Femicide is Genocide
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
"Femicide should be understood differently than other genocides—but as a genocide nonetheless"
Woman Protesting against Femicide in Mexico City
By Jessa Mella
There’s a genocide taking place—one with no killing fields, no concentration camps, but kills over 50,000 people each year.
Femicide, also called feminicide, refers to the intentional killing of women and girls because of their gender. Article II of the Convention defines genocide as any of five acts that are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part,” of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Although gender isn’t included as a protected group in the UN Genocide Convention, femicide should be included in the Convention.
While femicide manifests in different ways, the ensemble of all forms of violence can be used as evidence for genocide.
A. Killing members of the group
In its most narrow definition, femicide is the targeted murder of women and girls because of their gender. Femicidial acts occur because of cultural, and structural inequalities that devalue the lives of women and create the permissible conditions for violence to be justified.
Source: UNODC Global Study on Homicide
Not every murder of a woman is automatically an act of femicide. Intentionality matters.
The majority of femicides, which include gender-based homicides, are committed at the household level by intimate partners or family members.
Women are victims of honor killings in the Middle East and parts of Asia, forced to commit suicide in Turkey, or killed as a result of their husband’s attempt to extract further dowry payments. Femicide cuts across demographic groups, with victims from seven to 100 years old.
In many countries, perpetrators of these crimes have impunity, whether through an absence of laws criminalizing violence against women or lax enforcement. The femicides that are investigated are often seen as isolated incidents, rather than the intentional killing of the female group.
B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
While thousands of women die at the hands of their families or intimate partners, even more experience domestic violence. Globally, about in one in three women (30%) has experienced intimate violence or sexual violence in her lifetime—a figure that is likely higher in reality, given taboos around reporting.
Women’s physical security—the level of domestic violence, rape sexual assault, marital rape, and the laws and societal norms surrounding them—is generally low throughout the world. Relatively “peaceful” and “developed” countries also have low levels of women’s physical security. Even in Australia, which has fairly high levels of physical security, 1 in 6 women has experienced physical or sexual violence and 1 in 4 (25%) has experienced emotional abuse because of their gender.
Source: The WomanStats Project
For more details on the methodology and data used to create this map, visit womanstats.org.
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in part or in whole
There is a multitude of evidence-based instances of systemic discriminatory
actions that reduce girls’ and women’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. In Albania, Vietnam, and numerous other countries, son preference, the bias towards boys over girls, leads to diminished living conditions for daughters, who are seen as being of less value to the family. Particularly when resources are scarce, parents with strong son preference are less likely to give medical care to their daughters or feed them as much as sons. Limited access to food, limited access to gender-specific latrines and sanitation for menstrual management, and male household income control have measurable impacts on the living conditions and wellbeing of women.
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
In India, China, and other countries, son preference is so strong that parents will prevent the births of their daughters. Families use sex-selective abortion to avoid the birth of a girl, seeing girls as valueless.
It’s important to note that banning abortion will only limit access to women’s reproductive healthcare. Only addressing the underlying structures of gender inequality that incentivize families to prioritize boys will decrease measures intended to prevent the birth of infant females.
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
While this form of genocide is rarer with femicide, a notable example is China’s one-child policy, which magnified son preference and lead to thousands of international adoptions of girls.
On the surface, femicide may not look like other genocides, however, when you take a closer look at the acute and structural violence against women because of their gender, femicide as genocide becomes apparent—fitting every definition of genocide, as laid out in Article II.
Femicidal violence is widespread, and ill-measured, requiring a different, bottom-up approach to prevention. Work must begin at the household and community levels to prevent violence and gender inequality the undergirds of femicide.
Femicide will only cease to exist when violence against women is not justified or ignored and when women’s lives are valued.
Jessa Mella is an Early Warning Analyst at Genocide Watch
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch