Femicide: the unrelenting epidemic

Image by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
 

Written by Sarah Rennie

Content Warning: Violence Against Women & Femicide

Throughout the nineties and early 2000s, Ciudad Juárez (a Mexican city just south of El Paso, Texas) made the headlines for the deaths of numerous women. In 1993, the first crimes were reported, as bodies were found on the outskirts of the city Many of them showed signs of torture or mutilation. Some of the victims were as young as thirteen years old. By 2005, almost 400 women had been brutally murdered in Ciudad Juárez alone, with next to no arrests being made. These events in Juárez should have been a wake-up call for local, national, and global authorities. Naturally, we would expect these shocking statistics to have declined over time. Yet, this is not the case. In 2020, 3273 women were murdered in Mexico, with 940 investigated as femicides.

Femicide is a term that you may be unfamiliar with, but it is one that you should know. It was popularised by writer and activist Diana Russell in 1976 and, at its most basic level, is defined as the murder of women because they arewomen. Femicide is the most extreme form of violence against women. While research shows that global homicide rates are on the decline, femicide rates are not. So, why is this the case?

According to a 2016 study by UNWOMEN, Latin American countries account for 14 of the 25 most dangerous countries for women worldwide. While it is true that these statistics have changed somewhat over the last five years, femicide continues to be an increasing problem in this region. The prevalence of femicide in Latin America can be related to the historical and cultural phenomenon of “machismo”.  This is the belief that men are superior to women. Societal norms in the Latin America demand that men conform to a hypermasculine stereotype and assume a dominant role in society. They show little weakness and must protect the vulnerable. However, this is often done by exercising control over the women in their lives and minimising their status. In some prominent cases of femicide in Mexico, authorities have ruled deaths as suicides first. This absolves the murderers of any responsibility in the crime and victimises and blames the woman even further. “Machismo” culture is present in the workplace, at home, on the street, and in popular culture. This way of living normalises “machista” attitudes and often leaves women feeling as though their reactions to jokes, comments or even physical violence are wrong.

Another major reason for the increase in femicides in Latin America is impunity. This stems from the authorities’ indifference to crimes of femicide, setting a cultural precedent for offenders to continue offending with minimal repercussions. Across Latin America, impunity rates can reach up to 96% (Honduras), with the average regional impunity rate staying at 90%. Authorities are so disinterested that often the families of the victims are even left to do the police work for themselves. The concept of impunity relates strongly to the problems that machismo brings to Latin American culture, as authorities do not like to use the word “femicide” to label such crimes. In doing this, the gendered aspect of the killings is diminished, which in turn normalises the culture of “machismo” across the Latin American region and normalises gender-based violence. It is imperative that the legal system takes femicide and all it encompasses seriously for things to move forward in the future.

Our attention should not only be focused on Latin America, however. Femicide is quickly becoming another epidemic right here in the UK. According to the Femicide Census, 1425 women were killed between 2009-2018 (an average of one woman falling victim to femicide every three days). In these cases, 30% of the victims had already reported situations of abuse to the police. Evidently, authorities have failed to protect women against widespread femicide. While machismo is known as a Latin American culture, this hypermasculinity certainly exists in the United Kingdom and plays a large role the surge of femicides in recent years. In March, the femicide of Sarah Everard by a member of the Metropolitan Police was reported nationwide. The police officer used his power as an authority figure to kidnap, assault and brutally murder Sarah Everard. The murder of Sabina Nessa in September is another appalling account of femicide in the UK. Sabina Nessa was walking through a public space when she was attacked and killed by an unknown man. The cases of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa reached media outlets and sparked international outcry,  there are so many other women who fall victim to femicide and do not receive the same level of interest.

We are facing a growing problem worldwide that needs immediate attention. The safety of women from femicide and other forms of violence is paramount. According to Karen Ingala Smith, creator of Counting Dead Women, there have been 110 femicide victims in the UK so far this year. These statistics are awful. Authorities need to focus more on femicide to stop this extreme violence happening and obtain justice for the many thousands of victims worldwide. Many organisations have been set up in recent years, including Gendes in Mexico City, which aims to change how men view their own masculinities. Jose Alberto, a participant of the Gendes’ awareness programmes explains that the programme helped him to understand that this actions were threatening and abusive. He went on to talk to his colleagues about the need for men to take responsibility for their actions. Being met with a cold reception at work, he turned his attention to educating his young son about the effects of “Machismo”. We are in dire need of men like Jose Alberto globally – men who are open to listening, learning, and taking action. Here in the UK, organisations like White Ribbon are working alongside men to bring an end to violence against women. White Ribbon engages with men and boys and teaches them about violence against women, and why men need to speak up about this major issue.

Clearly, education is vital for enacting change worldwide and without the willingness to learn, the femicide crisis will not go away any time soon.

If you would like to learn more about femicide:

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