Why are so many women killed by the men they love?
You’ve heard me say over and over… 1 in 3 women and girls will be affected by some form of violence in their lifetime.
I didn’t make this up. It’s a global statistic. But really, I think it’s bigger — I know it’s bigger. I personally don’t know a single woman or girl who has not been affected in some way by some form of this insidious violence.
And there are many forms. All of them are awful. All of them are crimes. But many of them — most of them — are perpetrated with relative impunity. Meaning, there’s hardly ever any justice. The perpetrator gets away with it. I can’t think of any other crime that continues unabated in this same way. If banks were being robbed at the same rate, society would stand up and say ENOUGH NOW. And we’d do something about it.
Women have the right to feel free and safe in their own bodies, in their homes, on the streets, and in any public spaces, but unfortunately, that is not — nor has it ever been — our reality. Here’s our reality: we are far too often hurt — or killed — by those who claim to love us.
The vast majority of cases of rape, for instance, are perpetrated by men we know. Every 11 minutes a woman or girl is killed by someone in her own house. This means globally 736 million women and girls worldwide are being killed by their intimate partners or family members. By the very people who “love” them.
There’s a word for this: femicide. The murder of women because they are women.
In November 2019, we mourned the death of my friend Jennifer Schlecht and her daughter, Abaynesh. Jenn dedicated her life to preventing violence against women and to protecting women and girls. The painful irony of it all is that she lost her life to the very thing she fought so hard against.
Intimate partner violence is the most common form worldwide. And it can often result in femicide. But we don’t even know the extent of it.
Femicide is a tough problem to crack — as a result of lack of awareness and lack of legislation. The lack of legislation is also fueled by the lack of criminalization of certain types of gender-based violence. The judicial and security systems fail women when they fail to take the situation seriously or dismiss it as a private matter or make it difficult for women to seek protection. As a result, support fails, safety is denied, and more women and girls end up trapped in dangerous situations. The law continuously fails women when they try to access justice, security, services, and support — nothing seems to work in the way that it should to tackle this overwhelming problem.
In 2021, the global statistics available have shown that per 100,000 women, 1.4 will be killed by gender-based violence in America. The findings also show that with the onset of COVID-19, femicide had a significant increase.
At the same time, femicide isn’t accurately labeled, meaning it isn’t accurately counted. Meaning, too often, it does not count. Collecting the correct data is challenging because most countries typically don’t report any gender-related motivations for murder. It is extremely crucial that we name it and count it in order to end it — when we fail to do so, we are failing women and girls over and over again.
The numbers we do have are shocking, and the reality is likely much higher. A 2022 UN news story says this:
While the numbers presented in the report are alarmingly high, they are the tip of the iceberg. Too many victims of femicide still go uncounted: for roughly four in ten intentional murders of women and girls in 2021, there is not enough information to identify them as gender-related killings because of national variation in criminal justice recording and investigation practices.
As long as femicide is not labeled as femicide, violence against women will not be addressed.
Undeniably, we live in a global context of gender inequality for women and girls. We are still viewed as less than — as second-class citizens. And we live in contexts of patriarchy, where patriarchy manifests very violently as misogyny. It is about a sense of entitlement and abuse of power throughout the world. These forces have kept us from stopping violence against women.
Even referring to “violence against women” in general — as if it happens to us in a vacuum — leaves no room to name the perpetrator and to ensure accountability. The vast majority of violence against women and girls happens at the hands of men. No, not all violence. No, not all men. But you get it. The problem of male violence against females. We might as well name it as it is. It is violence — from the fetus to the funeral.
Not naming it keeps us from addressing it effectively. Not naming it continues to dump shame and blame on us — not on the perpetrator.
Enter: What were you wearing or Where were you going or Why were you drinking and Why were you with him and why-this and why-that. It is not, nor has it ever been, our fault. Period.
Today, the global cost of VAW is $1.5 TRILLION — and COVID has made this worse.
Sure, we’re making progress, but not enough. Talk exceeds action. Rhetoric doesn’t match reality. And the fuss we make certainly isn’t matched by funding — at least not to the frontline feminist groups who are doing the real work. Unless we are supporting local organizations, we are setting everyone up for failure. And we are letting women down. Again.
And yes, we need data, but not at the expense of action. Data will always underestimate reality. We know that no country is immune. This affects women and girls everywhere, in every culture, context, community. Yes, even yours.
Frontline groups have been addressing these issues long before we “discovered” them. And they will continue to fight long after our money, interest, and attention spans run out. We cannot expect short-term, quick-fix interventions to solve long-term, global challenges. We cannot continue to throw little scraps of money at local women’s groups as if they are an accordion, expanding and contracting based on funding scraps and donor whims.
I’ve spent too much time doing this work — I know how money is allocated. And now I fight in other ways. I write, speak, scream: If women are not safe, NO ONE IS SAFE. When will we be heard?
The deaths of Jenn and Abaynesh serve as a painful reminder of these global realities. They remind us that the fight for a life free of violence is not something for “other women” or “over there.” It is right here in our homes and our lives and among our friends. And maybe you, too. Certainly me.
But we also know this: it is not inevitable. We don’t have to endure this. In fact, all of us, together, have to make it stop.
* If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, in the United States you can access the National Domestic Violence Hotline online, or toll-free at 1–800–799-SAFE (7233).