As part of She’s Right’s participation in 16 days of activism to end violence against women, each article will be dedicated to a New Zealand woman who has lost her life due to gender-based violence. This article is dedicated to Blessie Gotingco, killed on 24 May 2014, at the age of 56.
By Jessica Sutton.
Femicide: “the misogynous killing of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership over women, rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men”.
Today should have been Grace Millane’s 23rd birthday. It also marks six days since the most recent death of a New Zealand woman at the hands of a man. Several high profile femicide trials are in progress or recently concluded, and this year has already seen 20 New Zealand women whose lives have been ended by gender-based violence. This violence needs to be recognised and treated with the severity that it merits. None of the women killed this year provoked the media storm that Grace Millane did. Yet, their lives are equally important. Their losses have been largely ignored, perhaps due to their ethnicity, perhaps due to the fact that their death was the result of domestic violence, perhaps due to a certain weariness in our society that allows little more than bare recognition that “there’s been another one”.
A ten-second slot on the news, a couple of articles where their names are misspelled, and then these women are gone from our collective memory. We try to rationalise her death, from our comfortable living room. Well, she shouldn’t have been dating that kind of a man. She was sleeping rough. She was internet-dating – what was she thinking? These kinds of thoughts are our feeble attempt to justify the violence which pervades our society daily. There is no set of ‘rules’ that a woman can follow to be safe from this kind of fatal violence. These aren’t isolated incidents that can be blamed on the victim. This is a pandemic of gender-based violence, loud and clear, and we need to start listening.
Femicide is a word which has been used in various articles on our website, and it’s a term that I often get questions about.
Aren’t they just murders?
Why do we need a different word for women who get killed?
Why should we treat female victims any differently? Men get killed more often!
The simple answer to that, is that a femicide is when a woman is killed because of her gender, or is subjected to fatal violence which disproportionately affects women. This is domestic violence. This is stalking that ends in murder. This is date violence. Using the word femicide, as the United Nations does, to describe these unlawful killings of women, makes clear that these deaths can no longer be considered as isolated events. Women are being killed on an unfathomable global scale, in what the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights has described as a “multidirectional global avalanche of misogyny”.
This form of violence is far more common in our society than we like to admit. Globally, in 2017, 87,000 women lost their lives to gender-based violence. It is estimated that 96% of homicide perpetrators are men. 50,000 of those femicides were the result of violence by an intimate partner, former partner, or family member. That equates to 137 women each day being killed by those closest to them. This is a crisis of pandemic scale.
Although men are the overall majority of homicide victims globally, women account for 82% of intimate partner homicides. Women are also the majority of victims of violent crime – actions “intended to cause injury”. Women are targeted, predominately by those they should be able to trust, with fatal violence. Perpetrators of femicides treat their partners as of lesser value due to their gender, as an object to provide sex and labour and then be disposed of.
The biggest contributor to femicides in New Zealand, is domestic violence. Domestic violence kills. 1 in 3 women in New Zealand suffer violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. The average number of deaths from domestic violence in New Zealand in 2012 was 12 women per year. This average has already been exceeded so far this year. Other New Zealand femicide victims are killed by former partners, by male ‘friends’ who feel they are owed something, or by strangers who see a woman walking alone as prey.
Amber-Rose Rush was just a child when she was murdered for speaking out about her sexual assault. Aroha Kerehoma was beaten to death by her partner for sending texts confessing that she felt unsafe. Verity McLean’s former partner was universally described as a “nice guy” – even after he beat and shot her to death for leaving him. Arishma Chand was stalked for over a year and stabbed to death by a former partner for deciding to end their relationship. The list is endless. We don’t hear the names of these women enough, and we don’t think sufficiently deeply about what each name means.
Grace Millane will never get to see another birthday. Perhaps because she was a beautiful white woman, killed in circumstances that may damage New Zealand’s reputation as a tourist destination, she gained media attention and national grief that other victims of femicide do not. But her personal life was laid bare and her memory desecrated by that attention. There are two ways that we seem to react as a society to victims of femicides – invasive attention for rare cases such as Grace, and callous neglect for the others. In both situations, the prevailing sentiment is apathy. We don’t care enough about these women outside of headlines they generate or the statistics they add to.
We should all be angry for every single one of these women. Even if they haven’t been judged by the media as worthy of intensive attention, their lives were valuable and the fact that they were cut short is something we, as a country, should find intolerable. What I cannot stress enough, is that each of these women could have been saved. These deaths are preventable, if these ‘tragic killings’ are recognised by all of us, and particularly by the government, as symptomatic of a global problem.
Each of these women had a life. Family, friends, aspirations, potential. The least we can do is to give them the respect of labelling their deaths what they are – femicides. And the only way to cope with the grief of that fact, is to do better for the women of tomorrow. Look at the family of Grace Millane – they have created a charity, Love Grace, to aid women’s refuges and fundraise for female victims of male violence. As our 16 days of activism progresses, this might be a good moment to look at the small bit of good Grace’s family have pulled from their terrible loss, and think: what can I do?