Prevalence of Femicide

last updated 31 March 2009

Femicide occurs throughout the world at alarming rates and is perpetrated by intimate partners, family members, and men involved with criminal groups. Women and girls are killed because of their gender in their homes, in clinics, in the streets, and in times of conflict. Women and girls are abducted, disappeared, raped, sexually enslaved, starved, and tortured. Whether because men perceive that the women or girls have brought dishonor to their families, or that women are witches, or because of the fact of being female; femicide, like other forms of violence against women, is about male domination and control.       

Femicide is most often perpetrated by an intimate partner and is the most severe form of domestic violence. In the USA, femicide is one of the leading causes of death among young women between 15 and 24 years. From: Frye, Victoria et. al., Femicide in New York City: 1990 to 1999, Homicide Studies; Aug 2005, Vol. 9 Issue 3, p 204. Women in the United States are killed more often by an intimate partner than by any other type of perpetrator. Femicide by an intimate partner accounts for 40-50% of women killed. From: Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study, American Journal of Public Health; Julb2003, Vol. 93 Issue 7, p 1089. A survey in Ontario, Canada revealed that between 1974 and 1994 up to 76% of all women killed were as a result of intimate partner femicide. From: Gartner, Rosemary et. al., Woman Killing: Intimate Femicide in Ontario, 1974-1994, Resources for Feminist Research. 1998. Vol. 26, Iss. 3/4;  pg. 151. According to a report by the World Health Organization, studies from Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States show that 40-70% of women’s deaths were the result of intimate partner violence.

Femicide is also perpetrated by family members as in the case of honor killings. According to Human Rights Watch, male family members usually murder females who in their perception have brought dishonor to the family. This may mean refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, divorcing abusive husbands, choosing a husband, committing adultery or even being raped, according to an article by Amnesty International. The truth of the allegation is irrelevant – a woman may be killed based on mere suspicion of acts of dishonor. Women are most often killed by shooting, stabbing, and burning. In some instances, women are forced to commit suicide. From: United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Asma Jahangir, E/CN.4/2000/3, 25 January 2000, page 27. As Human Rights Watch reports, honor killings are not specific to any religion and are not limited to any one region in the world. According to various reports, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reported in 2002 that honor killings were occurring in Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Morocco and other Mediterranean Gulf countries, as well as among immigrant communities in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In other countries, wife killings may be termed “crimes of passion” as a way of defending the husband’s actions. Such defenses are available in Peru, Bangladesh, Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, the United States, the West Bank, and Venezuela. UNFPA estimates that around 5,000 women die annually as a result of honor killings.

Female foeticide, the abortion of a female fetus, and female infanticide, the killing of a baby girl, has been highlighted by the the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in a 2002 report and cited as a continuing critical concern in parts of Asia by the Gender Issues Education Foundation. In that report, UNICEF stated that of 10,000 abortions performed after an amniocentesis in Bombay, India, 9,999 were determined to be of female fetuses. The Special Rapporteur’s 2002 report also noted that India had special sex identification clinics. In China, another country of interest in the 2002 report, UNICEF reported that 12% of all female fetuses were aborted, mostly as a result of ultrasound screenings. Even if the female fetus is not aborted, a baby girl may still not survive in countries like China, where there is a one-child policy and a strong preference for male children. The report concluded that an infant girl may be left to die without food or water. UNFPA estimates that at least 60 million girls worldwide would have lived if sex selection and female infanticide were not committed.

According to Amnesty International, another form of femicide committed in Mexico and in Latin America has drawn the attention of human rights advocates. Women have been abducted and brutally killed by men connected with criminal groups and activities. UNFPA reported that those murders were often committed after the victims were tortured, mutilated and sexually assaulted. Amnesty International reported that in some cases, the victims were dismembered and thrown on waste grounds. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) reported that in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City more than 400 women have been murdered or disappeared since 1993. According to data provided to WOLA by the police criminal investigations division, more than 2,500 women have been killed in Guatemala since 2001. Although the murders in Mexico and Guatemala have received heightened attention in reports by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and have become emblematic of this phenomenon, similar types of femicide are also occurring in other countries in the region. Guatemala passed a law criminalizing femicide and gender-based violence in 2008 called “Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women”. Cases of femicide have been reported in Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.

Women are especially vulnerable and experience unconscionable acts of violence during times of armed conflict. In a 2001 report, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women detailed the killings of women during times of conflict in thirteen countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Kosovo), the Russian Federation (Chechnya), and Sierra Leone. For example, during the Kosovo conflict women were often abducted, raped, held in sexual slavery and brutally killed. Women were also raped and murdered during the Russian conflict in Chechnya. From: Violence against Women perpetrated and or/condoned by the State during time of armed conflict (1997-2000).

Witch burning is another form of femicide found mainly in Asian and African communities and presents a danger to women’s lives even today according to a 2002 report. Women may be accused of being witches if they “[have] more property, [have] healthier children or [are] better skilled at something.” From: Cultural Practices in the Family that are Violent towards Women, E/CN.4/2002/83, 31 January 2002. According to the 2002 report by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, those accused of witchcraft are stoned or beaten to death and then burnt. Witch burning has occurred in South Africa, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, India, and Nepal; and accusations of witchcraft and killings of women have also been reported in Ghana. From: Cultural Practices in the Family that are Violent towards Women, E/CN.4/2002/83, 31 January 2002