Global → femicide

What do we mean by femicide? | Editorial Team

March 27, 2020 — Femicide Definitions
Femicide Vol X

Trying to agree on a "global" definition of the killing of women and girls based on their gender is highly complex. Its meaning varies according to the point of view, context, and discipline from which it is being examined as well as its scope, content, and implications rely on how it is being addressed. We agree that knowledge reflects particular conditions of possibility that allow it to be produced in the first place. In this sense, we acknowledge that the differences between "femicide" and "feminicidio" are not only linguistic but also, and perhaps more importantly, cultural.

Therefore, the idea of conceptually using "fem(in)icide" (rather than "femicide" or "feminicide") not only intends to recognise this conceptual multiplicity but also for our readers to immerse (in)side the different knowledge makings around this topic as they navigate through the information available in our repository. 

Instead of coming up with a specific definition ourselves, below you will find various significant key elements coming from activists, practitioners, and scholars concerned with fem(in)icide. 

Author(s) / Source: FWP Editorial TEam

General definition and aspects

The term femicide refers to the killing of women and girls because they are females, i.e. because of their gender.

  • Fem(in)icide is not an “isolated” or “sporadic” case of violence but results from unequal power structures—rooted in “traditional” gender roles, customs, and mindsets—where women and girls often find themselves in a subordinated and/or marginalized position.
  • Fem(in)icide is not only the most extreme form of violence against women and girls but also the most violent manifestation of discrimination against them and their inequality.
  • Fem(in)icide occurs both in the private and in the public sphere, by an intimate-partner, or by any other member of the family or community and, in some contexts, it might be perpetrated or tolerated by the States’ actions or omissions.
  • Fem(in)icide includes a wide range of categories of killings. The former SRVAW, professor Rashida Manjoo, generated a knowledge base surrounding this phenomenon in her thematic reports.

Definitions given by different actors:

  • UNSRVAW: "The Special Rapporteur has defined femicide, or the gender-related killing of women, as the killing of women because of their sex and/or gender. It constitutes the most extreme form of violence against women and the most violent manifestation of discrimination against women and their inequality" (A/71/398). 
  • UNODC: In the "Recommendations for action against gender-related killing of women and girs" booklet fem(in)icide is referred to as the "gender-related killing of women" and it argues that it "occurs in all our societies, be it as a result of intimate partner violence, in the name of “honour”, in connection with accusations of sorcery or witchcraft, or in the context of armed conflict. In many cases, the killing is the final step in a continuum of violence against women and girls. Too often, perpetrators are not held accountable and impunity prevails". 
  • WHO: "Femicide is generally understood to involve intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls. This information sheet focuses on the narrower definition commonly used in policies, laws and research: intentional murder of women. Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways. For example, most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner."
  • Mexican General Law on Women's Access to a Life Free of Violence: "Femicide violence is the most extreme form of gender violence against women, produced by the violation of their human rights in public and private spheres and formed by the set of misogynist actions that can lead to the impunity of society and the State and culminate in homicide and other forms of the violent death of women." 
  • Fregoso and Bejarano (eds). 2010. Terrorizing women feminicide in the Américas: "Building on the generic definition of "femicide" as "the murder of women and girls because they are female" (Russell 2001), we define "feminicide" as the murders of women and girls founded on a gender power structure. Second, feminicide is gender-based violence that is both public and private, implicating both the state (directly or indirectly) and individual perpetrators (private or state actors); it this encompasses systematic, widespread, and everyday interpersonal violence. Third, feminicide is systemic violence rooted in social, political, economic, and cultural inequalities. In this sense, the focus of our analysis is not just a gender but also on the intersection of gender dynamics with the cruelties of racism and economic injustices in local as well as global contexts." (Fregoso and Bejarano 2010: 5).  

The different categories

The previous UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG, professor Rashida Manjoo, started to create a knowledge base surrounding this phenomenon in her thematic reports, arguing that it “represents the extreme manifestation of existing forms of violence against women […] gender-related killings are not isolated incidents which arise suddenly and unexpectedly, but are rather the ultimate act of violence which is experienced in a continuum of violence”(A/HRC/20/16).

She further identified an extensive set of categories of femicide perpetrated directly and indirectly. The direct category includes: killings as a result of intimate-partner violence; sorcery/witchcraft-related killings; honour-related killings; armed conflict-related killings; dowry-related killings; gender identity- and sexual orientation-related killings; and ethnic- and indigenous identity-related killings.

The indirect category includes: deaths due to poorly conducted or clandestine abortions; maternal mortality; deaths from harmful practices; deaths linked to human trafficking, drug dealing, organized crime and gang-related activities; the death of girls or women from simple neglect, through starvation or ill-treatment; and deliberate acts or omissions by the State.

This list is ultimately non-exhaustive, since society is fluid and constantly changing, hence other forms of violence against women can emerge. New forms of femicide that are now receiving more attention include extremism, fundamentalism, and the killing of women and girls in  flight.