We need to treat femicide like the emergency it is

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Julia Lagoutte emphasises the importance of treating violence against women as the 'horrific emergency' it is.


Femicide victims

Victims of femicide 

Julia Lagoutte

Femicide is not a new term; its first recorded use was in 1801 and it was popularised chiefly in the 1970s by South African feminist Diana E Russell whose definition is "the killing of females by males because they are female". A report launched today by Femicide Census makes clear why the term is seeing a recent, and sad, resurgence.

This year has seen women rising against femicide worldwide in huge protests. In Turkey where 474 women were killed in 2019, more than one a day; in Mexico which saw a surge in femicides as the government slashed funding for women’s shelters; in South Africa, where a woman is killed every three hours, after 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule, eight-months pregnant, was found hanging from a tree.

These examples speak to a global problem. One which, as the eruptions onto the streets worldwide make clear, is systemic and facilitated by institutions, politicians, and governments, who are wilfully deaf to desperate pleas for action. The response to the protests by Mexico’s Leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who had slashed funding to domestic violence shelters, was to claim that 90 per cent of calls to the emergency services over domestic violence were “false” and, in the ultimate act of gaslighting, that: “Mexican women have never been as protected as now.”

In the UK, domestic homicides (almost exclusively against women) are at a five-year high – and a report launched today by Femicide Census reveals an alarming situation for women in the UK. The report, called the 10 year femicide census, was created by Counting Dead Women and Karen Ingala-Smith from NIA. It analyses for the first time the murder of women aged 14 to 100 in the UK between 2009 and 2018.

Its key findings are devastating. 1,425 women were killed between 2009 and 2018 – that’s one woman every three days on average. 62 per cent of these women (888) were killed by partners or former partners. At least 43 per cent of these were known to have separated or taken steps to separate from the perpetrator.

The report makes clear how police and authorities are failing women: 46 per cent of all men who killed women had a known history of violence against women. 29 had killed before and just over two-thirds of these had killed women. A history of abuse was evident in at least 611 cases (59 per cent), including coercive control, stalking, harassment, and physical, financial and emotional mistreatment. A third of the women had reported their abuse to the police. They still died.

‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ is something often asked about women in abusive relationships. The report helps us understand. Of the 378 cases where women had separated or made attempts to separate from the perpetrator, 38 per cent were killed within the first month, 89 per cent in the first year, 5 per cent after three or more years of separation. Leaving a man is often when a woman in an abusive relationship is in most danger.

As well as the injustice and tragedy of these women’s lives which were cut short, these murders leave devastation and suffering behind. 34 per cent of women killed had children under the age of 18. Some mothers were murdered alongside their child, such as Poorna Kaameshwari Sivara, 36, and her son Kailash KuhaRaj, 3, found on the 6th October 2020.

This issue cuts across all demographics and affects all women – but migrant women, disabled women, women of colour, and working class women were especially affected, less able to afford to leave abusive situations, often treated less seriously by police, and with less access to support.

This is a painful and uncomfortable issue that many struggle to talk about. But we have to face this issue head on. What has to happen for this issue to be treated as the emergency that it is? Violence towards women by men has been normalised in our society – from frequent rape scenes in popular TV series to light-hearted tales of Henry III’s murders of his wives, and from Roman Polanski still receiving global awards to the unrelenting floods of abusive messages sent to women (especially Black women) in the public eye. It is normalised in the way authorities and the government treat it – as normal, not as an emergency. It is normalised in the way ordinary people talk about it: as inevitable, as human nature.

But we must not accept that for women around the world, home, where you are meant to be most safe, is the most dangerous place. We must not accept the murder in the UK of hundreds of innocent women; lives cut short, traumatised children, and heartbroken families. We can all play our part in ‘denormalising’ femicide by talking about it – by treating it like the horrific emergency that it is.

The Green Party and all its sister parties around the world arose partly out of the women’s movement – our policies on work, the economy and politics reflect this and our leadership has always been female-dominated. But we must beware about developing a complacency about women’s rights and about our feminist values. Femicide is also an emergency. Let’s treat it as one.