Femicide – the killing of women and girls by men – is once again hidden in plain sight by the government. A new Violence Against Women and Girls strategy announced last month fails to address the worst form of men’s violence against women and girls: their killing. The same omission was made in the two previous strategies. Our ’s first objective is to “name it”. Six months in to the campaign, our government has failed women and girls at the first hurdle.
The murder of women in the UK has recently generated hundreds of articles and a mass outpouring of grief and anger. So how come the government has failed to name and identify femicide? If not now, when? What will it take?
, , , Balvinder Gahir, Khloemae Loy and are named in the strategy’s introduction by the home secretary, Priti Patel. Other than references to “high-profile murders”, nowhere in the document is femicide or even homicide specifically addressed. Seven pages of examples of trends in violence against women and girls fail to make a single reference to the total number of women killed by men. A one-line reference to the number of domestic homicides to March 2020 is a statistic that does not even include five of the eight women named by Patel.
It is absurd that the government chose to separate a forthcoming domestic abuse strategy from the violence against women strategy; and it is not enough to hope that the killing of women and girls will be addressed in the new domestic abuse strategy.
While the majority of cases of femicide are committed by men within women’s domestic sphere (62% by a current or former partner, 8% by a son, 7% by other male family or partner’s family members), 15% of women were killed by men they knew outside of a family or partner relationship including friends, colleagues and flat-mates. One in twelve (8%) were killed by strangers.
So, over a quarter of all killings of women by men would not be tackled by a focus on domestic femicide. And while we know that in some cases women kill male current or former partners, only addressing fatal violence in the context of intimate or family relationships invites the failure to address sex differences. For example, we know that most women killed by current or former partners have been abused by them for months or years before, whereas when men kill male partners, it is much more likely that the killer is the one who has suffered prior abuse.
One of the main aims of theis to bring attention to the number of women killed by men in the UK. We are part of the international efforts to draw attention to the ultimate act of violence perpetuated by men against women and girls. We are not saying rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, FGM and stalking are not serious and that they are not all too often life-changing but that surely the extinguishing of the very lives of women and girls cannot be overlooked.
For many men who kill women, fatal violence is the endpoint, an escalation of earlier uses of violence or coercive control, an end point only because this is the time when they are stopped from inflicting further harm on women by incarceration. Sometimes men’s violent actions and controlling behaviours have not come to the attention of the police, the courts or other statutory agencies. Sometimes they have, and responses have been inadequate, opportunities to intervene have been lost.
Sometimes men have killed and raped before, they’ve served sentences and been released while still a danger to women, and then they’ve killed and raped again. Chances to intervene are being missed, let alone the failure to look at all at the societal causes of men’s violence against women.
Within hours ofthis week, local MP Johnny Mercer was quick to echo the familiar “isolated incident” refrain, saying that the incident was no longer ongoing and there was no reason for people to be afraid. When, on average, a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK, we should not think about isolated incidents but look for connections, and no one should imply that women have no reason to be afraid.
Failure to view Davison’s killing spree within the context of femicide means that we do not look for the links between him killing his mother, Maxine Davison, and the nine other UK women we have identified with their son as the suspect in their murder so far this year. In fact, in the UK, women who are mothers are more likely to be killed by a son than by a stranger.
The time to reframe our understanding of men’s violence against women and girls is long overdue.
It is not just the government which ignores the killing of women by men when we talk about violence. The interim report by the HM inspectorate, which focuses on how effectively the police respond to violence against women and girls, again names Sarah, Bibaa and Nicole. But it makes no further mention of how the police handle the killing of women and girls. The Femicide Census does not ignore dead women. They all matter to us – the ones you’ve read about and the hundreds upon hundreds you haven’t and won’t.
The Observer’s End Femicide campaign is here to ensure that we honour the women killed and that we create an outcry so that those who have power to stop the killing are forced to act. If the government expects us to believe that they are serious about ending men’s violence against women and girls, then surely, they must have the conviction to name the most extreme manifestation of that violence.