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News > Latin America

Femicide: A Term to Fight Gender Violence

  • Woman protesting against feminicide (Photo: Reuters).

    Woman protesting against feminicide (Photo: Reuters).

Published 25 November 2014

The term will now be incorporated in the Royal Spanish Language Academy.

The violence against women is a widespread problem throughout the world, with at least 21 percent of women worldwide have suffered some kind of violence, whether physical or psychological.

The term “femicide” (or “feminicide” for some scholars) is not widely acknowledged or used in the English language. The concept which led to the term was created by feminist authors Diana Russell and Jill Radford in 1976, titling their book Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing.

Mexican anthropologist and former Congresswoman Marcela Lagarde translated and developed the term into Spanish almost three decades later, and its use has become common in academic circles.

Femicide is mainly considered the crime of killing a woman based on her gender. This excludes general homicide, and mainly focuses on women killed in domestic settings as a result of partner or family violence.

A key feature of this crime is the fact that a man takes advantage of his social or physical position over the woman. 

Soon after developing the term – intended not only to denote the killing of a woman, but also to point at the State's responsibility – the legal position of femicide was approved by the Mexican Congress in 2006.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a condemning verdict in 2009 against the Mexican State after the killing of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez. Despite not referring itself to the term femicide, the Court recognized the homicides were based on gender and serves as example of a case in which the term can be used.

At least 700 women have disappeared in Ciudad Juarez, and over 360 have been killed. Most of the killings have distinctive characteristics, as for example the women being young and being sexually assaulted before their assassination.

Mexican anthropologist and former Congresswoman Marcela Lagarde translated and developed the term into Spanish.

Most of the perpetrators of these crimes have not been caught nor brought to trial by Mexican authorities, which is considered by many experts and nongovernmental organizations as evidence of State complicity.

But femicide occurs in many Latin American countries, and the term has helped to raise awareness over the gravity of this issue in the region.

In fact, 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are among the top 25 countries worldwide in femicides.

The tiny Central American nation of El Salvador, Jamaica and Guatemala have the highest femicide rates in the world.

Several Latin American countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia have incorporated the femicide into their penal codes. The punishment for this crime in Bolivia is up to 30 years in jail, while in Ecuador it ranged from 22 to 26 years.

Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Chile, Peru and Venezuela all have incorporated the legal figure of feminicide into their respective penal codes.

Honduras – which hold a spot in the top 10 worldwide – does not recognize recognize femicide as a distinct phenomenon within its legal system, however.

At least 600 femicides were left unsolved in Honduras last year, and over 4,000 have been registered since 2002. In 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrators of the crime go unpunished.

According to Honduran groups, every 14 hours and 30 minutes a feminicide occurs in the Central American country.

Experts believe the rate of impunity is the key issue in the problem. 

A regional investigation by the Latin American Committee for Women's Rights, found that 92 percent of femicides in Latin America end in impunity.

United Nations' figures show that around 66,000 women are killed every year worldwide, accounting for 17 percent of the all homicides.

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