The speech I gave at the femicide vigil at FiLiA 2021
In the first three days of 2012, 8 women in the UK were killed through men’s violence. Three days, 8 dead women: 3 shot, 1 stabbed, 1 stabbed and beaten so hard with her own walking stick that the wood splintered, 1 beaten, 1 strangled, and 1 smothered.
Since then, I’ve been keeping a record of the women in the UK who have been killed through men’s violence and have personally recorded the names of 1,366 women killed by men or, in cases where criminal justice process hasn’t been concluded or has been prevented, for example if the killer also killed himself, where a man is or was the principal suspect.
I don’t think there’s a person here who won’t know the name of Sarah Everard almost everyone here will also know the name of Sabina Nessa, both women killed this year and whose deaths made national headlines.
But between Sarah and Sabina at least 77 other women were killed in circumstances where a man is held as suspect, awaiting trial or would be if he were still alive.
Do you know the name of the 84-year-old woman who was allegedly strangled by a burglar? What about the 25-year-old woman who was found dead in bags with the body of her two-year-old daughter, the two-year-old daughter who is suspected to have been sexually assaulted – as well as another child who survived – found buried in concrete beneath someone’s floor? The 82-year-old suspected to have been stabbed by her 84-year-old husband? Or the 29-year-old, found dead in the street with stab wounds to her neck, chest and arm, killed by her husband. At least 115 UK women are suspected to have been killed by men this year. The names of most of these women are not household names.
Men’s fatal violence against women cuts across all sections of society, across ages, class and ethnicity. But, some women are afforded more empathy than others. Some are more likely to be disbelieved, to be blamed, to be sent away without the help they need.
This appalling hierarchy of victims continues into death. It is almost always the young, conventionally attractive, middle-class, white woman killed by a stranger, the perfect victim, who makes the front pages.
Not the 50-year-old from a council estate in Leicestershire, killed by the father of her children after a 30-year marriage, where her life and dignity have been chipped away, little by little, every day. Not the immigrant. Not the 45year old homeless woman with a drug problem who was sexually abused from childhood to death. We need to end the hierarchy of dead women.
And of course, that hierarchy is there in life too. Black women and disabled women are disproportionately victimised yet more likely to receive a sub-standard response from state agencies. Poor women are more likely to be blamed.
Because of the Femicide Census, we know that in the UK 92% of women who are killed by men are killed by someone they know. One in 12 (or 8%) is a woman who is killed by her son. That’s the same proportion– 8% – of women in the UK who are killed by a stranger. 62% of women killed by men are killed by a current or former partner. More than 40% of these had already left or were taking steps to leave him. More than a third of these were killed in the first month post separation, almost ¾ within the first year.
Femicide is the killing of women, girls and female infants and foetuses, predominantly but not always committed by men. Femicide maintains men’s individual and/or collective dominant status, or reflects the lower status of females. Femicide is not just homicide of women by men, it’s about how and why women are killed and how this is different to the circumstances in which men are killed.
Do I believe it is possible to end men’s violence against women, to end femicide? I don’t know. Do I believe it is likely? No. There just isn’t the will. Patriarchal societies, in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, authority, social privilege and control of resources, ensure that power stays with the powerful and advantaged; it’s the same with socio-economic class, it’s the same with race. Sure, there will continue to be steps to address men’s violence against women and girls. And mostly these will have originated from feminists but what is implemented by the state will always be a watered-down version.
Men’s violence against women and girls is both a cause and consequence of sex inequality. Whilst perpetrators must be held responsible for their actions and behaviours; men’s violence against women is not reducible simply to individual acts perpetrated by individual men. Men’s violence against women is a key instrument of men’s domination of women, supported and normalised by patriarchal institutions, attitudes and social norms and values.
What can you do? Make politicians know you care. Make politicians know that men’s violence against women is an issue that could lose them votes. Make sure that every woman counts. Make them know that they damn well better be able to say that only women have a cervix.
Know their names. Not just Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. But Mandeep Singh, Angela Tarver, Valerie Richardson, Mihrican Mustapha, Sammy-Lee Lodwig, Denise Keene-Simmons.
Thank you, Keira Cadwell, for creating this beautiful commemoration to women. Each heart carrying the name of a woman killed by a man, taken from my work at Counting Dead Women.