“As long as women and girls, who make up half of the world’s population, will not be safe from fear, violence and daily insecurity, we will not be able to claim to live in a fair and equal world.” – António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Today, I would like to talk about a topic that I hear a lot about in the news: femicide and violence against women. Why so much violence? How can we stop it? And what are the decision-makers doing about it?

Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive, persistent and devastating human rights violations in the world. It also remains one of the least reported ones because of the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. Violence against women is understood to encompass forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence, such as but not limited to:

  • the violence of an intimate partner (beatings, psychological violence, marital rape, femicide);
  • sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, sexual abuse of children, forced marriage, street harassment, criminal harassment, cyber-harassment);
  • trafficking of human beings (slavery, sexual exploitation);
  • female genital mutilation;
  • forced child marriage.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as “all acts of violence directed against women, and causing or causing to women physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering, including the threat of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.”

The harmful consequences of violence against women at the psychological, sexual and reproductive levels affect women at all stages of their lives. For example, early educational disadvantage is not only the main obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls, but is also responsible for limiting access to higher education and translating into opportunities limited for women in the labor market. Recently in France, we heard about a new term: Femicide. But what does it mean exactly?

“Murder of one or more women or girls because of their feminine condition.” Here is the definition of the French word “féminicide” as it appears in Le Petit Robert. The term entered it in 2015, and it is still missing from many other dictionaries. It is composed of the Latin root femina meaning woman, and the suffix –cide (to strike, to kill in Latin).

The term was popularized by the American sociologist Diana Russell who, in 1976, used it to refer to the massacres of women in Latin America. It grew in 1992, when the latter publishes with the British Jill Radfort the book “Femicide: the politics of woman killing”. In January 2018, while Jonathann Daval confessed that he had killed his wife Alexia, the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa uses the term “feminicide”. Now, the use of this word is systematized in the media, and feminist associations as well as families of victims are fighting for it to pass in the current and legal language. The term femicide does not refer to all murders of women by men. “When a burglar kills a jeweler who refuses to open the coffers, the reasons are not the same as when a man kills his wife because she wants to leave.”

To fight better against femicides, associations and families of victims ask for its inclusion in the penal code. Today in France, it is already specified that the fact of harming a person “on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, or true or supposed gender identity” constitutes an aggravating circumstance. Same if the crime or offense is committed “on spouse”.

Several countries are ahead of the game and have already included this term in their penal code: this is the case in eighteen Latin American countries. In Europe, when ratifying the Istanbul Convention, a treaty on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Spain and Italy incorporated the notion of “violence against women”  in their penal code. But these measures are far from sufficient. Let’s take the example of France. Since January 1st 2019, 100 French women have died under the blows of their spouse or ex. Faced with this emergency, Édouard Philippe, the French Prime Minister, set up a Grenelle. In this context, 5 million euros will be released. The head of the government mentions in particular a simplification of the complaints, a more immediate protection of the women concerned and a more controlled removal of the spouses, companions or ex. While these measures are a step forward, it is not enough. As citizens, it is also our responsibility to act by denouncing all the violence we witness, by demonstrating, engaging in associations to provide moral support to these women or by raising awareness. We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about this because it is our mission, as the future generation, to make this world a better place. Every voice is worth being heard.


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