This entry is not intended to provide a universal definition of feminicide or femicide. These terms and definitions have been discussed and debated at length, particularly in Latin America, and their adoption vary based on the social, cultural and political context. Some of the elements present in both concepts include the overarching objective of giving visibility to a violent practice that has historically been rendered invisible – violence against women by men leading to their death motivated or based on the subordination and oppression of women.
The term femicide was first used in 1976 by social phycologist Diana Russell during her testimony at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Belgium to denounce the sexual politics of murder. Almost two decades later, Russell and Jane Caputi defined femicide as the misogynist killing of women by men. In 2001, Russell and Jill Radford refined the definition to be what stands until today as their understanding of femicide: “the killing of females by males because they are female” (Russell and Harmes 2001: 3). One important development in regard to the term femicide was the work of the Costa Rican sociologists Ana Carcedo and Montserrat Sagot who shortened the definition to be the violent deaths or murders of women at the hands of men. Using this definition, they compiled figures of femicide in Costa Rica between 1990-1999 and categorized in three types (as formulated by Russell): intimate, non-intimate and by connection. Later, Carcedo expanded the notion of femicide to include in the definition situations of avoidable maternal mortality through unsafe abortions, little or poorly treated diseases, and gender selective malnutrition.
In 2006, Mexican anthropologist Marcela Lagarde reframed the term to feminicide. For Lagarde, femicide in Spanish is homologous to homicide and means only murder of women; thus, she used feminicide and defined it as the killing of females by males because they are female with the impunity of the State. For Lagarde feminicide is, in essence, a State crime because it fails to prevent, protect and provide assistance to women victims of violence and to investigate and identify those responsible for the crimes (Russell et al. 2006). In 2009, Mexican sociologist Julia Monárrez keeping the term feminicide published a database categorizing the types of feminicide in Ciudad Juarez: (1) intimate, subdivided in child and family feminicide; (2) systemic sexual feminicide, subdivided in organized and disorganized; and (3) feminicide due to stigmatized activities. Furthering the notion of feminicide, the Argentinean anthropologist Rita Segato advocates for another category of feminicide: femini-geno-cide bringing feminicide to the rank of a violation of international human rights and a crime against humanity, that is feminine-genocide. Segato defined femini-geno-cide as the systematic killing of women because of their gender in conditions of impersonality (Segato 2016).
In the last decade, several countries have criminalized femicide or feminicide based on their own social and political context. Costa Rica and Guatemala were the first Latin American countries to do so. Costa Rica chose femicide and defined it as the killing of a woman by someone with whom she had a marital relationship regardless of whether they were legally married. Guatemala, on the other hand, chose feminicide and defined it as the murder of a woman in the context of the unequal power relations between men and women because of her condition as a woman.
One important question raised by social movements in the drafting of legislation to criminalize either femicide or feminicide is the relationship of the law with gender identity, particularly concerning transgender, transex and intersex people (Toledo Vásquez 2009). In Argentina, for example, the pressure by social movements ensured the inclusion of trans persons in the definition of feminicide. There are those, however, who argue that this crime is limited to the female sex and gender diverse persons should not be included.
As seen in this entry, the criminalization of feminicide/femicide represents a struggle to visibilize and abolish this form of violence. However, despite its criminalization, the killings of women because of their gender continue to occur in large numbers. For example, in 2015 in Argentina it was estimated that every 30 hours a woman was murdered just for being a woman. Thus, we must ask, can criminalization of feminicide/femicide be a step towards the elimination of this form of violence? Can a law that criminalizes feminicide/femicide be emancipatory and help create new forms of human dignity?
References and further readings:
Russell, Diana E. H. and Roberta A. Harmes (2001), Femicide in Global Perspective. Teachers College Press.
Russell, Diana E. H., Roberta A. Harmes, Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos, and Guillermo Vega Zaragoza (2006), Feminicidio: Una Perspectiva Global. México: UNAM, Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinaria en Ciencias y Humanidades.
Segato, Rita Laura (2016), La Guerra Contra Las Mujeres. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.
Toledo Vásquez, Patsilí (2009), Feminicidio. México: D.F.
Jessica Carvalho Morris, PhD Candidate in Human Rights in Contemporary Societies (CES), earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Miami (USA) and a Bacharel in Law from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil). Works with human rights, feminist movements, mobilization of law and fascisms.
Como citarMorris, Jessica (2019), "Feminicide/Femicide", Dicionário Alice. Consultado a 03.10.23, em https://alice.ces.uc.pt/dictionary/index.php?id=23838&pag=23918&entry=24286&id_lingua=1. ISBN: 978-989-8847-08-9