Femicide: A Global Problem
Side-event at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
April 23, 2012
Organized by the Academic Council on the United Nations System, the Small Arms Survey, and the UNODC Statistics and Surveys Section 

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The Killing of Women in the Context of Global Homicides by Angela Me, Chief Statistics and Surveys Section, UNODC
Femicide in Central America by Janice Joseph, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
FRA Violence against Women Survey by Sami Nevala, Statistician Freedoms & Justice Department

Dr. Michael Platzer of the Vienna ACUNS Liaison Office opened the discussion, outlining the issue and referring to a movie coming out soon on femicide, called It’s a Girl. The side-event started with a projection of a short clip on femicide, providing an understanding of the phenomenon in India: “I wanted to check the sex of the child, because having another daughter would increase the liability, in that you educate a daughter, you invest money, and then she leaves the house. […] The intention of killing infant girls by gender-related abortion, by infanticide, or by neglect and discrimination leading to death cuts across social and economic boundaries. It occurs in wealthy and poor families, and in many countries. In India gender-related abortion of some 10 million girls over the last two decades has led to an alarming gender gap. On average, only 899 girls are born for every 1,000 boys. It is estimated that 50 million women and girls are missing. The phenomenon is as old as many cultures. It reflects the low esteem, in which many women are held in many societies, where a girl is seen is a burden, a boy is seen as an essentially economic asset.”

Ms. Angela Me (Chief, Statistics and Surveys Section, UNODC) presented data on the killing of women in the context of global homicide, as presented in The Global Study of Homicide (October 2011). Looking at the global data, it appeared that men are most vulnerable. 80% of victims are men and most perpetrators are also men. Particularly in the Americas, but overall as well, and varying across regions, it is mostly men that are killed. Why then discuss femicide? The great majority of women are killed in the domestic context and this is not an issue of a specific country/region. She showed evidence (graphs and statistics) to support this statement. In Europe half of the women killed in 2008-2010 were killed by a family member. For men it is just 15%. There is a clear relation between the killing of women and the killing due to partner and family violence. In North America the percent of family and partner violence-related femicide reaches 70%. Policies on homicide focus on street violence or organized crime, leaving aside domestic violence. For some women the most unsecure place is their own home. What of the governments’ responses? How many people were prosecuted and convicted? At present there is no sufficient data on this. There is a need to invest more on data on crime prevention and criminal justice.

Dr. Anna Alvazzi del Frate (Research Director, Small Arms Survey) mentioned the work they are doing in Geneva on small arms and prevention and reduction of arms violence. They also use homicide as a proxy in their research, such as in The Global Burden of Armed Violence, prepared in support of the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development (a diplomatic initiative to which 112 countries have adhered, which aims at a measurable reduction of armed violence by 2015). Some trends in homicide were included in this report, of which a chapter was devoted to femicide. “Femicide” is used to define any killing of a woman. It is different from the definition given in the 1970s, which had a very strong feminist component (killing women because they were women). It is more likely for men to be killed, but some important patterns were found that link long-term violence against women with the killing. Women who live in abusive relationships run a much higher risk to be killed. The presence of a gun in the home is very likely to transform disputes into killings. “Violence against women is the most frequent and less punished crime in the world.” was the first sentence of the documentary show at the beginning and it holds true. One of the consequences is that statistically the killing of a woman may not pop-up as intentional, it is not properly investigated, properly prosecuted, and it may be classified as manslaughter or unintentional homicide, because there is a high level of tolerance of violence against women. And this, of course, has consequences for the researchers as well, since the information is not coming from all possible sources (criminal justice and public health). The research tried to map the prevalence of the female rates of homicide. In practice, the majority of the countries (mostly in Africa and Asia) fall in a grey area. There are 25 countries in the high/very high femicide rates and they are in the Americas. Very frequently national rates do not express the situation in different cities or regions within a country. Therefore femicide, more so than homicide, is an issue that should be looked at more locally. There is a paradox: in some countries, the overall risk to get killed is low, yet domestic violence may be there and, very frequently, the women are killed in conflicts. 60% of homicide is committed with fire arms. Only 30% of women are killed with a fire arm. This is a big problem and it requires thinking and preventive action. In some cases this is the only form of violence that still remains, such as in Europe, a type of violence that is not to be accepted.

Mr. Sami Nevala (Statistician and Team Coordinator, Freedom & Justice Department, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) introduced an ongoing project, which will, for the first time, produce comparable data in the EU on the issue on violence against women. There is no possible way to measure femicide, given the lack of data, but the survey will provide data on the factors and contexts that can lead to femicide. The fact that relevant data on the violence against women across the EU did not exist prompted the European Council to issue a call for research. This was the basis to take further action. The first step was to look at existing research on both national and international level. The finding was that for the national level there existed a project of the European Council, Coordination Action on Human Rights Violations, which listed a number of national-level initiatives. For the international level, the UN Secretary General’s database on violence against women was looked into, which provides a global overview of existing surveys. All these initiatives have shown that the surveys have a limited use, since they have been carried out on different methodologies, and offer, therefore, no relevant view on the EU level. Research has been carried out by the World Health Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe. However, for international programs, the EU countries are not typically the focus. Funding considerations directed such projects to other areas of the world, but in this instance there was a need for EU-level action. When developing the study, the data needs were taken into consideration, using indicators of the UN Statistics Division, OHCHR, as well as the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The objective of this exercise was to make sure the data collected will have policy utility, not only to EU-level actors, but to member states and the civil society as well in developing and advocating policy change. 2010-2011 a pre-study was conducted in six member states. At present there are around 1,000 interviewers in the 27 member states and Croatia. The respondents are at least 18 years old, there is just one person interviewed per household, and the interviewers are trained to be able to ask sensitive questions and handle potentially challenging situations that may occur during the interviews. The questions cover a range of physical, sexual and psychological violence, including stalking and harassment, issues less covered in other international studies of this nature. The extent, nature and consequences of violence are looked at: whether it has led to injuries, whether the respondent needed to take time off work, whether they took advantage of a variety of services (police, etc.). On a separate section there are questions asked retrospectively about the respondent’s victimization in childhood. Considering the use of services and reporting, they are interested to see which services were contacted: police, support services, health care, social services and whether the respondents were they satisfied with contacting them and if not, why not. This is something that can then be fed in policy development. We can find out what would be for them a helpful support service and inform them about existing support systems. The results will be analyzed in 2013, but until then a number of reports will be issued, and an interactive website will be set up for these purposes as well.

Dr. Janice Joseph (Professor of Criminal Justice, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey) talked about femicide in Latin America. She began by making the distinction between “femicide” and “homicide”, bringing in the gender perspective. Femicide is seen as a hate crime or a form of terrorism. The most common form in intimate femicide, but there are others as well: intra-family (honor killings), infanticide, multicidal femicide (serial killiers) and systemic femicide (in war zones). Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador were the four countries she took into consideration. They went through political unrest in the 1960s and many of their inhabitants were displaced in the United States. There is also a high rate of poverty and inequality, in addition to family dysfunctions. Guatemala has the highest female mortality rate in the world (for 2011, 750 women – a lot, given the small population of the country). In Honduras femicide occurs every 48 hours. Between 2004 and 2007 the killing rate of women grew four times more than that of men. In El Salvador every 13 hours a woman is killed. In 2011 640 women were killed. For Nicaragua, there is no quality data on femicide, since there is no clear distinction between femicide and homicide. Factors determining femicide include: domestic violence, organized crime (trafficking in human beings, gangs), acts of revenge, poverty, marginalization, migrants status, etc. Explanations for this phenomenon include: inequality between men and women, the issue of control, economic exploitation, race, sexism, and the cultural clashes (the “macho” culture that justifies and glorifies violence against women, as portrayed in the media and many songs). There is also the cultural background to be taken into consideration, the fact that most of these countries went through a civil war. The gruesome way in which women are killed is a pattern that has resurfaced. There is also a backlash towards women who works outside their homes and try to become independent. Honduras and El Salvador have passed laws that prohibit violence against women, but they are not yet enforced. Guatemala was once of the first countries to pass a law (20-50 years penalty) against femicide. However, the law in not enforced and the criminal justice system is dominated by complacency (climate of passivity and unwillingness of the authorities to investigate the crimes) and complicity with the perpetrators (by intention or abstention: corruption, intimidation, lack of policy, lack of resources and proper training). In the recent years the international community has picked up this issue and there have been responses from the EU and the Congress, not in tangible terms, but still, femicide is brought to the forefront.

John Dussich (World Society of Victimology) offered a platform to carry this information forward. In his view, the subject has reached such a level of intensity and severity that it truly merits more visibility than it is has had.

Eduardo Vetere (Vice-President International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities and former Director of the Division for Treaty Affairs UNODC Italy) concluded the session by drawing attention to the resolution adopted by the Commission on Narcotics Drugs this year on gender-specific policies related to drug abuse and control. He suggested that it could be the starting point of a resolution on femicide at next year’s Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.