Defining and Measuring Femicide
Femicide which refers to the sex/gender-related killings of women and girls is recognized as the most extreme form of violence on a continuum of male violence and discrimination against women and girls. However, discussions continue globally as to how femicide should be defined, why and how it is distinct from other homicides, and how these differences can be measured to better identify sex/gender-related killings of women and girls.
These questions are crucial for at least three reasons:
- To effectively produce and understand femicide statistics within and across countries, including decreases and increases in this form of violence;
- To determine more effective prevention and intervention initiatives as well as appropriate punishments for offenders; and,
- To raise awareness and increase education of the public and professionals, including informing the development of more enhanced training of those responding to sex/gender-related violence against women and girls and/or determining appropriate punishments for these crimes.
Several key documents have contributed significantly to these discussions, drawing on decades of research by feminist activists, advocates, and academics, primarily in the social sciences and the law. The first publication is The Latin American Model Protocol for the Investigation of Gender-Related Killings of Women (Femicide/Feminicide) (hereafter referred to as ‘the protocol’; Sarmiento et al., 2014), which documents how femicide might be identified by reviewing the contexts surrounding femicide and its various subtypes (e.g., intimate partner femicide, familial femicide). While the protocol specifically targets improving criminal justice investigations, it also serves as a crucial starting point for researchers whose goals are to better conceptualize and measure femicide, to more accurately document trends within and across countries, and to inform the development of more nuanced prevention efforts.
The second publication is the Inter-American Model Law on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of the Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls (Femicide/Feminicide) (Organization of American States, 2018). Along with country-specific legislation also detailed in this document, the model law identifies contexts and circumstances in which femicide occurs, which can be used as a strong foundation upon which such killings can be considered as a distinct crime in any country, including Canada. Any efforts to implement femicide-specific legislation or offences must engage comprehensively with these two documents and related research in thinking about how to formulate such legislation or offences in specific jurisdictions. Both these publications also address why countries should consider femicide as a distinct crime or include it in legislation and the various ways that this can be done. Section II in the CFOJA’s five-year report (2018-2022) summarizes some of this global knowledge and research.
More recently, drawing from the voluminous body of research in this field, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), through expert consultations, have developed a statistical framework for measuring gender-related killings of women and girls (femicide/feminicides) (UNODC, 2022). The proposed framework aligns with the International Classification of Crime for Statistical Purposes (ICCS), which is a classification of criminal offences based on internationally agreed-upon concepts, definitions, and principles to enhance global consistency and comparability. The UN statistical framework identifies 10 characteristics or contexts that capture the modus operandi or circumstances indicative of femicide that can be used as a starting point for more accurate data collection. These include:
- Women and girls killed by intimate partners
- Women and girls killed by family members
- Previous record of harassment/violence
- Illegal deprivation of her liberty
- Use of force and/or mutilation
- Body disposed of in a public space
- Sexual violence was committed before
- Victim was working in the sex industry
- Hate crime motivated by bias against women/girls
- Victim of forms of illegal exploitation
This statistical framework is meant to help move discussions forward about how femicide can be measured beyond simply focusing on female victims of intimate partner/family related femicide, largely in the private sphere, which has been the practice of the UNODC’s Global Study on Homicide when focusing on the gender-related killing of women and girls.
The above publications provide a solid understanding and a useful starting point for drawing attention to how broader societal and cultural norms lead to femicide by clearly showing how the circumstances of women’s and girls’ deaths are often linked to, and representative of, discrimination and hatred of women and girls. These same circumstances and contexts are seldom present in the killing of men, regardless of the sex of the perpetrator, which can also clearly highlight the ‘how’ and ‘why’ femicide is a distinct type of homicide.
In Canada, the CFOJA has addressed the conceptualization and measurement of femicide in their annual reports, drawing from, building on, and contributing to research globally. This work has been funded, in part, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with Principal Investigator, CFOJA Director Myrna Dawson working with the research team at the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence (CSSLRV) (e.g., Dawson & Carrigan, 2021). This research is ongoing with various related publications in print or in progress (see Our Research).