Last year I wrote a piece for Socialist Resistance. I talked about my work for a feminist women’s charity working with women who have experienced men’s violence in the context of some of my thoughts about feminism and social class.
I have asked Socialist Resistance to take the piece down following their behaviour towards another feminist, Glosswitch. You can read about what happened – and the piece that she was asked to write – here.
SR: You run the blog Counting Dead Women. Fatal male violence is perhaps the most easily measurable indicator of violence against women. What is the extent of the problem as revealed by official data and your knowledge of the subject?
KIS: I started counting dead women at the beginning of 2012 when 8 women in the UK were killed by men in the first three days of the year. I was frustrated that connections weren’t being made and the systemic nature of male violence against women was being ignored. Once I started counting, I found it difficult to stop, partly because through doing the counting, I feel like I’m learning so much that just isn’t there in the official statistics. Plus, I think the way official statistics are presented takes away the humanity of the women and it’s too easy not to be horrified by what is happening to women at the hands of men. I’m not sure that fatal male violence is the most easily measurable indicator, mainly because, as your question suggests, official data hides the extent of the problem, and I know how much time I have to spend trying to keep a record of women killed by men in the absence of official statistics.
Currently available Home Office statistics tell us a lot about the relationship between a murder victim and their killer. We can see the sex of the victim and whether they were killed by partner/ex, their child, parent, other relative, acquaintance or a stranger but the sex of the killer within or across these categories isn’t revealed. For example, official statistics tell us that on average in the 11-year period between 2001 and 2012, 11 women a year were killed by their child. Through Counting Dead Women, I’ve found that in 2012, 16 women were killed by their son, in 2013 it was 13 women and by the end of September it’s 9 women. So most –almost all – women killed by their child are killed by their son, and this has been completely hidden by the official statistics.
There’s also the issue of whom to count, for example, what about men who aren’t found guilty of murder, but manslaughter? (Murder’s a bad enough word for disguising the sexist nature of fatal male violence against women but the word manslaughter wipes women right out of the picture). On top of that there are cases where the man is found guilty of neither murder nor manslaughter, including a woman killed last year who was found hanging naked above her bloodstained bed with more than 30 injuries and the man who the court deemed innocent of killing her, found by police sleeping below her. I’ve grappled with the issue of defining fatal male violence against women since I started recording women killed. At the moment, I’ve settled for women, aged 14 years and over, women killed by men in the UK and UK women killed overseas. Regardless of the relationship between the woman and the man who killed her; regardless of how he killed her and who else he killed at the same time; regardless of the verdict reached when the case gets to court in our patriarchally constructed justice system created by men and continually delivering anything but justice to women; regardless of what is known and not known of his motive.
SR: The organisation you work for, Nia, was formerly called the Hackney Women’s Aid (HWA). On the site it says it’s “committed to working within a feminist ethos”. How does that make it different to other groups doing similar work?
KIS: Sadly, even us calling ourselves feminist makes us different, it’s increasingly rare that women’s groups do that. But of course it’s more than that.
It means that our work names male violence and that services are provided in a framework which recognises that there are inequalities between women and men in society, and that male violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of inequality. That we don’t see male violence against women as reducible to individual acts perpetrated by individual men, but as a key instrument of men’s domination of women, supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.
Having a feminist approach means that we believe women when they tell us about what has happened to them and we do not blame women for what has happened to them.
It means that when we talk about empowerment, we’re not talking about women feeling good if they make certain ‘choices but that we recognise that power imbalances exist between individuals and groups and sex, race, class and other forms of structural inequality limit choice and life chances, and ‘choices’ are made within a context of power imbalances. We see our role as to help women and children understand the options available to them and to support them in making choices within the limits of those options and to advocate on behalf of the women and children that we work with as individuals and collectively.
Delivering feminist informed services means recognising that women and girls have specific needs that are not met by services not informed by feminism, that women, girls and children who have experienced male violence have a diverse range of needs, that we provide services that are sensitive and responsive to women’s individual and collective needs, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach
It means that we don’t just deliver services but try to raise awareness of male violence and power imbalances and campaign for change.
SR: Organisations like the HWA emerged with the rise of a mass feminist movement and many of them vanished. Others have been “professionalised”. This makes them more accountable to local and national government and, perhaps, less obliged to be answerable to the women who use the services. Is this a tension in the work that you do?
KIS: Absolutely. I’ve been working in the sector for 24 years, and I’ve seen domestic and sexual violence become much more mainstreamed, but as that’s happened, the feminist perspective that was central to the movement has become diluted.
I’m angry that in the 1990s more secure funding was offered to independent organisations running specialist services that had been developed by survivors and activists; funding that came with a contract for services from their local council. But since around 2005, these contracts have been put out to tender by the local authorities that provided the funding and too often sold off to the lowest bidder able to meet a service specification. We’ve lost too many specialist women’s organisations and it is continuing. It’s harder and harder for independent women-led organisations to survive, and the fight to survive takes away energy that we should be spending on supporting women, girls and children and campaigning for change.
I wouldn’t say ‘professional’ and ‘feminist’ have to be mutually exclusive – and that’s a balance we try to maintain all the time – but nia is currently funded by around 20 different funding streams, each with its own set of targets, outputs and outcomes, usually but not always set by the funder. We have to meet those targets or we lose funding, and if we drop out of the picture and the work goes to an organisation that isn’t built upon a feminist understanding of male violence against women, then that’s a massively retrograde step for women, in my opinion.
It’s a constant struggle – and incidentally one of the reasons that my blog and Counting Dead Women are so important to me. Most of my working hours are spent on ensuring the viability of nia and the quality of our services. It’s only in my own time that I get the chance to think and write about male violence against women.
SR: The government is determined to pare services to the bone. How is this affecting services like yours and the women who use them?
KIS: I’ll give you an example of something that happened with a refuge: In 2010 a contract was advertised at a maximum value of £419,000 per year to provide 33 bed spaces in 5 refuges, the local women’s group had been providing refuge for over 30-years. When the contract was awarded, it went to a large organisation that wasn’t a specialist women’s organisation, they had bid for the contract at £338,462.
The local area did not lose refuge spaces but in order to meet the lower contract value, the new organisation managed to circumvent employment protection laws and made all the existing staff team redundant, offering them new contracts at lower rates, more hours per week and less annual leave. Most accepted. Since then, as staff left and new ones were recruited, salaries were offered at lower rates. With this sort of contracting the central focus becomes not ‘What could we do for women and children with this money?’ but ‘How could we deliver the specification outlined in this contract – and nothing more – for the least possible cost?’
I have heard from former colleagues working for such organisations that they have been pressurised to offer jobs to applicants that they do not believe have sufficient skills, experiences and aptitude.
With the loss of that contract, the viability of the area’s specialist women-led charity was threatened. Charity central management and administrative charges are frequently the subject of scrutiny, with the assumption that a charity with lower central costs offers better value. But it isn’t that simple. In order to operate legally and safely, there is a point at which further cuts to core costs cannot be made. The higher the organisation’s turnover, the more there is available for central services, and the more opportunity there is to introduce economies of scale. In this example above, the charity has survived – only just – up to now, but across the country many have closed, including specialist BME women’s services.
Quality services protect but quality costs. Nia holds three separate quality marks: Rape Crisis Service Standards for East London Rape Crisis, and both the Advice Quality Standard and CAADA Leading Lights for our Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy service. Attainment of all three service standards requires provision and proof of quality of service, of management, of policies and of governance. It is more expensive to provide better quality services and even more expensive to demonstrate that you do.
How does this affect women? I regularly hear of women being turned away from refuges because they’re deemed to have support needs that are too high, or because they don’t speak English. One refuge turned a woman away saying she had an alcohol problem because she said she drank two glasses of wine a night. Women are provided services by fewer staff and by staff who are less skilled and have less experience. And the gap between us and them, staff and ‘service users’ changes fundamentally. Women’s services used to be primarily run by women who knew that we were no different from the women using them, many staff ourselves survivors of male violence. I see that less and less now, and think women ‘service users’ – women who have experienced male violence and are responding in a completely rational and natural way – have become pathologised.
SR: The idea of women only political spaces is one that has always been contested. Why isit an important idea to defend?
KIS: Men dominate, they take up disproportionate space, whether we’re talking politics or public transport. Men define and steer parameters of discussion and women are socialised to listen and allow this.
I think with male presence, it’s all too easy to lose what feminism is – the struggle for women’s liberation from male oppression – and for it to become about equality and before you know it, the discourse becomes one of men’s suffering. Men get too defensive when women discuss male power, male violence, male entitlement, male privilege; frankly, we’d get nowhere because we’d take up all our time responding to men who manage to make the issue about them all the time. Get a bunch of men together talking about male violence and see how quickly the subject of male victims comes up, or take a bet to see whether ‘male victims’ or ‘not all men ‘comes up first.
It’s good to experience being a woman away from the male gaze, away from men’s agenda, I don’t think it’s possible to stand back and truly understand how women are affected by men with them around. Even outside of politics, women only spaces are rare and precious, something that too many women never even experience, even for that reason alone they’re valuable.
SR: You wrote that ” feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression”, quickly adding that you’ve no idea what a society without patriarchy would look like. How does that translate into action and change?
KIS: I think it makes it clear that sweating over the small stuff isn’t going to get us very far. That doesn’t mean small localised actions aren’t important but that we need to frame them within a broad structural framework. For example, when women are killed by men, there are frequently references to police failure. But all the tinkering with police procedures in the world won’t end male violence, not in a society where women are objectified and commodified, where socially constructed gender is a vehicle for women’s subordination, where the law was created by rich white men and serves rich white men’s interests. It means I’ve got low expectations for genuine large-scale change within my lifetime and I can see that could lead to despondency, but I hope that my actions as a feminist take us a small step closer to such a society.
SR: You are from a working class background. Has that influenced your feminism?
KIS: I’m not only working-class, I grew up in the North in a mill town in the ‘80s, when the decline of manufacturing, like the decline of mining in other parts of the North and Midlands, meant that the day-to-day lives of ordinary people went through a massive change in a generation. I genuinely couldn’t see how my life could have more in common with what I called ‘posh girls’, than the lads who lived in my street that I hung out with. I was social class conscious before I was sex-class conscious. So the first thing my class influenced was me thinking that the premise of feminism was daft.
And then I started to learn about how sex class and social class combined to create a particular set of circumstances for working-class women that were not the same as those for working-class men and to understand how things that I accepted as inevitable were anything but. Although I was too young to have been a risk as a victim, growing up in Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s meant growing up knowing that we weren’t safe because of ‘the ripper’ (Of course we didn’t know he was Peter Sutcliffe before he was caught). There was male violence against women in my family, friends’ families and friends’ relationships, like many young women I had direct experiences of male sexual violence, but without a feminist analysis I had no concept of this as part of a continuum of male violence that functions to control and restrict all women. I was surrounded by male violence but unable to see it.
That the Equality Act 2010 covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class and not poverty, should be scandalous. It’s a bit like us not being able to analyse and challenge male violence, if we can’t name it. There can’t be a strategy to address life chances that are reduced by class and poverty if we don’t recognise them as fundamental causes as well as consequences of inequality and disadvantage. And it’s not just about a reduction in social mobility, because to have social mobility you need ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. I honestly think that class has become one of the least well understood inequalities. I’ve had people who don’t understand class politics tell me that I’ve ‘lost my working class credentials’ because I’m a CEO. That’s what happens when politics gets reduced to identity politics, ie non-politics. Being working class too often means having lower aspirations, settling for less and certainly being judged as less. I still see the surprise register when I speak in meetings full of people that haven’t met me before and a Northern working-class accent comes out.
As my life experience has broadened, it’s helped me understand the need for feminism to take account of multiple inequalities, like race, disability, heteronormativity; and to understand that if we don’t stop and think, we end up making assumptions that exclude and ignore and won’t change the lives of women who are not always in the forefront.
What could we do if we wanted to hide the reality of men’s violence against women?
Firstly, we might have a ‘gender neutral’ definition of domestic violence. Maybe like the UK government which uses the following definition:
“any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, financial [and] emotional.”
Not only treating ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ as the same thing, this definition erases sex differences. It includes the phrase ‘regardless of gender’ when in reality men – as a biological sex-class – are overwhelmingly the perpetrators, and women – as a biological sex-class – are overwhelming the victims of ‘domestic violence’ (more on the differences between male and female victims of intimate partner violence here). It is also broad, including violence and abuse committed between any family members. Whilst this can be useful, for example allowing service provision to be made available for those experiencing violence and abuse from any family member, sometimes it is important to focus on ‘intimate-partner violence’, including that committed by former intimate partners.
Secondly, we might present official data in a way that hides the extent of differences between women killed by men and men killed by women
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) definition of partner/ex-partner homicide includes killings by a “spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-spouse/ex-cohabiting partner/ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and adulterous relationship” but also “lover’s spouse and emotional rival”. Data from the ONS found that in 2013/14, consistent with previous years, women were far more likely than men to be killed by partners or ex-partners than men. 84 women, around 53% of female homicide victims (over 16) had been killed by their current or a former partner, compared to 23 men (7% of male victims over 16). So, we could say that government data tells us that one-in-five of those killed though ‘partner violence’ is male. Except this creates a false picture of what is really happening.
Combining data for the three years from 2011/12 to 2013/14, the ONS tell us that of 57 men killed in partner/ex-partner homicides, 21 of them, over a third, were killed by a man. Of these 21 men killed by men in the context of partner/ex-partner homicides, 14 of them were killed by a lover’s spouse/love rival. Of 249 women killed in partner/ex-partner homicides over the same 3 years, 247 were killed by a man, one by a woman (in one case the primary suspect is listed as unknown). None of the female victims of partner/ex-partner homicide were killed by the spouse of their lover or an emotional rival. Similarly, no male victims of partner/ex-partner homicide were killed by a female spouse of their lover or a female emotional rival. Not only are men killed in the context of an intimate relationship less likely to be killed by their actual partner or ex-partner, they are much more likely than women to be killed by someone of the same sex.
Another important difference between women and men killed in the context of intimate partner violence is the history of the relationship. When men kill women partners or ex-partners, this usually follows months or years of them abusing her, when women kill male partners or ex-partners, it is usually after months or years of having been abused by the man they have killed. (Browne et al., 1998; Websdale, 1999; Dugan et al., 2003.)
So, there are four important differences when we compare women and men killed in the context of a current or previous intimate partnership (figures from the ONS 2011/12 to 2013/14 data):
- Far fewer men than women are killed in the context of intimate partner violence (57 men in 3 years compared to 249 women)
- Men are much more likely to be killed by the spouse of a partner or a love rival (14 out of 57 men, compared to none of the 249 women killed)
- Men are much more likely than women to have been killed by someone of the same sex (21 of 57 male homicide victims were killed by a man, compared to one out or 249 women)
- Men are more likely to have been killed by someone they were abusing, women are more likely to have been killed by someone they were being abused by.
Finally, we could look at ‘domestic violence’ or violence between current and former partners rather than male violence against women and girls
The government has a ‘strategy to end violence against women and girls’, whilst this pitifully fails to name ‘male violence’ it does at least acknowledge that the issue is broader than domestic violence and it does indicate that women and girls are disproportionately victimised.
If we look at men who kill women (who are not current or ex- intimate partners), it is clear that they have more in common with men who kill female current or former partners, than the much smaller number of women who kill male former partners. When men kill women, regardless of their relationship or lack of it, they are doing so in the context of a society in which men’s violence against women is entrenched and systemic. Sexual violence runs through the murders of women by men who are not partners or ex-partners. Gender, the social constructs of masculinity and femininity are also integral.
What could we do if we wanted to hide the reality of men’s violence against women? We could ensure that our social and political agenda setters of mainly men – whose self-interest and privilege allowed them to consciously or unconsciously ignore, deny or dismiss the reality of men’s violence against women – not only hid the reality of men’s violence against women but also created the illusion that they’re dealing with the problem.
Shahid Mohammed a man suspected of being involved in Huddersfield’s worst-ever mass murder has been arrested in Pakistan, the – so far local – news tells us.
Almost 13 years ago, In May 2002, 8 people1, spanning three generations of one family, were killed and three others escaped, after petrol was poured through the letter box of a house, in Birkby, Hudsdersfield. The house had been destroyed by the time fire engines had arrived, just four minutes after neighbours had called them upon hearing the windows smash as petrol-bombs were thrown. The youngest killed was a six-month-old baby, the oldest 54.
News of the arrest of Shahid Mohammed immediately caught my attention. Like the killers and their victims, I’m from Huddersfield. I was living and working there for an organisation that ran women’s refuges at the time of the fire.
Three young men were arrested shortly after the incident. The following year, Shaied Iqbal was convicted of eight counts of murder whilst Shakiel Shazad Amir, and Nazar Hussain were convicted of manslaughter. Shahid Mohammed had also been arrested but ran away whilst on bail.
What I haven’t seen in the news reports is an analysis of sex. All those charged in connection with the murders were male, as is Shahid Mohammed. That seven of the eight victims were women or girls seems to have evaded anyone’s notice. Every report has included the names of the dead, those who escaped and those charged. All but one of them, their visiting grandmother, were born and grew up in Huddersfield. Their names tell us that they were of south Asian descent. I wish I could believe that the omission of mention of the race of both victims and perpetrators meant that this was not seen as important, that it was a reflection of a society where people are valued equally, but I don’t. The names say enough, the names tell us ‘other’, the names tell us Muslim. But the lack of mention of sex fails to locate this act within the context of men’s violence against women and girls.
We need to name male violence against women and girls. Identifying trends and making links is important, it helps us to identify causes and therefore – where there is the will – the potential to find solutions and create change. Men’s fatal violence against women and girls crosses boundaries of race, religion and culture but immediately when race or religion is a factor in violence, it is identified. Why isn’t it the same with sexist and misogynistic murder? Could it be that it is only when the primary aggressors are those acting against, not reinforcing the dominant ideology, that the majority make links?
1 Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabiah Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, 6, Aneesa Nawaz, 2, Najeeba Nawaz, 6 months, their mother Nafeesa Aziz, 35, and their uncle Mohammed ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, their grandmother, Zaib-un-Nisa, 54.
As far as I know, already this year, 10 UK women have been killed by men, they range between 25 and 67-years-old, the men who allegedly killed them between 27 and 75. 10 more women to add to the 126 killed in 2012, the 144 killed in 2013 and the 150 killed in 2014. Between 2012 and 2014, I counted and shared the names of 410 women. And now the count for 2015 begins.
Three years after starting I started recording the names of UK women killed by men, it’s with a mixture of pride, deep sadness when I think of women whose lives have been taken by men and feminist anger at the continued onslaught of male violence against women, that I’m looking forward to the launch of the Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed by Men at a conference in London on 12th February.
The conference will bringing together family members of women who have been killed by men and a range of speakers to support the continuation and future development of the census, including me; Polly Neate CEO of Women’s Aid; Professor Jill Radford feminist activist and academic who co-edited Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing; Dr Aisha Gill co-author of ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence; and Frank Mullane, Director of AAFDA (Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse.
The Femicide Census has been developed through a partnership between Women’s Aid and me, with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP. We intend it to be an important tool, enabling us to monitor fatal male violence against women and provide data to help analyse and reduce the number of women killed by men. It’s a growing and evolving project currently providing detailed data on femicides in England committed since 2009. If we don’t name and reveal the extent of men’s fatal violence against women and the various forms it can take, we will never be capable of a thorough enough analysis to reduce or end it.
I spoke to Tracey McVeigh from the Observer about why I started Counting Dead women and why The Femicide Census is important. Claire Colley spoke to family members of three women who were killed by men. You can read the piece here.
Title: Building the UK’s First Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed by Men
Time & date: 10:00 to 16:30, 12th February 2015
Venue: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, 65 Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 1HS
Cost: £25 per delegate, £20 for Women’s Aid members. No charge for delegates who have lost a family member or friend to femicide.
If you’d like to come along you can book a place here
In 2014, 15 UK women were killed with their son named as primary suspect:
- 30 Jan 2014: Karen Wild, was found dead through stabbing. A 22-year-old man, said to be her son, Lian Wild, was charged with her murder.
- 12 Feb 2014: A woman who cannot be named for legal reasons was found dead in Bow, London. A 15 year old boy, thought to be her son, was charged with her murder.
- 21 April 2014: Malgorzata Dantes, 54, and her husband Leszek were stabbed to death. Their son Kamil Dantes was charged with their murders.
- 9 May 2014: Tamara Holboll, 67, was found dead with multiple stab wounds following a fire at her home. Her son, Peter Holboll, 44, was charged with her murder.
- 31 May 2014: Barbara Hobbis, 79, was strangled by her 58-year-old son, Geoffrey Hobbis.
- 3 June 2014: Yvonne Fox, 87, was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Her son, Paul Fox, was charged with her murder.
- 4 June 2014: Margaret Evans, 69, was beaten to death. Her son, Alun Evan, 32, was detained under the mental health act.
- 7 July 2014: Quoi Chang, 50, and her husband Pin Chang, 58, were both stabbed to death in their home. Their 23-year-old son, Carl Chang was charged with their murders.
- 19 September 2014: Dorothy Brown, 66, and her husband Paul Brown, 73 were stabbed to death. Their son Timothy Brown, 46, was charged with their murders.
- 30 September 2014: Catherine McDonald, 57, was found dead. She had been stabbed and asphyxiated. Her 27-year-old son, Alex McDonald, was charged with her murder.
- 11 Oct 2014: Maria Mayes, 67, was stabbed to death. Her son, Stuart Mayes, was charged with her murder.
- 18 Nov 2014: The body of Valerie Davison, 59, known locally as Jane, was discovered. Initially her death was thought to be unexplained but her son Charles Davison, 38 was charged with murdering her sometime between 3-17 November.
- 12 December 2014: Carol Ruddy, 54, and her husband Eric, 64, were found with serious injuries at their home. Their son Martin Ruddy, 28, was charged with their
- 22 December 2014 was the last day that Carol-Anne Taggart was seen alive. Her body was discovered on 12 January 2015. Her son Ross Taggart, 30, was charged with her murder.
- 31 December 2014: Sandra Brotherton, 60, was found stabbed to death. Her 29 year-old son was arrested on suspicion of murder and detained under the mental health act
In addition, one woman was killed by her grandson, one by her step-grandson and a third woman’s stepson was charged with her murder:
- 11 Feb 2014: Clara Patterson, 82, and her son Ray, 61, were found dead. Their grandson/son was found guilty of manslaughter and detained indefinitely.
- 18 June 2014: Una Dorney, 87, was found dead in the care home in which she lived. Her step-grandson, Ryan Guest, 33, pleaded guilty to her murder.
- 1 November 2014: Ann Cluysenaar (Jackson), 78, was found dead. Her stepson, Timothy Jackson, has been charged with her murder.