Last updated April 2019

“Femicide” is used to describe the gender-related killing of women and girls, and it has been described as “the most violent manifestation of discrimination against women and their inequality.”[1] The term originated in the 1970s, emerging in feminist scholarship to distinguish the gender-motivated killings of women rooted in discrimination and systematic violence from homicides generally. [2]  In the early 1990s, the definition of femicide shifted to “the killing of women by men motivated by hate, contempt, pleasure or the assumption of ownership of women” and then expanded to “the misogynistic killing of women by men.”[3] Though the definition of femicide has changed throughout the past 50 years, the shifts demonstrated an attempt to find a term to cover all gender-related killings of women, motivated by systematic discrimination against and devaluing of women and girls.

Currently, the term “femicide” is used differently in various contexts. For example, some advocates use femicide only to describe deaths resulting from domestic violence. However, others adopt a broader view of femicide that extends beyond domestic violence:

It takes place within the family or in public spaces and can be committed by private individuals or carried out or tolerated by state agents. It amounts to the violation of several fundamental rights of women that are established in the core international human rights instruments—especially the right to life, the right to physical and sexual integrity, and the right to personal liberty.[4]

When describing femicides former Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, found that “such violence follows institutional logic ‘to delineate and sustain hierarchical social relations of race, gender, sexuality and class and, thereby, to perpetuate the inequality of marginalized communities.’”[5] While this includes the killing of women and girls as a result of domestic violence, the holistic conception of femicide—according to the Special Rapporteur—includes crimes such as dowry-related killings, so-called “honor” killings, female infanticide, and increased maternal mortality resulting from harmful practices.[6]


Due to varying definitions of femicide and methods of collecting and reporting homicide rates, it is difficult to obtain global statistics that capture its full scope. Despite this difficulty, several reports work to reveal at least some information on rates of femicide. In 2018, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report on gender-related homicides finding that in 2017 at least 87,000 women and girls were intentionally killed in 2017, and at least 50,000 (58%) of those were killed by intimate partners or family members.[7] While UNODC does discuss other causes of femicide—such as dowry-related killings—it notes, “Given the lack of data, it is not possible to quantify the number of gender-related killings outside the family.”[8] Nevertheless, the report found that while women and girls account for 20% of total homicides around the world, they comprise 64% of the victims of intimate partner and family homicide and 82% of intimate partner homicide.[9] Analyzing this data, UNODC concluded:

These findings show that even though men are the principal victims of homicide globally, women continue to bear the heaviest burden of lethal victimization as a result of gender stereotypes and inequality. Many of the victims of “femicide” are killed by their current and former partners, but they are also killed by fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters and other family members because of their role and status as women. The death of those killed by intimate partners does not usually result from random or spontaneous acts, but rather from the culmination of prior gender-related violence.[10]

Other attempts to quantify femicides look at domestic rates within countries. This is more common in Latin America and the Caribbean, where femicide—or “feminicide”—is specifically criminalized more often than in other regions. The Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean has compiled statistics on 24 countries—including Spain—tracking both the total number of femicides as well as the rate per 100,000 women. In 2017, Brazil had the highest absolute number of femicides with at least 1133 killed—a rate of 1.1 per 100,000.[11] However, El Salvador had the highest rate at 10.2 per 100,000 women.[12]

[1] U.N. Secretary-General, Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, ¶ 25, U.N. Doc. A/71/398 (Sept. 23, 2016).

[2] Rashida Manjoo (Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences), Summary Report on the Expert Group on Gender-Motivated Killings of Women, ¶ 8, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/20/16/Add. 4 (May 16, 2012).

[3] Diana Russel & Jill Radford, Femicide: Speaking the Unspeakable, in Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing 34 (Diana Russel & Jill Radford eds., 1992).

[4] Carmilo Bernal Sarmiento, Miguel Lorente Acosta, Françoise Roth, & Margarita Zambrano, U.N. Women, Latin American Model Protocol for the Investigation of Gender-Related Killings of Women (Femicide/Feminicide) 3 (2015).

[5] Rashida Manjoo (Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences), Thematic Report on Gender-Related Killings of Women, ¶ 15, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/20/16 (May 23, 2012) (quoting Darren Lenard Hutchinson, Ignoring the Sexualization of Race Heteronormativity, Critical Race and Anti-Racist Politics, 47 Buffalo L. Rev. 1, 20 (1999)).

[6] Rashida Manjoo (Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences), Summary Report on the Expert Group on Gender-Motivated Killings of Women, ¶ 9, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/20/16/Add. 4 (May 16, 2012).

[7] UNODC, Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls 10 (2018).

[8] Id. at 12.

[9] Id. at 11.

[10] Id.

[11] Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, Femicide: The Most Extreme Expression of Violence Against Women 1 (2018).

[12] Id.