Femicide is a neologism that indicates a form of extreme violence directed against women by virtue of their belonging to the female gender.
The category of femicide does not refer to the killing of women per se, but puts the spotlight on killings at the hands of men in a social, cultural and political system that allows and tolerates acts of dominance and male violence against women. The neologism, therefore, introduces the element of gender into the criminological analysis and allows the emergence of specific forms of discrimination and violation of human rights.
Barbara Spinelli, an Italian lawyer at the forefront in the fight against male violence towards women, points out in her book, Femminicidio. Dalla denuncia sociale al riconoscimento giuridico internazionale (Femicide. From social commentary to international legal recognition), that a wide range of violence – physical, economic, psychological – is always hiding behind an act as extreme as killing.
Over the past two years, Italy has suddenly found itself in the spotlight for a “femicide emergency,” almost as if the phenomenon hadn’t previously existed.
Starting in 2012, politicians, civil society and media have increasingly brought to attention the issue of women being killed by their current or former companions, which undoubtedly helps to draw attention to a serious problem, but at the same time feeds an inaccurate perception of the phenomenon.
In Italy there isn’t any national observatory on femicide, and it is impossible to determine whether or not an increase in this phenomenon has been registered in the country. Until now, the main research has been made available by the Casa delle donne per non subire violenza in Bologna, which is based on news reports transmitted by the mass media. This study shows an increasing number of murders of women, from 84 in 2005 to 124 in 2012, but cannot claim, of course, anything scientific. (A similar survey has been conducted, for example, by the blog Bollettino di guerra.) A corollary of this gap: the numbers collected by the associations of women, influenced by the unstable sensitivity of the media, may be underestimated, and now in Italy it is impossible to have an objective picture of the situation.
Despite the lack of accurate data, it is evident that the phenomenon exists and that, regardless of its proportions, it is an unacceptable violation of the human rights of women.
In 2011, some representatives of the Italian civil society, including Barbara Spinelli, presented a “shadow report” to describe the state of women’s rights in Italy to the CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) in the United Nations.
At the end of the hearing, the Committee made a number of important recommendations to the Italian government, explicitly using the term femicide, describing it as a failure of the Italian State in the protection of human rights. The State, in fact, has a duty to remove practical obstacles that prevent its citizens from enjoying their fundamental rights, and in the case of femicide, has an obligation to act in aid of the victims of violence and prevent the extreme consequence of their being killed. The CEDAW Committee, in its recommendations, asked to give priority to the adoption of structural measures, able to take into account the specific position of women in vulnerable situations, which would ensure that women victims of violence have immediate protection, including the removal of the aggressor from the house, ensuring that they can stay in safe and well-funded shelters all over the country, which may have access to legal aid, psycho-social assistance and adequate reparation, including compensation. The CEDAW also recommended organizing an effective system of data collection, to ensure the training of all operators, to involve civil society in awareness campaigns, as well as to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and in domestic environments.
In January of 2012, moreover, the Special Commissioner of the United Nations, Rashida Manjoo, went on a mission to Italy, and her departure presented a report in which she reiterated the seriousness of the situation and added a list of recommendations with special emphasis on the need to act on the cultural dimension, acting on gender stereotypes.
Despite this increasing attention and awareness towards men’s violence against women, the Italian government ignored both the phenomenon and the recommendations of the CEDAW until 2013, the year in which it enacted a law (also) on femicide in record time.
On October 11, 2013 a law was enacted: “Disposizioni urgenti in materia di sicurezza e per il contrasto della violenza di genere, nonché in tema di protezione civile e di commissariamento delle province” (“Urgent safety regulations to combat gender-based violence as well as in the field of civil protection and compulsory administration of the provinces”). The text is divided into four parts, and only the first deals with femicide, in five out of eleven items (other parts contain rules on security for development, law enforcement and public safety, for the prevention and the counter-action of phenomena of particular social alarm, standards relating to the protection of civil and compulsory administration of the provinces).
The new rules against femicide act solely in terms of the tightening of penalties and precautionary measures, and have aroused reactions and controversy from many voices of civil society who work daily in the context of male violence against women, and who denounce, among other things, the lack of recognition of the cultural dimension of gender violence.