International: Femicide and the scales of injustice

International: Femicide and the scales of injustice

Date: December 2, 2014
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Michigan, 2 December: The recent world-famous case of Oscar Pistorius getting a five year sentence for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day has put the issue of femicide back under the spotlight. Found guilty of homicide, but not murder, the lenient sentence sent shockwaves through South Africa and the globe.

Recent accounts of the lengthy Shrien Dewani case indicate that there is the possibility of an acquittal for the man who allegedly hired hit men to kill his newly wedded wife. Both cases take us back to the O.J. Simpson case in 1994. The former professional football star and actor was tried on two counts of murder after the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson was acquitted after a trial that lasted more than eight months.

These highly publicised cases, reflect something far more troubling than the how the ultimate form of violence against women fails to receive the maximum possible penalties, serving little or no justice for victims and their families. We also see how those who are wealthy and have influence are able to “secure” justice in contrast to a woman like Marissa Alexander in the United States who was originally sentenced to 60 years in jail for shooting a fire arm into the air to scare away her abusive ex-husband. Research shows that the majority of women serving life sentences for murder are women who killed in self-defence.

What’s more disturbing is that these cases force one ponder the trend of impunity outside the world of celebrities and media hype. Femicide or the killing of women and girls is the most extreme manifestation of gender violence. While it is not a new phenomenon it is one that is drawing more attention due to the increasing prevalence across the globe.

According to a policy brief of femicide published by Gender Links, roughly 66 000 women are killed around the world each year, accounting for approximately one fifth of intentional homicides. Southern Africa is ranked one of the five regions in the world with the highest rates of femicide. Four out of five regions with the highest homicide rates are also at the top of the femicide ranking, namely -in descending order- Southern Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Central America.

A national study on femicide in South Africa estimated that a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six hours. The South African female homicide rate is six times higher than the global average.

In Botswana, the media has played a major role in creating awareness about intimate femicide, commonly known as “passion killings”. The Gender Links GBV Indicators study notes that intimate femicide increased by 122% between 2003 and 2011. In Botswana, 68% of perpetrators received a sentence of less than 6 years for killing their partner.

In March this year the President of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba called for a national day of prayer due to the alarming rates of intimate partner femicides in the country. The call came after a young woman had been brutally murdered by her boyfriend a few days prior, bringing the number of intimate partner femicides to 16, from January to March.

Research conducted by The Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) highlighted that in Zimbabwe, domestic violence accounts for more than 60% of murder cases that go through the high court in Harare. Femicide prevalence is high in Zimbabwe because of high levels of domestic and child abuse.

This overview of femicide in the Southern African region points to the nexus between gender inequality, gender violence and femicide. According to the GBV Indicators study conducted by in six countries of SADC, the most predominant form of GBV experienced by women and perpetrated by men occurs within intimate partnerships. This ranges from 90% in the Zambian districts surveyed, to 23% in Mauritius. Thus femicide is rarely an isolated event, but rather an end result of an escalation of gender violence.

Despite this, law enforcement generally do not capture adequate data on femicide and justice is seldom served. Too many men are getting away with murder, and this can no longer be accepted, tolerated or justified. The alarming rates of femicide and GBV coupled with persistent impunity should jolt governments across the globe to quit the inertia and passivity.

We need urgent action to eradicate gender violence, femicide and gender inequality. Evidence-based policies that specifically address femicide, its drivers and preventative measures must be drafted and implemented. It is imperative that this crisis is addressed through multi sectorial collaboration that attends to the root causes. Strategies must be backed by robust legislative and budgetary commitments and proper implementation of the law. Without immediate active commitment to this fight, the scales of injustice will not only escalate, but will weigh very heavy on our collective bodies and minds.

Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende is based in the United States and is a public Health scholar-practitioner, activist, writer and founder of the Africa Research Foundation for the Safety of Women. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service Sixteen Days of Activism Special series. Bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

Join Gender Links for a Google Hangout session on Femicide today at 13:00-14:00 South African time.




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