Counting dead women

Monday 7th December 2015

For Day 13 of our 16 Days of Activism blog series, Karen Ingala Smith shares how The Femicide Census will help us to shine a light on the entrenched and systemic nature of violence against women.

“I began counting dead women at the start of January 2012, and started recording a list of their names.  Once I’d started, I never reached the point where it felt right to stop. When do you say the next woman isn’t important?

In June 2013, I was contacted by Clarissa O’Callaghan; Head of Pro Bono at international law firm Freshfields. They were interested in building a database on domestic homicide cases to see whether there was a human rights issue where the state had failed to protect women.

Shockingly, the most comprehensive list of names she could find was in my blog, Counting Dead Women.  We asked Women’s Aid to work with us on the project. Hilary Fisher had recently joined Women’s Aid as Directory of Policy, Voice and Membership, and had expertise in femicide as chair of the Council of Europe Expert Task Force on Violence Against Women including Domestic Violence. The task force recommended collecting and analysing data on femicides to identify failings and improve prevention, so the timing for this project was ideal.

Freshfields began by sending out Freedom of Information requests to all the police forces, local authorities and other public bodies in England, asking for details of all cases where women had been killed by men since 2009.

Very soon the volume and complexity of information was too much for the spreadsheets we’d been working with. Deloitte joined us, bringing their expertise on building databases. From this, the partnership for The Femicide Census was created.

The Femicide Census is a database; it currently contains a wide range of information about more than 850 women victims of men’s fatal violence in England, who were killed between 2009 and 2014.

Why is this important?

  • By developing an understanding of men’s fatal violence against women we can identify patterns and trends that could inform policy.
  • We can develop public awareness of the issue and challenge the notion of “isolated incidents” by seeing each killing of a woman by a man in its wider context.
  • If there are state failings, the Census can be used as a tool to highlight, and to challenge, those failings.
  • Information from the census can also be used as a training tool.

What is femicide?

Femicide is the killing of women because they are women; it includes but goes beyond intimate partner and family violence.  If we look at men who kill women (who are not current or former- intimate partners), we can see that they have more in common with men who kill female current or former  partners, than the much smaller number of  women who kill male former partners.

When men kill women, regardless of their relationship or lack of it, they are doing so in the context of a society in which men’s violence against women is entrenched and systemic.

Sexual violence runs through the murders of women by men who are not partners or ex-partners. Gender – the social constructs of masculinity and femininity – is also integral.  When men kill a current or former intimate partner, it is usually a woman that they have been abusing for years, when women kill a current or former intimate partner, it is usually a man who has been abusing them for years.

Our long term aim for The Femicide Census is to contribute to reducing the number of women killed by men.”

Femicide Census logo

Learn more about The Femicide Census

“She was my aunt” – Hear real stories from the families left behind


About the author

Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of nia, has over 20 years’ experience in the women’s sector.

Karen’s leadership maintains an undaunted feminist commitment to championing an integrated approach to addressing all forms of male violence against women and girls as a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Learn more about their work

About 16 Days

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, Women’s Aid will release a blog a day, encouraging people to take action and use their influence to help raise the status of women to a level where violence against them is no longer tolerated. Read more blogs from the series

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