Fifteen years after the passage of the first femicide law, the fight to end gender-based violence continues

Growing up in Costa Rica, Montserrat Sagot saw her mother being psychologically and verbally abused by her father as a teenager. The violence had a devastating effect on his mother and on Sagot’s well-being. Even as a teenager, the situation seemed unfair to him.

As an adult, Sagot decided to focus on gender-based violence and femicide—the killing of women, girls, and non-binary people because of their gender—in her work as a sociologist. In the 1990s, with feminist scholar and activist Ana Carcedo, Sagot launched the first study of femicide in Costa Rica, which became the first country to pass a law making femicide a legally defined crime in 2007.

Fifteen years later, many countries around the world still have not passed laws criminalizing the most extreme form of gender-based violence; and women, girls and non-binary people continue to be killed at an increasing rate because of their gender despite fluctuations from year to year. Sagot is clear about why: “Gender-based violence is systemic; it is an essential component of racist and heteropatriarchal capitalism. And until the system changes, the conditions under which feminicides take place will not change either.

In late 2021, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) Global 16 Days Campaign at Rutgers University in the United States launched a petition calling on the United Nations to declare December 6 as the International Day to End Femicide. On this day in 1989, a man killed 14 women at the University of Montreal, blaming them for his failure to gain admission to the university’s engineering program – an event known as the Montreal Massacre.

The CWGL launched the petition to challenge impunity, raise awareness and demand government action so that no woman is ever killed again for being a woman. The petition had 2,014 signatures at the time of publication.

“The idea of ​​the 16 Days campaign was to raise awareness of violence against women, but 30 years later we see that there may be more awareness, but there is not the level accountability needed. At the end of the day, women’s lives go unrecognized,” says Melissa Upreti, Senior Director of Program and Global Advocacy at CWGL. “We believe it is necessary to have a day dedicated to femicides to increase the mobilization of efforts to demand an end to violence against women and girls and its underlying causes. [of] discrimination and misogyny.

Feminist activists contacted by Equal Times, however, were divided on the usefulness of the initiative. “I believe November 25 is quite powerful,” says Montserrat Vilà Planas, president of the Barcelona-based United Platform Against Gender-Based Violence. November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and commemorates the murder of Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, three sisters who fought against the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in the late 1900s. 1950. “Campaigns like the 16 days are good, but I think if we distinguish different forms of violence on different days, we could disperse the forces,” says Vilà Planas.

Femicide, a global phenomenon

Estimating the global prevalence of femicide is a challenge: there is no uniform definition of the phenomenon, and most figures only take into account homicides of women committed by intimate partners or family members. It is therefore not surprising that a 2021 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) describes the majority of femicides as being perpetrated by current or former husbands or intimate partners, women with already suffered non-lethal violence in the vast majority. of cases.

Whether in public or private, in the domestic or professional sphere, the killing of women, girls and non-binary people because of their sex and gender is a global phenomenon. According to the 2021 UNODC report, a woman or girl was killed by a family member every 11 minutes in 2020. According to a 2021 European Parliament report which also relied on UNODC data , Africa is the continent with the highest rate of femicides. relative to the size of its female population.

Data on other forms of femicide are generally lacking, further complicating comparisons. This includes women killed after being raped, sexual or dowry-related femicide, deliberate murder of female fetuses or newborns, forced abortion of female fetuses, murder resulting from “corrective rape” against LGBTI people, genital mutilation, – crime-related feminicides and targeted killings of women in armed conflict.

In the world of work, domestic workers are among the most potentially vulnerable to violence and abuse. “The major difficulty they face is ambiguity, political tension. They carry out their work in private households and due to the overlap between work and private space, they are often not protected by domestic violence legislation,” explains Roula Seghaier, a Tunisian-Russian feminist writer based in Lebanon and International Domestic Workers Federation Strategic Program Coordinator. “On the other hand, in countries where domestic work is not recognized as such, it is also not protected by legislation that protects workers in the context of employment relationships.”

“Furthermore, the most conventional definitions of femicide have no labor component, so they have not thought of workers in manual, precarious or informal economy jobs as a particularly vulnerable population” , says Seghaier, although she adds that this is slowly starting to change. She cites International Labor Organization Convention 190 as an example of this trend. Entering into force in 2021, it is the first international treaty to recognize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence.

Change needed at all levels

According to the European Parliament report, Algeria is the African country with the lowest rate of femicide. It also saw the largest decline in femicides between 2010 and 2019 of any African country. But Narimene Mouaci Bahi, an Algerian feminist activist based in Spain, says those numbers only tell half the story. “The figures for female homicides in Algeria refer only to large cities and only to intentional homicides, so of course they are low,” she says, explaining that the term femicide is not legally defined as such in the country. “Furthermore, there is a contradiction between the constitution, which clearly defends equality between men and women, and a family code which treats women as minors. And there is a significant gap in media coverage of the subject, [which] sometimes even blames the victims.

Mouaci Bahi and fellow activist Wiame Awres launched the Féminicides Algérie website in early 2020 with the aim of documenting cases of femicide in the North African country and keeping the issue in the spotlight. It is the only website that tracks the phenomenon in Algeria. “We search the press daily for stories of female homicides and do research by talking to family, reporters, etc. Only when we are sure of the fact that it is a femicide and of the details do we publish the information on our website,” she explains.

The description of the thirteenth woman killed in Algeria this year reads: “On April 16, 2022, in El Oued, a woman in her thirties was murdered by her husband, who burned her alive in front of two of her children. . She was the mother of four children. When asked if she sees signs of hope in the fight against feminicide, Mouaci Bahi points to the country she is currently based in as proof that progress is possible. “Here, there is political recognition and an effective prevention policy,” she says.

This is a point of view shared by Graciela Atencio, an Argentinian journalist also based in Spain and founder of the civil society observatory Feminicidio.net.

“Here, when people hear about a case of femicide, they take to the streets. In my opinion, Spanish feminism is one of the strongest in the world and this has been reflected in public policies,” she says.

Despite the limitations of data on femicide, the existing figures seem to support the views of Atencio and Mouaci Bahi. According to UNODC data, Europe is the continent with the lowest rate of femicides per female population, and Spain one of the countries where the number of intentional homicides targeting women has decreased the most between 2014 and 2019. According to the governing body of the country’s Department of Equality, the number of femicides at the hands of partners or ex-partners has fallen by around 50% since the adoption of the Comprehensive Violence Act violence in 2004. It was the first comprehensive law on gender-based violence to be adopted in Europe – it addresses preventive, educational, social, social, health and penal aspects – and involves seven ministries.

But laws are only one way among others, according to Costa Rican sociologist Sagot. “Changes are needed at all levels. Since we are talking about a multi-causal phenomenon, there is no point in improving the justice system if gender socialization continues to produce defenseless women and violent men,” she explains. “On the other hand, there is no point in changing gender socialization if there is no good response from the state, and if the police do not respond for example when women ask for help. “

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