I was outraged when at the beginning of 2022I heard that a young woman was murdered in broad daylight. Ashling Murphy (23) – daughter, sister, friend, primary school teacher – was out for a run at 4 PM when she was fatally attacked. Most women reading this will be familiar with the ways we try to protect ourselves when out alone at night: holding your keys between your fingers, walking like have somewhere to be, having someone’s number ready on speed-dial, having earbuds in without playing any music, faking a phone call, wearing bulky clothes, etc. etc. And remember Sarah Everard? Last March, the 33-year old marketing executive was kidnapped and murdered by a policeman (!) while walking home and talking to her boyfriend over the phone. It seems like we are not even safe from those who are there to protect and serve. What angers – and scares – me the most is that even with all of these ‘protective measures’ there is still a valid reason to be afraid when stories like these keep being so prominent. Have you ever paid attention to what answers women give when asked what they would do if they were a man for a day? Overwhelmingly, women respond by saying that they would go out for a walk/run at night, because obviously now we cannot without putting our lives at risk.
Femicide is a recurring problem throughout the entire world.
These women I mentioned are accidentally both from Great-Britain, but femicide is a recurring problem throughout the entire world. Feminist author Diana Russell was the first to define the term in modern times, and she includes racial femicide, serial femicide, mass femicide, honor killing, bride burning, and matricide in her definition. One should also consider covert femicide which can happen as the criminalization of abortion leading to the death of the mother, intentional spread of HIV/AIDS, or death as a result of female genital mutilation. The most widespread form of femicide is committed by the woman’s intimate partner: accounting for 35% of all murders of women globally. The types of femicide do differ widely, i.e. the Middle East and South Asia have higher rates of honor killing, while the West experiences more racial and serial femicide. These differences don’t really matter though, as long as roughly 137 women are killed worldwide every day by a (ex)partner or family member (this is a crude estimation, as not nearly all deaths are being registered).
... every ten days, a Dutch woman dies as a consequence of domestic violence.
Having read so far, you might be shocked, but you probably still believe that the Netherlands is a well-developed and safe country. If this is the case, brace yourself for the following fact: every ten days, a Dutch woman dies as a consequence of domestic violence. Every. Ten. Days. Despite it very clearly being a problem, Dutch media has little to no attention for femicide within our own borders. Reports typically focus on femicide or violence against women in countries with a macho culture, such as Spain, Italy, or France. However, the Netherlands has more cases of femicide per capita than these ‘macho’ countries. Of the 43 female murders in 2018 (as registered by the CBS), 76% were committed by a (ex)partner. While in the afore-mentioned countries, women took to the streets in huge protests to call attention to violence against women, Dutchies are eerily quiet on this topic. In the Netherlands, the motive behind the violence is typically a woman ending a relationship or indicating any boundary, which the man cannot accept. There is still an expectation of male dominance in a patriarchal society and that is a problem in our country. For a specific example, remember the 16-year old Hümeyra? She and her sisters called the police 28 times to report stalking and intimidation before her ex-boyfriend fatally shot her in the bicycle shed of her high school in 2018.
Now that more attention is being paid to violence against women, especially with the surge in domestic violence cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are calling this the ‘new pandemic’*. I think a lot of female readers can relate to being hyperaware when being out at night. Still, for the men around us, the extent to which we are consciously thinking about this comes as a surprise. I have an anecdote from last summer to illustrate this. I was hanging out with some friends at one of their places on the outskirts of Eindhoven. The time came to cycle home and a female friend asked me if I would be okay getting home by myself. I replied with “Sure, I wore long-legged pants [rather than shorts or a skirt] in anticipation of this, so I will not get unwanted attention.”. A male friend – wearing shorts by the way – who overheard the conversation was baffled; “You really thought about what you would wear hours ago because you might have to cycle alone?”. Like, yes, that is the reality for most women. And let’s be real, as long as rape victims are asked what they were wearing or how much they drank, that will remain our reality.
I sometimes wonder when men are just going to let women live – in all regards, but mostly literally staying alive. However, I also realize that just asking this is not going to prevent violence and it will not help men learn what they can do. And men do have a vital role to play in eradicating this problem – not only because most perpetrators of violence against women are in fact men. For the men reading this, before doing anything, watch Jackson Katz’s TED talk on how violence against women is not a women’s issue but is fundamentally a men’s issue. Once you have done that, go read up on the facts and figures, the occurrences of femicide around the world. Pay attention. Go talk to the women in your life, ask about their experiences (do not force them to talk to you, but let them know you are ready to listen and learn), and ask them what you can do for them. Still, the most important thing that any man could ever do is to speak up if a friend/brother/coworker/teammate/acquaintance is disrespectful or abusive to women (whether verbally or physically). Don’t remain silent.
This column has gotten much longer than I intended, but I hope it enrages you as much as it did me while writing. Please share it with whomever you feel should read this too – your female friends to let them know they are not along, but especially the men in your life as a kick in the butt to feel some responsibility for this issue.
Note: This article already got too long to even include issues like violence and hate crimes against transgender women, but this is also a very real problem (do some Googling if you want to know more). Therefore, it is important to know that when I use the term ‘women’ in this article, I mean everyone who identifies as female and/or who presents as female.
Femicide: a hate crime term, broadly defined as "the intentional killing of women or girls because they are female", though definitions vary depending on its cultural context.
* Muireann O’Connell speaks out on the murder of Ashling Murphy: https://goss.ie/showbiz/muireann-oconnell-speaks-out-on-the-murder-of-ashling-murphy-violence-against-women-is-a-pandemic-281047
Jackson Katz’ TED talk about violence against women being a men’s issue: https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue
ONEWorld already wrote about femicide in NL in 2020: https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/seks-gender/feminisme/nederland-heeft-een-femicide-probleem/
All-encompassing overview of the history of femicide globally: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/what-is-femicide-everything-you-need-to-know/
A PDF handout with clear instructions for men (and other non-females) to help reduce violence against women: https://mediaed.org/handouts/10-Things-Men-Can-Do.pdf
The NOS did a very informative item on femicide (also highlighting Dutch facts) a while back. You can watch it here: https://nos.nl/op3/video/2402781-moord-op-vrouwen-omdat-ze-vrouw-zijn (sorry, it’s only in Dutch).