Diana E. H. Russell, Ph.D.
A Global Struggle Against Femicide

 

BEST STRATEGIES TO ADVANCE THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE

 

AGAINST FEMICIDE*

 

 

Speech given at the UN Symposium on Femicide: A Global Issue that Demands Action

Vienna, Austria: November 2012

 

 

Introduction

 

 

Professor Jacqueline Campbell, one of the foremost researcher on femicide in the world today, maintains that:

 

"All women are at risk of femicide."

 

Think about her statement. [Pause]

 

And of course, all girls are also at risk of femicide.

 

That's how extreme and urgent the growing catastrophe of femicide is in our male-dominated world.

 

And the fear of being victimized by femicide has probably been felt by most women at some time in our lives.

 

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Challenges Encountered to Raise Awareness About Femicide

 

I've been asked to share with you some of the biggest challenges that I have encountered in attempting to raise awareness about femicides since I first introduced this term at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women 37 years ago.

 

Since then, I've engaged in many different strategies in the hope that one or other of them would inspire feminists in the United States to adopt this term instead of the gender-neutral terms murder or homicide. These strategies have included public speeches about femicide, appearances on TV and radio, numerous interviews by journalists, and publishing two books and many articles on femicide.

 

Although it is commonly recognized in the United States, including by law, that some murders of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color -- are racist, that some murders of Jews are anti-Semitic, and that some murders of lesbians and gay men are homophobic, the fact that much larger numbers of murders of women and girls are motivated in whole or in part by males' misogynistic attitudes to females, continues to be largely ignored in the United States -- even by feminists engaged in combating violence against women.

 

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In striking contrast, one of my co-edited books had an enormous impact in Latin America.

 

"Sometimes a book changes history," declared feminist Congresswoman Marcela Lagarde at the Seminar on Femicide that she organized in Juarez, Mexico, in 2004, and "Dr. Russell's book, Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing, is such a book."

 

She went on to describe how this book had revolutionized her thinking about the epidemic of brutal, rape/torture/mutilation femicides perpetrated in and around Juarez. This book inspired Lagarde to launch a campaign with other Mexican feminists against these vicious femicides, including successfully demanding that the Mexican Government pass a specific law against femicides.

 

The term femicide or feminicide has now been widely adopted by feminists in many Latin American countries, including in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Chile, El Salvador, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Argentina. In addition, activist feminist anti-femicide organizations have been set up, eight of which have succeeded in getting their governments to pass laws against femicide.

 

The term femicide has also been adopted by the European Parliament as well as feminists in several other countries.

 

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The Significance of the Vienna Declaration

 

I was literally ecstatic when I first read an earlier draft of the Vienna Declaration on Femicide, described to us by a former speaker, and which will be finalized by the end of this Symposium. I was, and am, gratified that this United Nations document urges all Member States to recognize that femicides are increasing all over the world, and that these lethal sexist crimes often remain unpunished. And I commend the authors of the Declaration for urging Member States to work together in their efforts to combat all forms of femicide -- several of which are identified in this document.

 

I particularly appreciate the Declaration's emphasizing that traditions and culture not be permitted to justify femicides. For example, consider so-called "honor" femicides that are routinely defended by the perpetrators as justifiable acts to protect the honor of the family. These femicides are perpetrated by male family members on the basis of false rumors, such as that a daughter or sister were seen with another man by a hostile neighbor. Sometimes honor femicides are also perpetrated by fathers because their sons raped their daughters. For women to be killed on such outrageously misogynist grounds by their nearest and dearest in the name of honor, strikes me as one of the most heinous forms of femicide.

 

These femicides are typically condoned by other males imbedded in the patriarchal power structure and institutions of countries in which they occur. At most the perpetrators receive minor raps on the knuckles for these lethal crimes. Pakistan is the country with the highest prevalence of honor femicides.***

 

Finally, the Vienna Declaration provides guidance to Member Nations by recommending many steps that they must take to combat the long neglected problem of femicide.

 

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Strategies I Propose to Combat Femicide Globally

 

Now I want to address what I consider to be the best strategies to advance our global fight against femicide.

 

Recognizing the reality and scope of femicides in every single country is the first step to revolutionizing consciousness about the incalculable costs of these lethal manifestations of misogyny.

 

Thus, the most important strategies to combat femicide involve the eradication of all forms of sexist discrimination, misogynist attitudes and policies, and all manifestations of male dominance. This is exactly what feminist movements strive to do. Others must join this challenging endeavor.

 

Female Genocide

 

Rita Banjeri, in her brilliant presentation today, documented the many different kinds of femicide that have contributed to the systematic extermination of about 50 million women and girls in India because of their gender -- especially the femicides caused by the widespread parental preference for male children.

 

I believe that this gigantic number of femicidal annihilations must be recognized as an example of female genocide. Six million Jews were exterminated during the Nazi era, compared to 50 million femicides in just one country.

 

Mass femicides are being perpetrated on a similar scale in China -- also largely due to male-child-preference. Because of this same bias, millions of other females are missing in Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

 

I believe that the most effective single strategy that would advance the global struggle against femicide would be for this gathering to recommend that the Convention on Genocide adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 be amended by adding the term "gender" to the four other factors included in the definition of genocide: that is,

 

"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical (sic), racial or religious group."

 

I'm convinced that including the term "gender" in an amendment to the United Nations Convention on Genocide would be extremely effective in bringing global attention to the many millions of gender-based femicides that some individuals have recently conceptualized as a war on women and girls perpetrated by males.

 

If this proposal, which I first heard about from Rita Banjeri, were implemented, the genocide of females would likely be the most massive of all genocides perpetrated to date. I believe that this new recognition would have a major impact on the development of international policies to combat these gender-based genocides.

 

Global UN Campaigns

 

I also propose that the United Nations select a particular example of femicide annually, and mount a massive campaign to combat it. I'd like to see femicides due to male-child preference selected for the first campaign. I presume that the growing opposition to these policies, and their disastrous consequences, would be greatly strengthened by being conceptualized as a gender-based genocide.

 

Personal Testimony

 

Lastly, I wish to advocate personal testimony as a potentially powerful strategy to combat all forms of women's oppression, including focusing on one or numerous forms of femicide. Of course, personal testimony on femicide would have to be provided by members of the victims' family, or anyone else who had been close to them. Referring to this strategy as a Tribunal, such collective speak-outs can be organized by feminists or human rights activists as well as large organizations like the United Nations. Even a single individual can initiate Tribunals, as was the case when I developed a vision of the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in 1974.**

 

Personal testimony has frequently been used by the women's movement as a strategy to raise women's awareness of their own oppression, as well as public awareness about particular forms of sexist oppression and exploitation. It can also be very successful at motivating feminists to engage in actions to combat femicides. I tried unsuccessfully to persuade Marcela Lagarde to initiate an International Tribunal on Femicide in Latin America in 2005.

 

A powerful example of the efficacy of personal testimony was demonstrated by four British women survivors of vicious attacks by their husbands who testified at the International Tribunal in Brussels in 1976. Because Britain was the first country in which feminists initiated a campaign against woman battering, as well as inventing battered women's centers to which survivors could escape. The women also benefited from the support and understanding that they needed at these safe havens.

 

The British International Tribunal committee select four battered women to testify at this groundbreaking event. These women had recovered sufficiently from their post traumatic stress disorders from which they had suffered, to become filled with rage at their batterers. They felt no compunction about describing all the vile details of their abuse, as well as how they had managed to escape to a battered women's center. Finally they shared how they had developed a political understanding of the abuse they had suffered, and stopped blaming themselves for their victimization. In short, they became survivors.

 

Among other consequences of the testimonies of these four women was the opening of battered women's centers all over Germany.

 

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In conclusion: we must recognize that femicides are lethal hate crimes, comparable to racist murders perpetrated by white people; anti-Semitic murders perpetrated by anti-Semites, and homophobic murders perpetrated by heterosexuals.

 

In gratitude to the United Nations' for recognizing the urgency of combatting femicide globally, I will quote Gloria Steinem's statement that: "There could be no meeting more important than this one ... [the UN Symposium on Femicide]. I believe that history will thank you."

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Footnotes

 

*Two or three sections had to be deleted when I delivered this speech for lack of time.

 

**A book titled Crimes Against Women: The Proceedings of the International Tribunal, first published by Les Femmes, Millbrae, California, in 1976, is still in print and sold by Russell Publications, 2432 Grant Street, Berkeley, CA 94703, USA. A copy is also on my website at www.dianarussell.com.

 

***943 honor killings were reported in 2011 in Pakistan, and 5,000 internationally per year. Source: http:/honour-killings.com/statistics-data/.

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