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Femicide. When one types this word in a Microsoft Office program, it appears as a spelling error. Yet in light of recent statistics, it becomes paradoxical to consider how state powers confront this escalating problem in such a trivialized manner.
Femicide, according to Dr. Diana Russell, is the killing of women and girls because of their gender.
Roughly 66,000 women are violently killed around the world each year. India and China are said to eliminate more female infants than the number of girls born in the US each year. The UN reports approximately 200 million girls in the world today as ‘missing’.
What’s most shocking is that a high proportion of femicides are committed in the home, particularly in countries such as Norway and Australia where street and organized crime are at a low. Furthermore, UNODC reports that 40 to 70 per cent of female murders have been linked to intimate partner/family-related violence. It’s alarming to consider that being at home with the family has now become one of the most insecure and dangerous places for women to live in.
A mention of femicide cannot fully be encompassed without making reference to some of the capitals where it has become an enduring problem. Jaurez, Mexico has been nicknamed the ‘the capital of murdered women’. In 2005, more than 800 bodies were found in vacant lofts, outlying areas or even in the desert; raped, abused, tortured or even mutilated. What about the forgotten bodies? The deaths we didn’t hear about?
Despite the Mexican Government’s 2007 adoption of the General Law of Access for Women to a Life Free of Violence (GLAWLFV), very little has been done to ensure its implementation and its guaranteeing of protection of the life and integrity of women in Mexico. “There is a systematic pattern of impunity in Mexico, a reflection of the lack of access to justice for women.” Women who even consider accessing the justice system are not only ridiculed and discriminated against, but also place their own lives at risk. The lack of Federal and local action as well as formal investigations, judgments and sanctions by the justice system has stimulated an atmosphere in which murderers, tortures and rapists of women are protected, and where impunity is completely justifiable.
Dr. Rita Banerji is a gender activist in India and founder of The 50 Million Missing campaign, and her recent powerpoint presentation at the Femicide Symposium in Vienna, coordinated by the Academic Council of the United Nations, presented some jaw-dropping forms of femicide cases in India: from female infanticide, to the killing of girls 5 years and under through starvation and violence, to dowry deaths, honor killings and many others. Young baby girls are simply unwanted and are inhumanely killed; salted, strangled and poisoned. In the recent documentary ‘It’s a Girl’, which brings the crux of the problem vividly on screen, an Indian mother admits, as she is chuckling to herself, that she killed eight of her daughters after giving birth to them.
Contrary to the assumptions that femicide is a problem of poverty-stricken areas and enacted by people from areas of lack of access to education, research shows that it is in fact affluent and urban middle classes who are perpetuating the killings. In India, these are the people who have access to prenatal screenings and who can afford the abortions. In the last decade in India, 8 million fetuses have been aborted, causing an increasing demographic imbalance between the male-to-female ratio.
Femicide is often dismissed as a cultural phenomenon, as with the case of the dowry deaths in India. However, this is a gross misinterpretation; femicide is a cultural ‘practice’ that has become internalized and completely accepted in some societies. Paradoxically, as Dr.Banerji points out, when societies are confronted with their own shocking statistics of the brutal killing of baby girls and women, enacted and perpetuated by some of the most educated and upper-class civilians, the common response is denial and disbelief.
Furthermore, while states have numerous laws and policies in place, there is a lack of action to ensure that they are being carried out at political, social and cultural level. Tackling femicide requires the ongoing development, implementation and enforcement of strong legislation, raising public awareness through the media and at grassroots level, and publically voicing the horrific experiences and struggles of women. Because this is what is lacking: a Voice.
The state needs to wake up. Femicide should not be a spelling error. It is a reality, and it should be a voiced reality.