In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by her husband or boyfriend. In India, it happens almost one each hour. The cause is “femicide," the murder of women because they are women and it is a leading cause of premature death for women around the world.
Dr. Shalva Weil, a Senior Researcher at Hebrew University, this week chaired an Action sponsored by COST, an inter-governmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology. She is the only Israeli to hold such a position, and it comes amid tensions between Israel and the European Union over new guidelines that prohibit any EU funding for any Israeli institution that is built on areas that Israel acquired in 1967. The Hebrew University on Mount Scopus was always an Israeli-controlled enclave and would not be affected by the new rules.
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“This is the first conference on femicide in Europe and the issue is on the rise,” Weil told The Media Line. “COST is involved in networking, not research. I call on all European governments to provide funds for the research.”
There has been little research done on the issue at all. Weil, an anthropologist, did research on the killing of Ethiopian women by their husbands in 2009.
“Ethiopians are 0.01% of the total population in Israel, and they made up 28% of the victims of femicide,” she said. “I realized this was an important subject and I submitted a proposal to COST for EU funding to study this across Europe.”
The one-day conference brought together some 40 researchers from across Europe. In one keynote address, the husband and wife team of Rebecca and Russell Dobash, criminologists at the University of Manchester in the UK, studied femicide in Britain.
“A woman is at greater risk of being killed by her partner in her younger years and by a stranger in her older years,” Russel Dobash said. “80% of men who killed a woman in a sexual murder actually walked to the victim’s house, meaning they lived in the same neighborhood and knew each other.”
This conference was meant to agree on a definition of femicide. For example, is carrying out abortions on baby girls in India femicide? Is female genital mutilation femicide? How does one take into account differences across cultures?”
For example, Jacquelyn Campbell, from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing has done research in Lebanon.
“In 2011, Lebanon passed the first law against honor killings (the murder of a woman, usually by relatives, in the belief that she has brought dishonor or shame on her family),” Campbell said. “But when they tried to pass a law against domestic violence, both Muslims and Christians agreed that would be a blow against the family and voted it down.”
Campbell also said that studies show that in the US when a woman is killed by her partner, in almost one-third of the cases, he then kills himself.
Both presenters and attendees to the conference were overwhelmingly female, perhaps the reason Campbell started her power-point presentation with a slide of her grandchildren. One attendee nursed her baby as she listened intently to the presentations.
Anne Ryen, a sociologist from Norway, says her country has some positive experiences to offer.
“We are a gender-friendly place and our rate of femicide is very low,” she told The Media Line. “This is a good opportunity to work across borders because violence against women is a cross-border phenomenon.”
Other delegates said the level of violence is increasing in their communities. Wafaa Zrieksrour, an Arab citizen of Israel and member of the Mosawa organization said eight Arab Israeli women have been killed by their husbands this year.
“We need to raise awareness of this issue,” she told The Media Line. “But we also blame the police. In most of these cases, the women submitted a complaint to the police and they did nothing about it.”
Naeemah Abrahams of the Gender and Health Unit of the Medical Research Council in Cape Town, South Africa, conducted two studies of femicide ten years apart. She said that overall rates are declining. At the same time, “gender-based homicides are disproportionately resistant to the change while rape homicides have proportionately increased.”
She said prevention efforts must be increased and that health, police and justice departments must prioritize these cases.
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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