Is Femicide As Criminal Code Enough To Address Violence Against Women?

In a new development around gender-based violence, many countries are classifying the murder of women as femicide- a specific term, now turned into law, that refers to the killing of women because of their gender.

Rudrani Gupta
Updated On
New Update
Image Credit: File Image

Image Credit: File Image

In a new development around gender-based violence, many countries are classifying the murder of women as femicide - a specific term, now turned into law, that refers to the killing of women because of their gender. Countries across the world have increased the pace and harshness of punishment for gender-based violence after the UN passed a resolution 68/191 in 2013 asking countries to make strict laws against gender-based violence against women and girls. In fact, according to data from the UN, an average of five women or girls are killed every hour by their partners or family members. As a result, high-income countries passed femicide as a criminal code. 


The most recent country to adopt femicide as a standalone criminal offence with imprisonment of more than 10 years is Croatia. Earlier, in 2022, Cyprus adopted femicide as a criminal code and declared gender-based violence as an aggravating factor in announcing the punishment for the perpetrator. In the same year, Malta too integrated femicide into the criminal code. 18 out of 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean which have the highest rate of hate killings of women and girls have also made femicide a criminal code. The first country to make femicide a distinct crime was Costa Rica in 2007. According to their law, a partner who abuses and restricts movement and murders his wife is subjected to imprisonment of 25 to 30 years. 

History and meaning of the term femicide

Now let's delve into the term femicide. As defined above, femicide refers to the killing of women because of their gender. The term was first used by Irish writer John Corry in 1801 in the book  A Satirical View of London at the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century. In the book, femicide was referred to as the killing of women and girls. The term was reused in the 1970s by Diana E.H. Russell who was an expert in studying violence against women and highlighted the magnitude of male violence and discrimination against women. 

In textbook definition, femicide has always referred to the murder of women by their families or husbands. This means it excludes other types of violence against women like female genital mutilation, rape that doesn't involve any romantic or familial connections, violence based on sexual orientation, murder of indigenous women and more. 

However, Costa Rica has now expanded the definition of femicide by including violence that does not necessarily have a "romantic" connection. It defines femicide as violence against women based on trust, friendship, relationship, authority or power. Consequently, the violence against women has significantly decreased in Costa Rica compared to other countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.

But is restricting violence against women under a term enough? Is the term femicide which usually refers to the killing of women enough to cover all sorts of violence that women face? 


Let's look at the situation in India

In our country too, most of the violence against women is committed by the people known to them. However, the patriarchal men do not classify women while violating them. In our country, even female police officers or constables are not safe. Women out for morning walks are sexually harassed. Ultimately, women fear stepping out of the house or being in public spaces. Point to be noted that women in our country are targeted not just for gender but also for religion, family politics or caste issues. 

India has women-centric laws that are bent on addressing issues that women face. Still, there are many loopholes. Sometimes the lack of evidence of sexual crime stops the proceeding, sometimes the biased nature of the court passes judgements that further worsen the situation of women and most of the time women survivors never approach the court. Despite claiming to be women-centric, the legal system of India has not criminalised marital rape.

Take, for example, Bilkis Bano. She was raped by more than 11 men while she was five months pregnant. Her tragedy was not just about sexual violence. It was embedded in communal violence and state impunity. It took years for her to get justice. In fact, 11 of the accused were convicted under the Gujarat Remission Policy and were garlanded by leaders. In 2023, the Supreme Court finally cancelled the conviction of those accused and provided justice to Bano. 

Even though India hasn't adopted femicide yet, the situation of the country clearly shows that violence against women doesn't have one definition. It includes a lot of factors in addition to their gender. How will femicide address those issues? If femicide is restricted to gender-based violence, specifically murder, other issues like religion, caste and state violence will remain the same. 

If we want to address violence against women, we need to look through the complexities that it involves. We don't need more terms and definitions. We need swift and effective action against perpetrators and the removal of the root cause of such issues in the first place.       


Views expressed are the author's own. 



gender based violence Violence against women Femicide