The first documented use of the term ‘femicide’ was in a book by John Corry in 1801 called A Satirical View of London at the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century when it was used to refer to the killing of a woman.
It was not until 1976, however, that the term was reintroduced publicly in the modern age by male violence against women feminist pioneer, expert and activist, the late Professor Diana E.H. Russell, at the International Tribunal of Crimes Against Women. Professor Russell used the term to bring attention to male violence and discrimination against women.
In its early iteration, femicide was defined as “the murder of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women” and “the misogynistic killings of women by men.” More recently, this definition evolved to “the killing of one or more females by one or more males because they are female” as stated by Russell in her introductory speech presented to the United Nations Symposium on Femicide on November 26, 2012. The term as well as its accepted meaning often varies, however, depending upon whose perspective is being examined or from what country or world region.
The phenomenon of femicide, including its conceptualization and measurement, continues to be the subject of discussion internationally in academia, policy, and grassroots activists’ arenas as well as within regional, national, and other legislative institutions and policy bodies. For example, in some world regions, such as Latin America, the term ‘feminicidio’ (or feminicide in English) is preferred to capture the way in which states or governments are often unresponsive to, or complicit in, the killings of women and girls. In Canada, for example, it is now recognized, most recently in the MMIWG inquiry’s interim report, that the high risk of violence and femicide experienced by Indigenous women and girls stems, in large part, from a failure of police and others in the criminal justice system to adequately respond to, or provide for, the needs of Indigenous women and girls (see more below in Femicide in the Canadian Context).
Internationally, a broad definition of femicide is often used that includes any killings of women and girls. This is often done for ease of international comparisons, but also to acknowledge that, in some cases or types of femicide, perpetrators may include female family members or female perpetrators in other contexts. It is also the case that many killings of women and girls may be indicative of femicide, but data gaps, including unidentified perpetrators, will preclude the ability to make such determinations. Keeping this in mind, it is recognized that men are the primary perpetrators of femicide and that the largest proportion of femicides are committed by current or former male partners or family members – a pattern that exists worldwide although there may be variations across world regions. More specific efforts to conceptualize and measure femicide and feminicide are discussed in Defining and Measuring Femicide and Feminicide.