of human rights violations since time immemorial.
What is Femicide
Femicide is defined as “the misogynous killing of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership over women, rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men” in the topic’s first anthology. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as an “intentional murder of women because they are women, usually perpetrated by men (committed by current or former partners).”
The extreme step of murdering women is argued to stem from “misogynistic and sexist motivation”, the societal norm that allows the superiority of men over women. Often the perpetrator is the woman’s partner or ex-partner (intimate killing), however, family members, relatives, friends, strangers have also been convicted of femicides. Femicides could involve “ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.”
As countries across the globe announced nationwide lockdowns to minimize COVID-19 infection, cases of domestic abuse and femicides spiked more than their usual numbers. The unprecedented government-mandated home confinement left many women with no option but to take shelter with their aggressors. Lack of reliable helplines, government measures, and involvement of law enforcement amidst the stay-at-home order further curtailed the option to seek help. Cases of gender-based violence continue to soar.
Latin America is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous place for a woman. Fourteen of the twenty-five countries with the highest rate of femicides are in Latin America, as estimated by the United Nations (UN). While Femicides or “Feminicides” are legally distinguished from homicides in eighteen countries of Latin America (such as Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Columbia), brutal killings of women and girls are on the rise.
Brazil and Mexico had the highest number of femicides reported in Latin America in 2018, with 1206 and 898 cases respectively. In Brazil, Violence Against Women (VAW) surged 22 per cent, along with a 27 per cent increase in national VAW helpline in March and April (initial months of lockdown) in comparison to 2019.
Some 1000 women and girls have been murdered in just the first four months of 2020 in Mexico despite femicide being a federal law in the country. Women have condemned the lack of government measures to prevent femicides in Mexico. They continue to criticize President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for his inept handling, who insinuated ‘Neo-liberalism models’ as the cause of the drastic increase in femicides. A massive one-day nationwide demonstration was held on March 8th (International Women’s day) protesting the brutal killings of a twenty-five-year-old woman and a seven-year-old girl.
Peru reported around 1200 missing females during the quarantine period and there has been substantial growth in national hotline calls from sexual and domestic abused women. The UN estimates one in three Peruvian women are subjected to sexual or physical violence once in their lifetime.
#NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) wave of protests sparked in Argentina (where one woman is killed every thirty hours, and Chile (where forty-two sexual abuse cases are reported per day) – earlier this year. The movement upholds its aim to seek justice and equity for women five years since its inception.
Gender-based stereotypes are culturally ingrained in Latin American society. On one hand, femicides are vastly under-reported by women due to fear or “aguantar” (put up with husband/domestic violence, saying ‘it was a man’s right to punish bad wives.’) And on the other, the few investigations that get picked on are misinterpreted as “Crime of Passion”.
France has one of the higher rates of violence against women in Europe. In 2019, 122 women were murdered by men, more than half of them were killed in their own house. Regardless, the country witnessed a thirty per cent increase in cases within one week of the lockdown. Following the gruesome count of murders, the French government announced free shelter for women in hotels and providing more funds to anti-domestic violence organization. The government also passed the Domestic Violence Protection Bill to combat the same.
Spain records a whopping 700 per cent increase in support services contact, primarily via emails or social media. In contrast, there has been a serious drop in police complaints, presumably due to the restraining order imposed in the lockdown. Recently, Spain also toughened their sexual violence law in light of the “Wolf Pack” incident in 2016, in which an 18-year-old girl was gang-raped at the Pamplona bull-running festival.
Apart from intimate partner violence, Middle Eastern countries manifest another category of femicide termed as Honour Killing. Honour Killing is when a male family member murders his female relative for “an actual or assumed sexual or behavioural transgression, including adultery, sexual intercourse or pregnancy outside marriage – or even for being raped.”
In recent news, a woman from Jordan was bludgeoned to death with a brick by her father, who then smoked a cigarette and drank tea beside her body, as per witnesses. Such instances of so-called honour killing occurring in the Middle East at a staggering rate caused an uproar of protests in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq in solidarity with the victims.
Last month, femicides in Turkey received attention from social media after #ChallengeAccepted went viral. Black and white photos of celebrities and the general female public did the rounds predominantly on Instagram and Facebook. The challenge shone a light upon the growing battle against the gender-based killing in Turkey, with 276 killings this year alone. Amid the cry of women seeking more support and prevention measures from the government, the ruling party has been considering to withdraw from a key human rights treaty – the Istanbul Convention, ‘a treaty to protect of women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.’
Honour Killing is extended also in Asia, particularly Central and South Asian countries of Pakistan and India.
While Honour killing is a patriarchal tradition in Islamic countries like Pakistan – where women caught committing pre-marital sex or adultery are executed by their male relatives; in India, honour killing takes a casteist approach. People follow cultural and traditionally accepted practices of marrying into one’s caste. Violation of this practice often leads to kidnapping, physical abuse, forcible remarriage or murder. Additionally, the country is a breeding ground for dowry killing and female foeticide.
The dowry practises of giving valuable security (in the form of properties, money, gold, commodities) to the groom by the bride’s family has been banned in India since 1961. However, the system is prevalent and exercised owing to traditions. Failure to meet the groom’s demand ends in the mental/physical torture or murder of the bride.
The need for a male heir gave rise to female infanticide in India, China and Nepal. The mothers undergo domestic abuse and familial pressure to deliver a male baby. Domestic violence was termed an ‘epidemic’ in Indonesia, and one of China’s reasons for the region’s magnifying Femicide.
Pandemic Within A Pandemic
UN chief António Guterres said in a tweet, “Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes.” The UN reports doubling-tripling of helpline calls and Google Searches since the pandemic. COVID-19 has exposed the inadequacy of healthcare support and protection of the victims. Hospitals and police are understaffed, funds and space are scarce for women shelter at a time when violence against women and femicides are at an all-time rise.