Beyond my personal experiences, the main motivation behind This Violence is not a Tragedy was the fact that I continually observed that femicides and incidents of violence against women were treated as if they were isolated occurrences, with no link to each other or any wider pattern.
The main incident that stood out to me was of course the double murder of Raneem Oudeh and her mother Khaola Salem by Oudeh’s ex-partner, Janbaz Tarin. I have talked about this at length as the reason for the name of the site. When the West Midlands Police Chief Superintendent at the time, Bas Javid, said of the crime ‘Tragedies like this are extremely rare’, I knew that our public messaging surrounding violence against women had gone astray.
While Bas Javid was probably simply trying to reassure the public, I don’t think it is fair to reassure with falsehoods and with myths that ultimately cause harm. As I have discussed previously, violence against women is widespread and normalised in our society, and using words like ‘tragedy’ to describe it is at best problematic. In reality, the only way the public can really have reassurance when it comes to violence against women is for us to know that our services and governing bodies are both taking it seriously and are also not buying in to any illusions and falsehoods themselves.
And the biggest of these falsehoods is of course the idea that a violent incident is just a violent incident. Using the work of Karen Ingala Smith and others who have worked on the Femicide Census as a springboard, I’ve put together a brief exploration of why linking incidents of femicide and violence against women is so crucial to us developing the necessary understandings to combat this violence.
The Femicide Census and why linking femicides is crucial
The Femicide Census is a comprehensive resource that was first launched in 2015 by Karen Ingala Smith and Clarissa O’Callaghan. It was inspired by Ingala Smith’s blog, Counting Dead Women, a resource in which she collected information on and details of femicides.
The idea behind the blog and the census is that men’s violence is the leading cause of premature mortality for women globally. Yet until the census was produced, we did not have any materials exploring this fatal violence more closely.
People may not realise how important these resources are. But if a health condition was killing off young women prematurely, we would have done our research into it, and considered the causes behind that condition and considered also how we could mitigate the impacts of that condition. We have not done the same with men’s killings of women until extremely recently. Why? Well, the sort of perspective that sees ‘male violence’ as a pattern and problem with causes, links and mitigating factors is not actually that easy to cultivate, especially when our idea of murderers (usually as a result of popular culture) is lacking. Either we think of murderers as serial killers whose motivations are impossible to understand (that’s not correct either…) or we think of them as volatile individuals with a range of social problems that make their violence inevitable.
This second perspective should have made it more likely that we would consider the motivations behind murders and specifically femicides as linked to wider social patterns and issues. But unfortunately, our perceptions of social issues too often are conflated with perceived individual flaws. A certain mode of political thought – which seeks to place the responsibility for wrongs and ills onto individuals rather than wider social patterns – often convinces us that those who act in negative ways do so because of inherent bad character.
It is these incorrect perceptions that have partly delayed the development of comprehensive resources examining men’s fatal violence.
The other reason that we have failed to examine this violence for so long is that we have rarely perceived it as ‘fatal male violence’. Until recently, we have not conceptualised fatal violence against women as something that exists on the edge of a spectrum of male violence and discrimination against women. Violence against women dwells in and is a direct expression of broader misogynistic structures across society – and increasingly, the reason why violence is not combatted properly is because we fail to see it as such. This failure is perhaps in part wilful; by accepting that patterns of male violence and misogyny are ultimately fatal to women, we accept the need for huge structural overhaul across society – not an insignificant undertaking.
But making these links is crucial. Through them, we can see how the killers of women operate. We can learn what patterns we should be aware of, and how those patterns relate more broadly to the way society operates. We can see where failures to protect victims have occurred, and through this we can learn what best practice should be going forward. Violence against women is not a disease, but it many ways we ought to study it like one.
Seeing patterns elsewhere in society
The Femicide Census allows us to make links between different femicides and in doing this it allows us to see the ramifications of these femicides more broadly in society.
For example, the Census reveals that 70% of UK femicides take place in either the shared home of the killer and victim or the victim’s home. This allows us to see that the idea of home being a woman’s place where she can be safe is outdated and misleading. Of course, this is not to say that homes are unsafe and women should run from them; the point is that the domestic sphere and a woman’s immediate connections present a greater risk to her than strangers and the outside world. What this then tells us is not simply that misogyny is a fact of our institutions, but that it pervades all corners of society and affects women’s closest relationships.
Even when misogyny does not seem to be related to femicide, the same patterns and attitudes are often present across different discriminatory behaviours. For example, when we see popular tabloids lambasting women for changes in their weight and appearance, this kind of objectification of the female body and verbal violation is similar to some of the tactics used by abusers, who sometimes fat-shame women and demean them for their physical appearance. Treating the female body as an object to be gawped at and verbally dissected is a step on the road to treating that body as an object against which physical violations can take place.
Ultimately, we need resources like the Femicide Census to alert us to how misogyny escalates and creates an environment where women are neither safe from words, discrimination or death. Make no mistake – men do not ‘just kill’ women. Their behaviour is rooted in a worldview which treats women as their subordinates and possessions.