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Gender-Based Violence and Social/Political Practices: The extreme case of Femicide European Parliament

 “Femicide prevention mechanisms: challenges and opportunities”

Statement by
Birgit Van Hout
Regional Representative for Europe
UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR)

Dear Member of the European Parliament Elena Kountoura,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for the invitation. It is a pleasure and an honour to address you on behalf of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Ms Dubravka Simonovic, who very much regrets not being able to be with you today.

First, let me briefly introduce the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to address either country situations or thematic issues, and who serve in their personal capacity. The mandate of the SR on violence against women, its causes and consequences, was established in March 1994. Ms Simonovic was first appointed in 2015 and her mandate was extended by three years in June 2018.

The Special Rapporteur is mandated to seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences from a broad range of sources and stakeholders, namely Governments, treaty bodies, international, regional and non-governmental organizations, women’s groups and victims of violence. Broadly speaking, the Special Rapporteur has three avenues for action: thematic reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, country visits, and urgent appeals or allegations letters to inquire about individual cases of violence against women.

As the title of today's panel already suggests, femicide is the most extreme and ultimate manifestation of violence against women. It is the culmination of pre-existing forms of violence, often experienced in a continuum of violent acts.”

The vast majority of homicides perpetrated by intimate partners victimize women. According to Femicide Watch, 82 per cent of the victims are women, while in 18 per cent of the cases the victims are men.1 Why this discrepancy?

Violence against women and girls is rooted in widely accepted gender norms about men’s authority in society in general and the family in particular, and men’s use of violence to exert control over women. Violence against women is in fact an extreme manifestation of discrimination. We are not only speaking about relations between individuals, but also structural forms of discrimination deeply rooted in our economic and political systems. Hence, the place of women in society is a determining factor when it comes to the preponderance of violence against women. But, what is clear, is that it is a global phenomenon.

In order to tackle the scourge of femicide effectively, we need accurate data. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems in this area, ranging from underreporting over the concealing of femicide to poor quality data. Clearly, these data challenges are a key obstacle to addressing femicide. Preventing femicide and other forms of violence against women requires evidence-based policy-making.

That is why, in 2016, the Special Rapporteur2 has called for the establishment at the international, regional and national levels of a femicide watch as observatories of gender-related killings of women. The femicide observatories should collect comparable data on

(a) intimate partner femicide;
(b) family-related femicide based on the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim; and
(c) all other femicides based on the country context

The Special Rapporteur recommends a flexible model for the National Femicide Watches. They can be a new independent interdisciplinary body, integrated in existing observatories, or part of independent mechanisms, such as ombudspersons or national human rights institutions.

Every year, on 25 November, the number of femicides should be published along with information concerning the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators. Regional organizations and the United Nations could publish the data regionally and globally.

The Femicide Watch should go beyond the collection and publication of data, and focus also on systematic gaps and shortcomings in national civil and criminal justice frameworks and systems. The platform should include information on the conduct of police and public prosecutors, efficiency of protection orders, availability of shelters and other measures.

The Special Rapporteur has further issued a call for information on

  1. Existing legislative models and operational guides for the investigation of gender-related killings of women;
  2. Promising practices regarding the collection of data on gender-related killings of women;
  3. Landmark jurisprudence from international, regional, and national courts on gender-related killings of women.

The Special Rapporteur also launched a platform3 on cooperation between international and regional independent mechanisms on women’s rights, with a view to keep the prevention of gender-based violence and discrimination at the center of national, regional and global efforts.  This Platform was formally launched at the UN Commission on the status of women.

Since the 2016 report, some progress has been made in developing national observatories and collection of data on femicide. For example, in Argentina, the Government has established a femicide observatory after the Ni Una Menos movement attracted international attention to femicide in Argentina. In Canada, some provinces have moved to establish observatories on violence against women and femicide review panels that document social and State responses.

Similarly, in Australia, some jurisdictions have homicide death review panels, which are interdisciplinary. The work done by some NGOs on quantifying gender-related killings of women, such as the “Counting dead women” project, are also examples of good practices.

The Special Rapporteur has also identified the Female Census which exists in some Commonwealth countries as a good practice. The Census gathers information on women and girls aged 14 and older who have been killed and where the principal perpetrator alleged, charged or convicted is a man. Private companies provided pro bono support and funding. Comparable partnerships could be pursued to develop the global online database.

To end femicide, we need to encourage the creation of femicide watches and observatories in additional countries. Urgent action is required, because gender-based violence -- and femicide in particular -- have a chilling impact on all human rights of women.

And, the anachronistic belief underpinning gender-based violence, namely that women are inferior must be eradicated. This can only happen through fundamental changes in mentalities and cultures to protect and promote equality between sexes in all spheres of life. Thank you.


1/ Global Knowledge Platform on Gender related killing of women and girls


2/ A/71/398, Annual report of the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly (2016)

3/ Global Knowledge Platform to End Violence against Women