How the term “feminicide” managed to impose itself

“Mmurder of a woman or a young girl because she is female. This is how “feminicide” is defined, which entered the Larousse dictionary in 2021. In France, the term has been democratized in the common imagination for a few years to cover a precise and nevertheless restrictive reality: that of crimes committed by men on women, spouses or ex-spouses of these. It is limited to this, far from what may exist in Spain, for example, a country which, since January 2022, has extended the notion to almost all murders and assassinations committed against women, of whatever nature they be.

This is why, in the use we have of it in France, Me Negar Haeri, a criminal lawyer, believes that the dictionary definition lacks “a step”, a term that would allow us to grasp the full complexity of feminicide as we understand it. “It’s not fair that they are women, that would be too simplistic, it’s because of the contempt that we bring to this genre that these crimes exist, ”suggests the lawyer.

The generalization of its use is in fact based on an obvious observation: with regard to violent deaths within the couple in France, women are the main victims. In 2020, the Ministry of the Interior identified 102 female victims, compared to 146 in 2019, considered a “dark year” by specialists. In the same year, the number of male victims was 23 (compared to 27 in 2019). In total, in 2020, women therefore represented more than 82% of the victims of violent deaths within the couple. And if indeed they are the perpetrators, it is most often an act committed in a context of self-defense.

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In a summary produced in 2021 by the ministry responsible for gender equality, it is also indicated: “The number of feminicides increased by 20% in 2021 compared to 2020: 122 women were killed by their partner. In more than four out of five spousal homicides, the victim is a woman and the perpetrator is a man. A third of the female victims had already been the victim of violence within the couple. When women are the perpetrators of homicide between partners, in half of the cases, they had suffered violence from their partner. “If there are not yet official figures for the year 2022, the Féminicides collective counts at least 109.

No more “marital drama” or “crime of passion”

Beyond this observation, it seems that this term is still often decried, some thinkers considering it imbued with a “militant ideology”, “carrying with it a certain interpretation of reality”, wrote the philosopher Bénédicte Levet in 2021 in Le Figaro. “The word freezes each of the two sexes in an essence: on the one hand, man, the eternal persecutor; on the other, the woman, eternal victim, perpetual prey of this unalterable predator […] the victim finds himself dispossessed of his personal identity”, seemed to regret Bénédicte Levet who added: “The neologism was indeed conceived in the 1970s to mean that women are killed because women, as women. »

The philosopher evacuates here years of social progress, which, far from being the prerogative of a political class, are above all a leap into a better appreciated and apprehended reality. Because if it does come from a militant lexicon, the term has above all come to replace expressions which were still common a few years ago, such as “marital drama” or “crime of passion”, which could induce a mitigating circumstance to the seriousness of the crimes perpetrated against women, giving them a “romantic” dimension.

“Understanding what we are talking about is essential”

If the term “feminicide” is not recognized as such in the French Criminal Code, there is the qualification of “murder of a spouse, cohabitant or partner linked to the victim by a civil pact of solidarity” which is an aggravating circumstance of homicide, under the terms of article 221-4 9 of the Penal Code, causing the perpetrator to incur life imprisonment. If its inclusion in the Penal Code may have posed a problem with regard to the universality of the law, the fact remains that generalizing the use of the word feminicide – this is moreover the case in courtrooms, the presidents of courts and the Advocates General no longer hesitating to refer to it – contributes to a better understanding of the phenomenon.

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“You had to be able to put a word on it, for it to exist, precisely because this passage to the act resides in the fact of killing a woman because she is a woman. It’s not just killing someone in the street. Moreover, it is not because a woman is killed in the street that we will speak of feminicide ”, poses Me Zoé Royaux, criminal lawyer and spokesperson for the Women’s Foundation. Because the lawyer reminds us: feminicide is not a murder like any other, there is a continuum of violence.

“The law considers spousal murder to be more serious because the violence does not start at the time of the femicide. There is a whole global context of psychological, verbal and physical violence that leads to this outcome, ”says Ms.e Royals who adds: “Understanding what we are talking about is essential, because it is by taking into account the mechanisms of feminicide, the strategies of the aggressor, by becoming familiar with the lexical field of influence, of coercive control, that we will succeed in providing appropriate penal responses. Therefore, the question is therefore not whether or not this term should be integrated into the Penal Code, since the articles punishing this type of crime already exist and make it possible to rule on situations as diverse as they are complex. On the other hand, it has its place in common language, since it makes it possible to understand the problem, and, therefore, to better respond to it.

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