The Criminalization of Femicide: A Comparative Legal Perspective

The Criminalization of Femicide: A Comparative Legal Perspective

Killings of women, the most serious form of gender-based violence, is a phenomenon that has existed worldwide since time immemorial. And yet it has only recently become the focus of cultural and legal debate. With that in mind, this international comparative research project focuses on the 21st century treatment in various legal systems of femicide, broadly understood as killings (in particular by men) of women or girls on account of their gender. While use of the term femicide in the modern age can be traced to the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women held in Brussels in 1976, its definition has evolved over the years, and no one interpretation has gained universal acceptance. In 2012, for example, the Vienna Declaration on Femicide recognized 11 different forms of femicide. This study focuses primarily on killings of women in the following five contexts:

  • intimate partner killings (killings in the context of a rejected, existing, or terminated partnership);
  • killings within the family (so-called honor killings, sex selection before or after birth, dowry-related killings, widow burning);
  • killings in connection with the commission of gender-based crimes such as sex offenses, assault and battery, and stalking;
  • killings in connection with organized crimes such as sex trafficking; and
  • killings as an expression of hate and other gender-related killings such as those committed by so-called incels and those committed in the context of intersectional discrimination.

The goal of the project is to gain insight into how selected legal systems have chosen to deal with femicide. They may, for example, punish one or more of the above-mentioned categories of femicide more severely, less severely, or no differently than other homicides. The legislative approaches taken to implement these policies will also be examined (e.g., autonomous offense definition or specific ground for upward departure from prescribed sentencing range; generally applicable ground for upward or downward departure from prescribed sentencing range; factor to consider within prescribed sentencing range) as will the extent to which constitutional considerations (particularly the principle of equality) affect the decision of whether to introduce femicide as an autonomous offense or as a factor to be considered in the sentencing decision. Finally, in addition to the examination of the current legal situation, the project will seek to identify the basis for a common definition of feminicide and will attempt to determine whether it is desirable for criminal justice systems to treat femicides differently from other homicides and, if so, how they should be treated (best practices).

The project does not rely on the definitions of femicide adopted by some of the countries under study. Instead, a problem-centered approach is taken in which the legal responses to killings rooted in patriarchal social structures are compared. As a practical matter, the project takes the form of a traditional comparative law study in which country reports are prepared on the basis of a uniform outline. Eleven legal systems located in Europe and the Americas have been selected. The focus of the study is on the substantive legal questions of how severely and on the basis of which criminal offense definition(s) each of the participating countries punishes the various forms of femicide. In addition, country reporters are asked to provide background information concerning (media) attention paid to the topic, relevant statistics, and the existence (or absence) of discussions regarding legal reform.


Expected outcome: Two workshops, edited volume 
Research focus: II. Regulating Intimate Relations
Project language: German and English
Photo: © Konstanze Jarvers

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