Femicide: When gender-based violence turns fatal
Did you know that in India, for every 1000 children there are almost 100 fewer girls than boys? In some communities, the gender gap is as high as 25%: for every 1000 boys, there are less than 750 girls. The Indian population as a whole is skewed to the point of having 37 million more males than females. In total, Asia has around 100 million more men than women. Why? Before trying to find an explanation for this enormous difference, let’s travel across the world to Italy.
The Indian population as whole is skewed to the point of having 37 million more males than females. In total, Asia has around 100 million more men than women. Why?
On a warm summer day in June 2016, the usually open piazzas of Italy’s biggest cities were covered by hundreds of pairs of red women’s shoes. The shoes symbolized the victims of femicide – women or girls who are killed simply because of their gender. In Italy, every three days a female is murdered by her partner, ex-partner or family member. The sea of red covering the country on this particular day in June, was a silent protest against the murder of 22-year-old Sara Di Pietrantonio. She was burnt alive by her ex-boyfriend. After enduring a period of violence and abuse from the person who was supposed to be the closest to her in this world, Sara had finally left. But she could not escape the hate of the man who had claimed to love her. One night, her ex-boyfriend followed her. He rammed into Sara’s car, threw flammable liquid over it, and lit it on fire. Sara was able to get out of the car, running desperately away, screaming for help. But the man she had trusted with her heart caught up with her. Eventually, he lit her on fire as well.
Photo: Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa
Sara’s story is far from unique. A 2017 report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) shows that the number of women and girls killed by an intimate partner or a family member every year (43,600) is four times higher than the total number of people killed by violent extremist acts (11,133). And these data come with a big caveat: It is extremely difficult to map the prevalence of this form of violence. The official figures on gender-based violence are likely just the tip of the iceberg – estimates from Europe and North America show that only 1 in 10 women suffering sexual assaults speaks up about it. The vast majority of spousal violence is never reported, even in Canada, which is ranked as one of the safest, most egalitarian and progressive societies in the world for women to live in. If these somber statistics apply to countries traditionally perceived to be in the ‘vanguard’ of women’s rights, then what about the rest of the world?
The vast majority of spousal violence is never reported, even in Canada, which is ranked as one of the safest, most egalitarian and progressive societies in the world for women to live. If these somber statistics apply to countries traditionally perceived to be in the ‘vanguard’ of women’s rights, then what about the rest of the world?
In 2018, India was named the most dangerous country for women to live in by the Reuters Foundation. Women in India are at the world’s highest risk of experiencing sexual violence, trafficking and harmful cultural or religious practices such as acid attacks and female genital mutilation. The Reuters report states that they have very little control over their own reproductive health, suffer a lack of access to education and health services, while also enduring systematic discrimination and harassment in both the public and private spheres. But there is even more to the story. The 50 million missing campaign, founded by Indian activist Rita Banerji, claims that “more than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from India’s population in three generations”. This ‘extermination’ is a result of, among other things, female foeticide and infanticide, dowry murders and honor killings.
The 50 million missing campaign, founded by Indian activist Rita Banerji, claims that “more than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from India’s population in three generations”. This ‘extermination’ is a result of, among other things, female foeticide and infanticide, dowry murders and honour killings.
According to Banerji, there are six main forms of femicide in India:
1) Female infanticide of girls under 1 year
Baby girls can be poisoned, drowned or starved, even buried alive. They can also be intentionally exposed to diseases. The mortality rate of Indian girls at this age is 75% higher than that of boys. Over 1 million female infants were allegedly killed in India between 1985 and 2005.
2) Killing of girls under 5 years through neglect and violence
One of the cases the 50 million missing campaign have worked on involves a 2-year-old girl who was deliberately starved and beaten by her family. The girl, who was never given a name, is called ‘Karishma’ by the organization. The name means ‘Miracle’, representing the fact that she is a survivor.
3) Forced abortions
According to UNICEF, sex determination and sex-selective abortion is an industry which in India is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. An estimated 12 million female fetuses have been aborted in the country over a period of three decades. The 50 million missing campaign reports that many women are pressured to terminate the pregnancy if her family finds out she is expecting a girl. The country has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, in part because of the prevalence of high-risk abortions and intentional violence against women pregnant with baby girls.
Sex determination and sex-selective abortion is an industry which in India is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. An estimated 12 million female fetuses have been aborted in the country over a period of three decades.
4) Dowry related murders
Official numbers show that an Indian woman is killed every hour because of dowry issues – disagreements between families concerning the payments for marriage. These killings are often referred to as “bride burnings”, as one of the most common methods used is to soak the newlywed girl in flammable liquid and light her on fire.
5) Honor killings
As India has no specific law against honor crimes, the phenomenon is characterized by a lack of reliable data. Seen as a way for families to punish women for bringing ‘shame’ on them, hundreds are killed every year for “defying communal customs”.
6) “Witch lynching”
The 50 million missing campaign claims that single women or windows can be at risk of lynching for suspected ‘witchcraft’. According to official Indian figures, over 2000 women were killed in these modern witch hunts between 2000 and 2012.
Photo: 50 million missing campaign
Why does this happen? The 50 million missing campaign thinks the so-called ‘female genocide’ is a social process aimed at disempowering women and consolidating patriarchal social structures. UNICEF points to continued prejudice against and undervaluing of girl children as one of the main issues facing countries like India today. But something is happening. The uprising against femicide and gender-based violence is not reserved for countries like Italy and its red shoes. The 50 million missing campaign in India is just one example of this. Girls’ lives are worth fighting for – no matter where in the world they might be.
By Johanne Kalsaas
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