Interview: “Femicide is a direct result of social inequality, and the state should take comprehensive efforts to prevent it”


Ekaterine Skhiladze, Deputy Public Defender of Georgia. Photo: Personal archive

Ekaterine Skhiladze was appointed as a deputy public defender of Georgia in June 2016. Since 2007, she has been actively involved in processes aimed at protecting women's rights and gender equality in Georgia. In 2016, the deputy public defender was awarded the Kato Mikeladze prize in recognition of her work and achievements in supporting women’s rights and gender equality in the country. In this interview, Skhiladze speaks to UN Women about how Georgia has paved the way in establishing a femicide watch in the country, and why it is crucial for the state to develop and enforce an effective, comprehensive system to prevent femicide (the killing of a woman because of their sex or gender).

Ms. Skhiladze, Georgia became a success story in the Europe and Central Asia region for establishing a femicide watch in 2016. What led the Public Defender’s Office to create this femicide monitoring mechanism?

The Public Defender of Georgia is a constitutional institution that oversees the observance of human rights and freedoms in the territory of Georgia. It then created a structural unit on gender equality issues – the Gender Department – to pay special attention to including gender related issues in human rights protection activities.

Following the creation of the department, violence against women and domestic violence became one of the priority directions of the Public Defender's Office. Violence against women and domestic violence have been very grave problems in Georgia, and especially alarming was the rate of femicide; in 2014, 34 women were killed, 50 per cent of whom died as a result of domestic violence. In other cases, due to unavailability of information, it was impossible to identify whether those crimes were gender-based. The high rate of femicide and the gaps in official data pushed the Public Defender of Georgia to create a femicide monitoring mechanism (femicide watch) in 2016 with the technical support of UN Women Georgia. Through this mechanism, each year, the Public Defender analyzes cases of gender-based murder, attempted murder, assault and suicides of women in order to identify gaps in the victim protection mechanisms and make recommendations to the relevant agencies.

What are the key results of the femicide watch to date?

Since the creation of the femicide watch mechanism, challenges identified by the Public Defender of Georgia also help state agencies identify and improve shortcomings in their activities. In recent years, the response of law enforcement agencies to cases of femicide and attempted femicide has improved significantly. In particular, the perpetrator’s history of violence prior to the femicide or attempted femicide is examined at the investigation stage. Also, as recommended by the Public Defender’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has established risk assessment procedures for domestic violence and violence against women, as well as a mechanism for monitoring restraining orders. The risk assessment tool and monitoring mechanism are effective means of preventing violence in the early stage, including predicting and preventing the extreme form of violence - femicide. One of the most important recommendations of the Public Defender was to define femicide separately in the Criminal Code as a gender-motivated crime. In response, significant amendments were introduced in the Criminal Code in 2018 – murder committed by a family member or murder on the grounds of gender became aggravating circumstances.

Despite these positive steps to combat violence against women, what challenges do you face?

Despite a number of positive steps taken to combat violence against women and domestic violence, the Public Defender’s Office analysis of cases shows that the shortcomings identified at the investigative and trial stages remain a challenge in the fight to prevent femicide and administer justice. 

The investigation of femicide or attempted femicide cases revealed a stereotypical attitude towards the victim and interest in her personal sexual life, which was not necessary to determine the circumstances of the case. It is also difficult for the Prosecutor’s Office to establish a gender-based motive and take action against a family member based on that motive. Femicide is a direct result of gender and social inequality, and it is important that the state takes comprehensive efforts to create and enforce an effective system to prevent it.

While the institutional design of femicide watches may differ from one country to another, what would be your recommendations for other countries when starting the establishment of a femicide monitoring mechanism?

First of all, it is crucial to have a special methodology for a femicide watch, including the definition of femicide, its main characteristics, Criminal Code articles relevant to femicide and methods to identify femicide. The methodology of the femicide monitoring mechanism developed by the Public Defender of Georgia is based on international human rights law. It is unique and possible to adapt to the needs of other countries. To make the femicide watch mechanism more visible, a special banner has been created on our official webpage, through which users can easily access special reports, statistical information, current news and conferences or presentations held by us. At this stage, the Public Defender has prepared seven femicide monitoring reports and organized several local and international conferences to discuss the issue of femicide as a systemic problem and to share and improve existing methodology.

Based on your experience, how can femicide watch findings and recommendations be used to improve legislation and policy responses to violence against women?

The high rate of femicide is closely related to gender inequality in the country, as well as to policy on violence against women, domestic violence and shortcomings in the victim assistance system. To prevent femicide, it is necessary to identify the cases of violence in practice at an early stage. Also, it is crucial to create a victim-friendly environment when investigating cases and to protect victims from secondary victimization. Combating and preventing femicide requires a complex approach and joint, coordinated work by different agencies.

Importance must be paid to analyzing existing practices and developing a femicide monitoring mechanism based on the context of a particular country. I do hope the example of Georgia will be an inspiration for other countries, and of course, we are ready for further cooperation.