Femicide Research Network

Killing Women, Contesting Cultures: A Comparative Study – England, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Turkey

Femicide Research Network

Violence against women is ‘an extensive human rights abuse’ across Europe…In three countries often praised for their gender equality, for example, high numbers of women report suffering violence since the age of 15: in Denmark 52%, Finland 47%, and Sweden 46% of women say they have suffered physical or sexual violence.

(‘Report reveals extensive violence against women across the EU’, The Guardian, 5 March 2014)

…the most important purpose of these inquiries is to make sure children are better protected in future. That is not a matter of new laws but a much greater challenge: a different culture.

Editorial, The Guardian 10 July 2014

This proposal is for the development of a European-based feminist research network committed to elevating femicide into a first-order political problem. Its focus is on the most prevalent form of femicide, namely so-called ‘intimate femicides’ where the victim had a relationship with her killer. The aims are

  • to stimulate public and policy debate about how best to prevent men’s murderous violence against women in western countries
  • to provide a comparative study of annual death tolls and court dispositions in femicide cases in jurisdictions across Europe and in Turkey, a country on the cusp of European inclusion
  • to expose the victim-blaming cultural scripts that underlie these homicides, their legal outcomes and, more broadly, the imaginary of the west

What distinguishes this project from other emergent national and international studies of intimate femicide is its focus on the need for cultural transformation and, more specifically, its searching interrogations of the incidence and reception of femicide within dominant cultural communities. Crucially, this entails a departure from the more conventional focus on minority ethnic and non-European defendants. While all excuses for wife-killers are culturally inscribed, we concentrate on defences and sentencing in cases involving white Englishmen, not black or Asian defendants; Scandinavian, French, Italian and German men, not immigrants; Turkish men, not Kurds or defendants from communities in eastern Turkey. For as 21st-century English reformers recognised in their bid to reign in provocation defences – the most widely used partial defence to murder in intimate femicide cases in the UK and in all Anglophone jurisdictions – so-called ‘honour killings’ are not confined to minority communities.  Provocation has operated as a cultural defence for white Englishmen for centuries. It is, as one English law reformer put it, ‘our own version of honour killing’. This project will track ideologically-constructed narratives operative in all the countries under review of unruly women shaming men, thereby provoking their own deaths at the hands of their dishonoured, enraged menfolk.

What also distinguishes this project is its commitment to forging links between feminist activists deploying social media sites to keep lethal violence against women on the political agenda and feminist researchers documenting legal outcomes in the cases. For example, the project will build on links already established with the most compelling of the new UK feminist blogging sites, the ‘Counting Dead Women’ Campaign, which is logging the day-to-day killings of women in Britain, retrieving their names and memorialising their lives. It will also build on research conducted on English intimate partner femicide cases, comparing the findings with those of recent research on criminal courts’ handling of femicide cases in Finland and Turkey. The statistics are shocking enough in the UK where on average 2 women are killed each week by men known to them, but they are worse in Finland and Turkey. Nevertheless, studies indicate that all European countries have high levels of violence against women, including countries such as Sweden and Denmark often praised for their gender equity. Intimate femicide cases committed by majority ethnic men are important sites for illuminating that constantly denied, persistently disavowed violent social reality. They can also become important sites for locating and contesting misogynist fictions of truth about blameworthy women that inform all culturally-based explanations and excuses for murdering women.