The victims all had a Christian name – Suzanne, Ingrid, Florence, Catherine… Most had a job – schoolteacher, bank employee, secretary… They all had parents, friends, neighbours, and many had children. Their Christian names are our names and their jobs are our jobs. We too, have parents, friends, and for many of us, children. For those who do not know them, the victims’ names mean nothing. For those who do, the names are written on a sober card announcing the death of a loved-one. The victims never met but share that fatal trait of having been a woman, and having been murdered by a man. We are not talking about traffic fatalities, but about murder, about femicide.
Femicide refers to the deliberate killing of women, for one reason only – because they are women. The atrocities are no more pronounced than in South-America, where it is estimated that 2000 women are murdered each year across the continent. It is the direct consequence of a deadly macho-culture that is present in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico.
The World Health Organisation defines femicide as involving,
[…] intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls.
Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways. For example, most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.
In the UK and France, a woman is murdered in this way, every three days. In the Netherlands, 47 women were murdered by men, in 2017 – nearly one a week. The UN reports a female death toll approaching 30,000 per year – the size of a small town. But these statistics do not reflect the reality of a continuous process that begins with sexual harassment and discrimination in our societies, to end up with gruesome murders in our homes. Not all women die, but all suffer abuse and humiliation. Death is just the logical conclusion to an ongoing process.
Men kill due to a warped love that has turned into a obcessive desire to possess. It is a possession that suffocates the woman’s thoughts and actions, and suppresses her moods. She must always be willing, never be tired, and not even think about independence and freedom, or leaving the relationship. Her friends are his friends, her thoughts are his thoughts, her social life is for him to approve. Her movements are constantly being monitored, and she is criticised on, and judged for, all she does. The smallest deviation from the ad hoc set of rules imposed by the man is severely punished. The end-scenarios to these Machiavellic dramas are more often than not characterised by violence that defies the imagination.
In the publication entitled, “Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018,” published by the Office for National Statistics, the domestic-abuse related offences described comprised homicide.
Homicide refers simply to the killing of one person by another. Soldiers commit homicide, but do not commit a crime. Murder, on the other hand, is a homicide that is committed with malice forethought, an unjustified killing. It can be unintended while another serious felony is being committed.
The victims of domestic abuse do not die because of one slap too many, or because their fragile skulls caught the wash basin a bit harder than usual. No, these women die because their husbands or companions decided to kill them. Despite the uniqueness of each case, despite the frequent mental and psychological shortcomings of the perpetrators, the common denominator to the vast majority of these crimes is that the man decided to kill the woman. The psychological circumstances under which the crimes take place only serve to underscore the terrible shortcomings of our societies, where a woman remains at best, a threat to and, at worst, an object of, the unquenchable desires and frustrations of men.
There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable. – Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General
Such violence remains directly related to the context of a woman’s status in present-day societies. It should not be rendered justifiable by playing on the psychological status of the perpetrator. The diagnosis of a psychiatric or psychological disorder, that is then used to explain a man’s total loss of control, does not sweep aside all before it, but acts as a mirror that reflects the acrid truth about the dark biases of our world. It is a world based on daily sexism, where women surrender their bodies and lives to be controlled by men. Domestic abuse is all about taking control, and not as is so often said in men’s defence, “losing it.” Mundane sexism is crystallised in the privacy of a home to form a precipitate of binary quasicrystals along a dislocation of mental health – a precipitate comprising life and death.
Post adapted from two articles published by Titiou Lecoq in the French newspaper Libération and Slate, earlier this year:
Meurtres conjugaux : deux ans de recensement, plus de 200 femmes tuées et tant de victimes autour (Libération)
En France, on meurt parce qu’on est une femme (Slate)