Fact sheet courtesy of: http://www.genderlinks.org.za
Definition Femicide is the killing or murder of women that occurs because the victim is a woman. However, the gender related aspect of this crime is often ignored by the media and the judiciary and is categorised as murder or homicide.
Intimate femicide – the killing of a woman by her partner. It is the most common form of femicide, and the most reported on by the media.
Racist femicide- the killing of black women by white men.
Homophobic femicide- the killing of lesbians by heterosexual men,
Sexual murder- where the rape of a woman or women is followed by murder. This is also reflected in serial killings. For example, in 1994, 11 women were raped and killed by a serial killer in South Africa,
“Witch killing”-the killing of women who are accused of being witches. They occur mainly in rural areas, and may be caused by burning or stoning of women.
Femicide is a gender issue because the killing of a woman is based purely on her sex, or on the fact that she is a woman. Intimate femicide could be the end result of a relationship characterised by domestic violence. In this case a.woman is abused either physically or emotionally or psychologically for a long period of time by her partner, and eventually ends up being killed by him.
Other cases of femicide may result from other forms of violence such as rape. As mentioned above racism and homophobia can also result in the killing of women, based on their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The nature of “witch killing” is such that only women can be accused of it.
Patriarchy and the continued oppression of women in society has resulted in men exercising considerable power over women. This power is evidenced through for example, women’s inferior status in the workplace and in the home, and through the high levels of violence against women. Gender based inequalities are therefore at the root of violence against women.
The law is seen as a tool of redress where crimes are committed. However, the success of the law in addressing violence against women has been brought into question by gender activists. Secondary victimisation, or discrimination against women by the criminal justice system, is influenced by societal stereotypes of women. Ultimately, this results in lesser convictions for men who perpetrate violence against women. A study conducted by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) in 1995 has revealed that where the initial charge was murder, most , if not all are reduced to a lesser charge of culpable homicide, or even common assault on the basis of provocation as an extenuating circumstance. For example, in Botswana, 65% of perpetrators were convicted of manslaughter or homicide, while 24% of charges were either withdrawn or the accused was acquitted.
Intimate femicide is the end result of a relationship characterised by domestic violence, which escalates in severity over time. Yet this is rarely, if ever, acknowledge by the criminal justice system. Ultimately, many women are murdered at the hands of their partners, often after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. The extent of the violence in the relationship is seldom explored by the court and the case is treated as a straightforward murder or homicide.
The inefficiency of law enforcement agents has also ensured that many cases of femicide are dismissed, or result in acquittals based on lack of evidence. A study on intimate femicide conducted South Africa has revealed that police investigation techniques leave a good deal to be desired. Instances occurred where there were no fingerprints or other evidence hove been obtained from the murder scene.
Presiding officers are also not entirely blameless, and this is reflected in the kinds of convictions handed down. It is also reflected in what they consider to be mitigating circumstonces¬ of provocation, that the accused had “high moral standards” or that the accused was called a “weakling” by his wife.
Stereotypes about women influences the manner in which femicide is dealt with by the law or reported on by the media. The perpetuation of these stereotypes by such leading institutions have a bearing on the perceptions of the public, and may lead to the perpetuation of these stereotypes in all avenues of life including education, the workplace and the home.
Location- articles on the death of women killed or murdered are often not seen as newsworthy and are found towards the end af the newspaper. This is supported by studies conducted by WILDAF and POWA.
Headlines-these may highlight the way in which the media serves to perpetuate the common stereotypes that the women murdered in some way provoked the violence. Far example: “Nagging wife killer freed after custody” (Rude and Kadunga. 1995).
Vocabulary- more subtle forms of stereotyping are evident in the types of descriptions and forms of vocabulary used to describe events and circumstances behind femicide cases. In Zambia, killings that occur within the home are described as “domestic disputes”, which trivialises the issue and makes it seem much smaller than it really is. The fact that it has lead to the death of a woman does not appear to be a serious consideration for the relevant journalist.
Sensationalism- sensation sells and the media will publish a report, which is newsworthy, even if it perpetuates stereotypes. Intimate femicide does not only fulfil the criterion of negativity, it also increases its new value by the fact that it happens unexpectedly and fulfils the general expectation about the bleak state of the world. The sensationalism is enhanced by the presentation and reporting of such stories in an entertaining way.
The manner in which judges or magistrates hand dawn sentences is influenced by their own attitudes and prejudices. This may lead to extremes in sentencing patterns and pepetrators literally get away with murder. For instance:
“He could not reasonably be expected to be in control of his mental facilities…The husband did what any reasonable man would have done in the circumstances”. (Case of Kasuba, 1993, whose husband got a two year sentence far killing her).
“The provocation offered by your wife was such that any self-respecting person would lose control. The facts reveal that you did not use a lethal weapon, you only used your fists. I feel this case calls for maximum leniency”. (Case of Mulampa, 1986, whose husband got a three-year suspended sentence).
In Botswana, 68% of perpetrators received a sentence of less than 6 years far killing their partner.
Suicide is 12 times as likely to have been attempted by a woman who is subject to abuse than by one who is not
This section has drawn an the following sources of information:
Facts and Figures on Violence Against Women, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Inter-agency Global Video Conference, March 1999.
“Man Shoots Wife~ A pilot study detailing intimate femicide in Gauteng, South Africa, POWA.
The Private is the Public: A study of violence against women in Southern Africa, WlLDAF, 1995.