Countries across Europe take first steps to address femicide
The gender-related killing of women and girls, known as femicide, is the most brutal and extreme manifestation of violence against women. Globally, 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2021, and more than half of them died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. Moreover, the global report “Gender-related killings of women and girls: Improving data to improve responses to femicide,” launched by UNODC and UN Women in December 2022, estimates that 17,800 women were killed in Asia and 4,500 in Europe, while in the Western Balkans, over half of murdered women were killed by their husbands or former husbands in their own home. According to the global report, “femicide and other forms of violence can and must be prevented through timely and effective interventions.” This is why, over the last decade, UN Women has been spearheading determined efforts against this all-too-pervasive crime.
As institutional responses to femicide within the legal, police, and social work systems tend to fall short, increased efforts are needed in areas such as prevention, criminal justice, and national data collection to enable a response that will prevent and eradicate femicide, underscores the UNODC-UN Women report. In this regard, UN Women has led the conceptualization of femicide and paved the way in creating femicide watches – mechanisms to monitor femicide – in the region. In this respect, Georgia became a success story in the Europe and Central Asia region for establishing a femicide watch in 2016.
“Without accurate and comparable data collection, there can be no proper understanding of femicide and no effective strategy with which to combat it. A statistical framework on gender-related killings of women and girls enables the collection of statistical data, even in countries in which femicide is not defined as a separate criminal offense. By counting every single victim of femicide, we can ensure that perpetrators are held to account and justice is served,” says Alia El-Yassir, UN Women Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia (ECA).
Nevertheless, once established, femicide watches require continuous and systematic follow-up, as experience from Georgia shows, whose methodology requires constant updating. “The issues identified by the Public Defender of Georgia also help state agencies to improve shortcomings in their activities. In recent years, the response of law enforcement agencies to violence against women and domestic violence has improved significantly; the legislation has changed, and different mechanisms have been refined, which also created the need to update the methodology. Therefore, human and financial resources are essential for the sustainability of the mechanism. With appropriate expertise and knowledge, it is possible to monitor effectively, especially when the monitoring results may be unacceptable to state agencies,” shared Ekaterine Skhiladze, Deputy Public Defender of Georgia.
Following the creation of the femicide watch in Georgia in 2016, very few signs of progress had been observed in Eastern Europe, and no trace of progress had been recorded in Central Asia. As a result, UN Women pursued further efforts to support key stakeholders to establish femicide watches in the region.
Due in part to these efforts, over the past five years, a wide range of measures have been implemented by Western Balkan countries to prevent and address femicide. In 2018, UN Women, with the support of women’s rights organization FemPlatz and the Women’s Research Center for Education and Communication from Serbia, started the development of a framework for understanding the characteristics, patterns, and causes of femicide in Serbia. The process involved developing a methodology and collecting data on final court decisions for 94 convictions for gender-based killing of a woman by a man and 30 final enforceable decisions for attempted murder of a woman from 2015 to 2019 to analyze court proceedings, profiles of perpetrators, information about victims, prior reports of violence, qualification of the criminal act, and other aspects.
“This model provides an in-depth understanding of the characteristics of femicide, its patterns, and scope, while also serving as a basis for evidence-based policy creation and training programs for professionals. Initially implemented in Serbia, the model was later replicated in Albania and Montenegro, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina in collaboration with the AIRE Centre. It gives us not only a deeper understanding of femicide but also provides a model for comparing comprehensive and disaggregated data across the Western Balkans and producing national and regional advocacy actions to establish a femicide watch,” said Biljana Jancic, Executive Director at FemPlatz.
As a result, three women’s organizations - namely Center for Legal Civic Initiatives in Tirana, Albania; Helpline for women and children victims of violence Nikšić, Montenegro; and FemPlatz in Pančevo, Serbia - with the support of the UN Women regional programme on ending violence against women “Implementing Norms, Changing Minds,” funded by the European Union, systematized the available data on femicide from all responsible courts, police departments, justice system, and media monitoring.
Then, the women’s organizations proposed a data collection model and worked to put this issue on the political and public agenda. Moreover, the work above was systematized into the first regional research on social and institutional response to femicide in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, published in March 2023.
The regional report “Social and institutional responses to femicide in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia” also outlined a set of recommendations to prevent femicides applicable to each country in order, including incrimination of femicides; establishment of national data collection systems and record-keeping which would enable better recording of cases of violence against women and domestic violence, and establishment of a femicide watch in each country, followed by a regional one.
In turn, governments and authorities in all countries have expressed their commitment to work on eradicating femicide and establishing a femicide watch. More specifically, the Serbian government adopted the National Strategy for Combating Gender-based Violence that stipulates the establishment of a control mechanism for monitoring and analyzing femicide cases. It should collect data on all femicide and attempted femicide cases, analyzing institutional response, providing recommendations to authorities about improving the prevention system, and informing the public about steps taken by authorities to prevent and eradicate femicide.
The Albanian government also expressed its commitment to provide information about the implementation of the femicide watch initiative in its input to Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences. Montenegro’s commitment was included in a statement by the Country’s Prime Minister, Dritan Abazović, to define femicide as a criminal act.
In addition, an interactive map listing femicides committed since 2019 in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia was launched in November 2022. Developed by FemPlatz with the support of the EU-funded regional programme on ending violence against women, the interactive map aims to track data on femicide in the three countries, as well as to serve as a model that can be used by prospective femicide watches in the region.
Representatives of women’s organizations argue that the establishment of the femicide watch should be a minimum requirement and first step in the systemic and institutional response to femicide. Nevertheless, governments are not on their own when it comes to setting up femicide watches, collecting information or designing policies, as pointed out by Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. “All Western Balkan countries have vibrant civil society, women's organizations, academia and different UN agencies that are available to support and that can and must be part of the effort. After all, femicide watches can only work if there is a collective effort and if everyone pitches in with their expertise, energy, time and resources,” she stated.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has already taken a significant step in this direction. In 2019, the country established the Committee for Monitoring and Reporting on the Istanbul Convention and Femicide, to monitor and analyze the situation related to violence against women, including through data collection on femicide cases. However, there is still a long way to go. “One of the main achievements of the committee has been the analysis of the system for collecting data on cases of femicide in the country, which showed that there is no integrated and reliable system for collecting data on violence against women and femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Samra Filipović Hadžiabdić, Director of the Bosnian Agency for Gender Equality.
“For the femicide watches to become a reality, a move should be made from expressing commitment to taking concrete action. Women’s organizations have proposed a model in which hosting the femicide watch would be in the hands of an independent institution. Prior to establishing the femicide watch, its structure, membership and mandate should be agreed on, as well as resources it would have at its disposal,” says Yolanda Iriarte, Ending Violence Against Women programme specialist at UN Women Europe and Central Asia.