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Femicide was first used in England in 1801 to signify "the killing of a woman."[1] In 1848, this term was published in Wharton's Law Lexicon, suggesting that it had become a prosecutable offense.[2] Another term used is feminicide.

First feminist definition

Femicide was redefined as a feminist term by Diana Russell in 1976 to refer to misogynist murders.[3] Just as murders targeting African Americans differentiate between those that are racist and those that are not, so are murders targeting women differentiated into those that are femicides and those that are not. When the gender of the victim is immaterial to the perpetrator, the murder qualifies as a non-femicidal crime.

After making minor changes in her definition over the years [4], Russell redefined femicide as "the killing of females by males because they are female" [4] Misogynist murders are the most obvious examples of femicide. These include mutilation murder, rape murder, woman battery that escalates into wife killing, the immolation of widows in India, and "honor crimes" in Latin and Middle Eastern countries, where women who are believed to have shamed their families by associating with an unrelated male, or even by being raped by a brother, are often murdered by their male relatives.

Feminists in Latin America have been among the first to adopt the term femicide to refer to the massive number of these misogynist crimes in Juarez, Mexico. Many of these young femicide victims were also raped, tortured, and mutilated. Use of the term femicide, and the creation of anti-femicide feminist organizations, spread from Mexico to many other Latin American countries.

Russell's concept of femicide extends beyond misogynistic killings to apply to all forms of sexist killing. Misogynistic murders are limited to those motivated by the hatred of females whereas sexist murders include killings by males motivated by contempt for females, a sense of entitlement and/or superiority over females, pleasure or sadistic desires toward them, and/or an assumption of ownership of women.

In addition, Russell's definition of femicide includes covert forms of the killing of females, such as when females are permitted to die because of misogynistic attitudes and/or social institutions. For example, when male children are valued more highly than females, many girls starve as a result of this sexist attitude. Hence, these deaths qualify as femicides. [4]


Jacquelyn Campbell and Carol Runyan, among others, have redefined femicide as "all killings of women, regardless of motive or perpetrator status". [5] Their rationale for this redefinition -- a return to the original definition used in Britain in 1801 -- is to avoid having to make inferences about the motives of the killers. Although inferring motives can be difficult or even impossible (all hate crimes require the assessment of the criminals' motives). Russell criticizes this definition for depoliticizing the concept femicide, and believes that confusion could have been avoided by using a term such as woman-killing instead of femicide.

Notes and references

  1. Corry, John. (1801) A Satirical Review of London at the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh: T. Hurst, Paternoster-Row; Ogilvy and Son, Holborn; R. Ogle, Turnstile; and Ogle and Aikman
  2. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Ed.(1989)p.285
  3. Russell, Diana E.H. and Van de Ven, Nicole, (Eds.), Crimes Against Women: The Proceedings of the International Tribunal. Les Femmes, Palo Alto, California, USA 1976
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Russell, Diana E.H. and Harmes, Roberta A, (Eds.), Femicide in Global Perspective New York: Teachers College Press, 2001, Ch. 2, p. 13-14
  5. Campbell, Jacquelyn C. and Runyan, Carol. (1998). Femicide: Guest Editors Introduction. Homicide Studies, w (4), 347-352

External Links

"Female Genocide in India" in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific Issue 22, October 2009

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