Femi(ni)cide 101: What do you need to know about femicide?
This dossier draws heavily from international sources including: the UNODC study on the Gender-related killings of women and girls (femicide/feminicide), the UNODC Statistical Framework for measuring the gender-related killing of women and girls (also reffered to as femicide/feminicide), and The Latin American Model Protocol for the Investigation of Gender-Related Killings of Women (Femicide/Feminicide). For further reading on the topic, see the resources mentioned at the bottom of the page.
What is Femi(ni)cide?
The platform has adopted the term femi(ni)cide to describe the gender-related killings of women and girls because it incorporates both terms – femicide and feminicide. This allows us to encompass varying perspectives and geographic regions, recognizing that both terms are equally valid in understanding the phenomenon. The definition of femicide varies across sectors, research disciplines, and world regions but it can be broadly understood as the gender-related killing of a woman or girl, primarily committed by men, because of their sex or gender. The term feminicide is more commonly used in some world regions (e.g., Latin America) to describe gender-related killings of women and girls because it also highlights the state's complicity and impunity of offenders in these killings. The term “femicide” will be used for the remainder of the text for the sake of simplicity.
Femicide is widely recognized as the most extreme and brutal form of violence and discrimination against women and girls (Sarmiento et al., 2014; UNODC, 2022, UNODC, 2022). It is rooted in the global issue of gender inequality, where women are subjected to discrimination, stereotyped gender roles, harmful social norms, unequal power relations, and patriarchal systems of oppression (UNODC, 2022). Accordingly, femicide can be defined as the killing of women or girls due to sex/gender-related motivations, which refers to the underlying causes or context in which the killings take place (UNODC, 2022). For instance, men who kill women may be motivated by the idea of men’s entitlement and superiority over women, pleasure or sadistic desires, social expectations of masculinity, the need to assert control or power, the desire to enforce gender roles, or the desire to punish what is classified as unacceptable female behaviour.
Femicide can occur in different situations within both the private and public spheres, and within different contexts of victim-perpetrator relationship. It includes the killing of women and girls by a current or former intimate partner, a family member, an acquaintance or someone they know, and a stranger. Various types of femicide have been proposed by researchers, most of which differentiate between intimate and non-intimate femicide. The most common form of femicide globally, intimate femicide or intimate partner femicide, captures the killing of a woman by a current of a former intimate partner. In comparison, non-intimate partner femicide refers to the killing of women and girls who do not share an intimate partner relationship with the perpetrator.
Who is Impacted by Femi(ni)cide?
Femicide impacts women and girls worldwide, regardless of their identity, culture, country, or region. However, it disproportionately impacts marginalized women and girls who face a higher risk of gender-based violence and femicide. This includes, but is not limited to, Indigenous, Black, and other racialized women and girls; women and girls living with disabilities; newcomer, immigrant or refuge women and girls; older women; women and girls living in rural, remote, and northern areas; women working in the sex industry; and individuals in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. These groups of women and girls are vulnerable to femicide because sexism and misogyny work in combination with other forms of oppression (e.g., racism, poverty, heterosexism, ableism, ageism) that are deeply embedded in societal structures, underscoring the need for an intersectional lens.
Femicide has far reaching effects beyond taking the life of women and girls. Women are daughters, mothers, partners, sisters, caregivers, friends, coworkers, and neighbours, and fill significant other roles in society. Those left behind who had a relationship with the victim, experience immeasurable loss and suffering, often referred to as the ‘living victims of femicide’. Femicide also affects all women and girls as well as communities and society in general. The threat of femicide and male violence impacts women’s decisions to actively participate in public life, restricts their movements, and serves as a constant reminder of the risks they face. Further, femicide reinforces gender inequality which violates the rights and restricts the freedom and opportunities of one-half of the world’s population, which comprises women and girls. As a result, it is difficult for women and girls to reach their potential and make a positive impact on the familial, social, and economic well-being of themselves and their communities.
What Makes Fem(ni)cide Distinct from Other Killings?
Despite the fact that men account for the majority of homicide victims globally, research indicates that when women and girls are killed, they tend to be killed in ways that are distinct when compared to how and why men and boys are killed. Unlike other types of homicide, femicide involves the killing of a woman or girl because they are a woman or girl; that is their deaths occur because they are seen as property or objects of men in a patriarchal society.
In addition, globally, the majority of men are killed by other men, whereas the majority of women are killed by men close to them. For example, a UNODC study found that in 2021, around 45,000 women and girls worldwide were killed by their intimate partners or other family members (UNODC, 2022). This means approximately 56% of the estimated 81,100 female homicide victims recorded worldwide in 2021 were killed by someone in their own family (UNODC, 2022).
Further, many victims of femicide have been subjected to prior violence/harassment by the perpetrator before their deaths, which is another distinguishing characteristic that differs from male homicide. In the case of a woman being killed by her intimate partner, the killing rarely occurs at random or without reason, but rather is a manifestation of gender-based violence stemming from unequal power relations between men and women.
Why is Addressing Femi(ni)cide Important?
Addressing this issue is crucial because femicide is becoming increasingly recognized as a global, widespread violation of human rights. Despite decades of activism, women and girls continue to bear the greatest burden of gender-based violence and lethal victimization globally. The true scale of the problem is likely much larger than documented because there is still a dearth of information to identify killings as femicide due to regional variation in criminal justice recording and investigation techniques.
Addressing this issue is also important because femicide is preventable. A multifaceted approach including legal, social, and cultural measures is necessary to combat femicide. Strengthening femicide prevention, protection, response measures, and access to justice requires ensuring the availability of comprehensive disaggregated data. The UNODC and UN Women also emphasize that femicide can be prevented through primary prevention initiatives aimed at transforming harmful social norms and mobilizing communities and societies to establish zero tolerance for gender-based violence and gender inequality. They further highlight strategies including early intervention and risk assessment, access to survivor-centred support and protection, gender responsive policing and justice services, and strengthening legal frameworks to ensure accountability for perpetrators. Collaboration between governments, civil society organizations, and communities is essential to addressing femicide and establishing a society where women and girls are free from violence and can thrive in all facets of life.
References for further reading
Key publications by UNODC
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