Femicide & Law

Femicide and the Law

This section on Femicide and the Law features international and Canadian research that examines how states/governments have been called upon to respond to femicide (or feminicide, depending on country or world region). This research has explored the important relationship between the law and femicide prevention, recognizing the pivotal role played by national and international legal frameworks in addressing and preventing femicide, ensuring justice for victims and their families, and making perpetrators accountable. The content in this section aims to educate individuals about past and current legislation, research, policies, reports, and resolutions that work toward the prevention and eradication of femicide and male violence against women and girls more broadly. Legal responses to femicide are one of the CFOJA’s primary areas of research and, as part of this focus, we document court outcomes to femicide as they occur throughout the country with the intention of identifying if such outcomes vary by characteristics of the femicides and those involved as well as by region of the country – what is referred to as the potential ‘geography of justice.’

Femicide is widely recognized as a pervasive, global human rights violation and the most extreme and brutal form of violence and discrimination against women and girls (Dawson and Mobayed Vega, 2023; UNODC, 2022, UNODC, 2022, MESECVI, 2008, UN General Assembly, 2016, ACUNS, 2017). Globally, women and girls are being killed in distinct ways that differ from other types of homicide (Dawson & Carrigan, 2021; Sarmiento et al. 2014; UNODC, 2022). These differences highlight the need for specific and nuanced state responses that can effectively address the distinct motivations and patterns involved in male violence against women and girls, acts which are deeply rooted in sex/gender inequality and misogyny. Despite this, there remains inadequate, or a lack of, legal responses to this violence and a high level of impunity for perpetrators who commit femicide.  

Various forms of impunity are further highlighted in the lack of state protections afforded to some groups of women and girls in particular (e.g., Indigenous, Black, and other racialized women and girls; women and girls living with disabilities; newcomer, immigrant, or refuge women and girls; older women; women and girls living in rural, remote, and northern areas; women working in the sex industry; and individuals in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community). The lack of intersectional responses to femicide in Canada, and globally, continues to marginalize many women and girls, making them more vulnerable to male violence, including femicide (Sarmiento et al., 2014; Sosa, 2023). Their increased marginalization and vulnerability are further facilitated, and in some cases, allowed by patriarchal societal structures and processes, including direct and indirect forms of state violence (ACUNS, 2018). Additionally, these groups’ multiple, intersecting identities and/or oppressions (e.g., sex, gender, race, class, sexuality) hinder their access to resources, support services, protection and, ultimately, justice.

When state responses to femicide fail to consider the complexities of multiple identities, certain groups of women and girls experiences remain invisible or dismissed, resulting in less attention to their violent deaths and increased impunity for perpetrators. For example, in Canada, inadequate state responses as well as historical and current impacts of colonization and various forms of oppressions perpetrated by the state have been identified as contributors to the high femicide risk faced by Indigenous women and girls (Bourgeois, 2023; Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015), also referred to as genocide (MMIWG 2019). To effectively combat femicide and protect women and girls, it is crucial to adopt an intersectional approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of sex or gender with other identities, ensuring that no woman or girl is left behind (Sarmiento et al., 2014; Sosa, 2023).

Globally, governments and leaders have been called upon for decades to implement specific policies and legal frameworks for the prevention, investigation, and eradication of femicide. Recently, there has been an increase in international attention to states’ legal responses to femicide, largely due to legislative changes in Latin America, where many of the countries with high femicide rates are located (López Padilla and Saadoun, 2023; Roth et al, 2023; Toledo Vásquez, 2023). As of 2022, 22 countries (20 in Latin America and 2 in Europe) have introduced femicide into their legal frameworks, either as a distinct crime or as an aggravating factor in homicide. Although there remain challenges in combating femicide in these countries (e.g., Carrigan and Dawson, 2020), these legal and legislative changes can be considered positive measures because they acknowledge that, for society to effectively respond to this violence, it is necessary for those who implement the law to understand its seriousness (Menjívar and Diossa-Jimenez, 2023). (see Table 2.1 on page 12 of the #CallItFemicide 5-year report)

As of now, Canada has not made any changes to its legal framework concerning femicide. However, recently, several organizations in Canada including the CFOJA have been calling on the Government of Canada and other leaders to recognize femicide as a distinct crime or in specific legislation. In Canada, one of the first organizations to do so was the London Police Services Board, Ontario. This request was followed by Recommendation #70 from the inquest into the circumstances surrounding the femicides of Valerie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton, and Anastasia Kuzyk, for the Government of Canada to explore adding the term “femicide” and its definition to the criminal code (Office of the Chief Coroner, 2022). In addition, there have been numerous Calls for Justice from Indigenous groups, activists, and non-governmental organizations, to address the epidemic of extreme violence against Indigenous women and girls, but the Canadian government and the criminal justice system have been slow to respond (NWAC, 2022). One of them calls upon the federal government to consider violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people as an aggravating factor at sentencing, and to amend the Criminal Code accordingly (Calls for Justice, 2019). Canada still has a long way to go to effectively respond to femicide, beginning with the recognition that femicide is a human rights and public health crisis, and we can learn from those jurisdictions that have taken the lead in addressing femicide in their own jurisdictions.

Effective legal responses to femicide are crucial because past efforts targeting male violence against women and girls have fallen short and women and girls continue to bear the greatest burden of sex and gender-based violence globally. This lack of progress has been intensified by COVID-19, which has profoundly impacted the lives of women and girls and increased the levels of violence and femicide (UN Women, 2021). In addition, the legal classification of the sex/gender-related killings of women and girls as femicide will increase public awareness and recognition of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ women and girls are killed, a crucial step to reducing femicide. Furthermore, appropriate legal responses to femicide would begin to address the persistent sex/gender inequalities entrenched in society and enhance the capacity of states’ legal systems to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and eradicate femicide. Ultimately, states must take action to respond to femicide and to uphold their obligations under international law to end male violence against women and girls, support the strengthening of women’s rights and freedoms, and ensure that all women and girls have equal access to justice. They cannot do that until they recognize the problem for what it is – femicide.


Academic Council on the United Nations Systems (ACUNS). (2018). Establishing a Femicide Watch in Every Country. Vienna: ACUNS.

Academic Council on the United Nations Systems (ACUNS). (2017). Femicide, State Accountability and Punishment. Vienna: ACUNS.

Bourgeois, Roby. (2023). Colonial femicide: Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Pp. 465-474 in The Routledge International Handbook on Femicide and Feminicide, edited by M. Dawson and S. Mobayed Vega. London, UK: Routledge.

Calls for Justice. (2019). Calls for Justice- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention (MESECVI). (2008). Declaration on Femicide. 

Dawson, M., & Carrigan, M. (2021). Identifying femicide locally and globally: Understanding the utility and accessibility of sex/gender-related motives and indicators. Current Sociology, 69(5), 682–704. 

Laurent C, Platzer M and Idomir M (2013). Femicide: A Global Issue that Demands Action.

Vienna: Academic Council on the United Nations (ACUNS) Vienna Liaison Office.

Menjívar, Cecelia and Leydy Diossa-Jiménez. (2023). Pp. 453-462 in The Routledge International Handbook on Femicide and Feminicide, edited by M. Dawson and S. Mobayed Vega. London, UK: Routledge.

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (2019). Reclaiming power and place: The final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Volume 1a.   

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). (2022). MMIWG2S Federal Action Plan Annual Scorecard.

Nowak M (2012) Femicide: A Global Problem. Small Arms Survey. Vienna: Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS).

Office of the Chief Coroner. (2022). Inquest into the death of: Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam: Jury Recommendations.

Roth, Françoise, Mariela Labozzetta, and Agustina Rodríguez. (2023). The Latin American Model Protocol for the Investigation of Gender-Related Killings of Women (Femicide/Feminicide): A partially achieved success story. Pp. 433-452 in The Routledge International Handbook on Femicide and Feminicide, edited by M. Dawson and S. Mobayed Vega. London, UK: Routledge.

Sarmiento CB, Acosta ML, Roth F and Zambrano M. (2014). Latin American Model Protocol for the Investigation of Gender-Related Killings of Women (Femicide/Feminicide. New York: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Women. 

Sosa, Lorena. 2023. Femicide and intersectionality. Pp. 50-59 in The Routledge International Handbook on Femicide and Feminicide, edited by M. Dawson and S. Mobayed Vega. London, UK: Routledge.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. 2015. Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Toledo Vásquez, Patsilí. (2023). Femicide/feminicide legislation. Pp. 411-421 in The Routledge International Handbook on Femicide and Feminicide, edited by M. Dawson and S. Mobayed Vega. London, UK: Routledge.

UN General Assembly, Taking Action Against Gender-related Killing of Women and Girls: resolution/adopted by the General Assembly. (8 January 2016). A/RES/70/176.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (2022). Gender-related killings of women and girls (femicide/feminicide): Global estimates of gender-related killings of women and girls in the private sphere in 2021 Improving data to improve responses.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (2022). Statistical framework for measuring the gender-related killing of women and girls (also referred to as “femicide/feminicide”).

UN Women. 2021. Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women during COVID-19. UN Women.

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