‘The killing of women is the outcome of the sexist culture we live in’

In the UGlobe café ‘Femicide: an international perspective’ on March 21, we discussed the heavy and versatile topic of femicide with three experts. We went deeper into the forms that femicide takes in different countries, the causes of this and how more attention can be paid to this phenomenon. On the stage we had Dr. Lorena Sosa, associate professor at Utrecht University and specialized in human rights and gender-based violence, Dr. Ihsan Çetin, sociologist at Namik Kemal University in Tekirdağ, Turkey, and Renée Römkens, professor emeritus of Gender Based Violence at the UvA's Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The café was led by programme maker and moderator Shula Tas

System killing of women
Dr. Sosa refers to femicide as the systematic killing of women. The dynamic notion of femicide consists of three points, according to Dr. Sosa. First, femicide is a structural problem, it occurs not incidentally but structurally. Second, it’s the consequence of the power imbalance between men and women. Finally, there is a lack of responsiveness of the state. The solution according to Dr. Sosa lies with policy. The current system approaches femicide as a problem of intimate relationships. It is seen as a problem within a family or relationship, while it is not. It is a structural problem within the system as a result of power imbalance. So, the problem must be solved by the system. The state has to take responsibility by making policies to ensure the protection of the victims.

Revolt killing in Turkey
Dr. Çetin explained to us the trends and causes of femicide in Turkey. In Turkey, he noted, femicide is an underexposed topic that is not discussed enough. He stressed that it is appalling that femicide victims are usually killed by the people they loved, like (ex-)partners. Dr. Çetin would prefer another term for the concept of femicide, namely revolt killing. He sees femicide in forms of honor killings, crimes of passion and as a consequence of religion. Where Lorena and Renee defined the concept of femicide as a consequence of power imbalance between men and women, Dr. Çetin had another perspective on the killing of women. He views the cause of the problem as a new emerging conflict between the changing status of women and the unchanging status of men. Traditional norms disappear and women for instance obtain higher statuses in jobs. Where back in the day women were ashamed to divorce, nowadays they feel the freedom to choose for divorce. Because of increasing women's rights in the social sphere and the increasing courage of women to stand up against their husband, men feel threatened. They are afraid to lose their dominant position in society. That’s why the killing of women is a conflict of changing statuses between men and women. The solution for this problem according to Dr. Çetin can be found in the role of NGO’s.

Society's uncontrolled problem
Prof. Römkens zoomed in on the situation in the Netherlands, one of the European countries with the highest number of femicides per capita. She refers to the four core aspects of the problem: it is socio-cultural, it is about the secondary status of inferiority, it is intersectional, and it is not only by biological sex, but about gender trans variability. This problem is grounded in science and not ideology, because femicide is based on empirical verifiable facts. It is not a matter of being ‘woke’. “That means that we, as a society, have a problem. We think we’re in control but we’re not.” Thus, Prof. Römkens. In 2015, the UN came with the Femicide Watch Initiative. This initiative aims to focus on femicide prevention by collecting data of femicide rates in several countries around the world. These statistics show that the global risk for women of being murdered is 1 in 5, while the risk for a woman in the Netherlands of becoming a victim of femicide is 1 in 2. Shockingly, these statistics were calculated using data on femicide cases within marriages and femicide cases of couples who live together. The number of cases of women who were murdered by their partner, but who do not live together or aren’t in a marriage, are not even included. Nowadays, the problem of femicide is still seen as a problem ‘behind doors’, but it’s not. "The killing of women is the outcome of the sexist culture we live in. It is important that this problem will be recognized as a cultural problem and that the state takes legal responsibility in this problem."

On the role of culture and law
With Dr. Sosa as an expert in law and prof. Römkens as a cultural sociologist, we closed the café with an interesting discussion about how sociology and law are intertwined in the problem of femicide and we linked back to the problem in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands we have a liberal self-image, which may not correspond to the lived realities of women here. Women may not even fully grasp thisreality and attach problems such as assault, to their sexuality, instead of describing it in terms of violation. As law is an instrument that regulates behavior, it should play a role to protect women in the Netherlands. If we analyze femicide from a sociological angle, we can rethink law and adjust policies in order to solve the problem. This would be a good start for protecting women in the sexist culture that enables femicide.

About the UGlobe Café
The UGlobe Café is a unique collaboration between students of Utrecht University, the Utrecht University Centre for Global Challenges (UGlobe) and the knowledge and debate programme of TivoliVredenburg. In a joint editorial, topics are determined that bring knowledge outside the walls of the university in an accessible way.