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Femicide-feminicide: genealogy, law, systemic violence

Abstracts, in French, should be sent to the coordinators by April 2, 2021. They should not exceed 2000 characters, including a dozen bibliographical references, and mention the orientation of the paper.

Femicide-feminicide: genealogy, law, systemic violence

A recent addition to French-speaking feminist and activist vocabulary used to denounce the rationale and lethal consequences of patriarchal violence against women, the term féminicide (femicide) has now entered everyday language. Since 2015, the French dictionary Petit Robert defines féminicide as “the murder of a woman or a girl because of her sex”, even though in France the term is now generally used in a more restricted way, to count the number of women murdered by their spouse or ex-spouse. In the French context, the term also appears in government speeches, albeit not in law. It is now used by the mainstream media, yet alongside endless reports reminiscent of explanations of these murders as “crimes of passion” or “family dramas”.

The renewed use of the femicide category inevitably brings to mind Jill Radford and Diana E.H. Russell’s 1992 book, a collection of over 40 contributions on femicide (Radford & Russell, 1992). In line with the works of J.Hanmer (Hanmer, 1977) and Liz Kelly (Kelly, 1988) on the continuum of sexist and sexual violence, as well as the work of the first International Tribunal on Crimes against Women, held in Brussels in 1976, femicide is explored not only as the lethal extreme form of such violence but also as both the cause and tool of terror, the one that raises bodies and women, that pushes women by force into the male heterosexual order, in short as “sexist terrorism against women” (Caputi & Russel, 1992,13-21). The political power and agency which Latin American feminists have gained by re-using the term since the 1990s has boosted its use by activists as a political tool worldwide (Devineau, 2012). Deciphering the atrocious murders of Ciudad Juárez, Marcela Lagarde, a feminist academic and congresswoman, drew inspiration from the concept of “femicide” established by Russell to draw up a new category, feminicide, newly defined to designate state inaction as the root cause of impunity in Mexico (Lagarde, 2006) and to establish benchmarks for evidence, with the aim of drafting the “General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence” (2007) [ley general de acceso de las mujeres a una vida libre de violencia]. This conceptualization also enabled the formulation of precise definitions to better understand the contexts in which violence is perpetrated (Labrecque, 2012; Lacombe, 2013).

Julia Monárrez  draws a distinction between “systemic sexual feminicides” such as those that received a lot of media attention in Juárez, “intimate feminicides” committed by partners or ex-partners, and feminicides related to stigmatized activities, such as prostitution (Monárrez, 2006). In Central America, Ana Carcedo and Montserrat Sagot have also contributed to analyzing the contexts of femicidal violence in relation to violence by maras, the gangs (Carcedo, 2010; Sagot, 2013). Rita Segato, for her part, pays singular attention to mafia femicide, considered paradigmatic of racist, classist, misogynist male violence, exerted in a singular territory of insecurity (Segato, 2010). What many of these authors have pointed out has given rise to fruitful thoughts for understanding, in other national contexts, not only the systemic character of femicide (Falquet, 2016), but above all the communications effect or what has even been called “the pegagogy of cruelty” (Segato, 2018) that the persistence of these murders exerts on individuals. Misogynist lethal violence is a communications medium that informs the contexts and forms of perpetration of sexist violence, gender relations, and the interweaving of power relations in general (Fregoso & Bejarano, 2010). Outside the Latin American context, the December 6, 1989 massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique in Quebec is an example of mass femicide, seen as a means, claimed by the shooter, Marc Lépine, to express his hatred of women and feminists (Blais, 2009). Femi(ni)cide thus means more than just a description of murders or homicides based on gender. It is first of all, as Jill Radford points out, “a right of women to name their experience”, which can be interpreted in various ways: a right to pay “femage” to the dead and disappeared, a right to qualify, outside the existing criminal categories, the social control and power relations that precede or configure murders, a right to say that femicide does not end with homicides, but that it is a factor of socialization. Such conceptual developments should not hide the differences in use between contexts and in the intensity of the violence in these contexts. Thus, while the notion of femi(ni)cide in Europe generally targets intimate relationships, it has a broader meaning in the Latin American setting, where it refers to the murder of women unknown to their aggressors. Attention must therefore be paid to the geographical and historical, as well as institutional and scientific, conditions of formulation and appropriation of this term. The vast literature on femi(ni)cide, its use in feminist campaigns in different parts of the world, as well as recent political initiatives against impunity, invite us to document the topicality of this form of violence, its reconfiguration in different institutional contexts that apparently refuse its trivialization, while at the same time reviewing the sociology and anthropology of definitions and interpretations of
gender-based violence that the term encompasses. This Cahiers du Genre issue will thus be mainly articulated around the analysis of the forms of perpetration of femi(ni)cides, the processes of their revelation, representation and treatment, notably but not exclusively in terms of the ways in which the term itself has been re-appropriated, its circulation, its translations and its scope of definition, and the controversies it may have raised in all geographical and political contexts.