Feminicides | In search of lost lives

Official data on feminicide cases are missing around the world. Activists have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Posted at 7:00 a.m.

Philippe Robitaille-Grou

Philippe Robitaille-Grou
special cooperation

September 6, 2022. In the early morning, a woman is stabbed in her home by her partner in Uruguay. The fifth feminicide in a month in the country.

For Helena Suárez Val, a doctoral student specializing in feminicide and digital activism at the University of Warwick, this is one tragedy too many. From her home in Uruguay, she scans all the publications related to the event on the web. It classifies the information in a table. Woman’s name: Salome. Age: 38 years old. Location: Talar district, in the city of Pando. Category: murder of trans woman. Etc.

This exercise has been the researcher’s daily routine since 2015. Helena Suárez Val is behind the Feminicidio Uruguay project, aimed at overcoming the lack of official data on feminicides in her country. Every day, she scours local newspapers and social media, looking for new reported cases. “Collecting this data is really sad and frustrating,” she says in English. But at the same time, it’s a way of feeling that I’m doing something. »

  • Members of the Collages Féminicides Paris group, in August 2020, in front of a wall on which they have inscribed the names of hundreds of women killed in the previous year.

    PHOTO CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

    Members of the Collages Féminicides Paris group, in August 2020, in front of a wall on which they have inscribed the names of hundreds of women killed in the previous year.

  • Demonstration, in March 2021, against violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  On the cross, photos of victims of feminicides and an inscription:

    PHOTO MAHE ELIPE, REUTERS ARCHIVES

    Demonstration, in March 2021, against violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On the cross, photos of victims of feminicides and an inscription: “Not one more”.

  • Protest against violence against women in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2020

    PHOTO ULISES RUIZ, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Protest against violence against women in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2020

  • Protest in Quito, Ecuador last week following the murder of María Belén Bernal, a 34-year-old high-profile lawyer.  Her husband, a lieutenant in the Ecuadorian army, is the prime suspect.

    PHOTO RODRIGO BUENDIA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Protest in Quito, Ecuador last week following the murder of María Belén Bernal, a 34-year-old high-profile lawyer. Her husband, a lieutenant in the Ecuadorian army, is the prime suspect.

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Hundreds of initiatives like that of Helena Suárez Val have come to life over the past few years, in response to government inaction: Women Count USA in the United States, Féminicides par accomplis ou ex in France, Femicide.net in Russia… Based on local news or judicial and police documents, these activists identify and analyze cases of feminicide in their country.

  • Awareness campaign in Medellín: photos of victims of femicide displayed in the streets of the Colombian city in 2020.

    PHOTO JOAQUIN SARMIENTO, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Awareness campaign in Medellín: photos of victims of femicide displayed in the streets of the Colombian city in 2020.

  • Demonstration against violence against women on International Women's Day, San Salvador, March 2021

    PHOTO JESSICAA ORELLANA, REUTERS ARCHIVES

    Demonstration against violence against women on International Women’s Day, San Salvador, March 2021

  • Also in March 2021: Demonstration against violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  On the cross, photos of victims and an inscription:

    PHOTO MAHE ELIPE, REUTERS ARCHIVES

    Also in March 2021: Demonstration against violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On the cross, photos of victims and an inscription: “Not one more”.

  • The faces of victims on the Mexican Human Rights Commission building, Mexico City

    PHOTO REBECCA BLACKWELL, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

    The faces of victims on the Mexican Human Rights Commission building, Mexico City

  • Members of the Collages Féminicides Paris collective, in August 2020, in front of a wall on which were inscribed the names of hundreds of women killed during the previous year.

    PHOTO CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Members of the Collages Féminicides Paris collective, in August 2020, in front of a wall on which were inscribed the names of hundreds of women killed during the previous year.

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For Canadian data

According to Myrna Dawson, professor of sociology at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, this work is necessary to prevent new tragedies. Adequate documentation makes it possible, in particular, to identify the factors likely to put the lives of women and girls at risk. “Femicide is a specific problem and requires specific data, research and solutions,” she stresses.

1664712447 762 Feminicides In search of lost lives

PHOTO FROM UNIVERSITY GUELPH WEBSITE

Myrna Dawson, professor of sociology at the University of Guelph

In Canada, “there is no official documentation of femicide, largely because there is also no official recognition of femicide as a significant social issue in the country,” says Myrna Dawson. .

A Statistics Canada survey collects information on homicides in the population every year. “But this police-reported data is insufficient when it comes to determining whether it is a sex- or gender-related murder,” she explains. This is partly because data collection instruments were historically designed to study male-by-male homicides. »

In 2017, Professor Dawson created the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJR) with the goal of improving the literature on femicide and raising awareness of this issue. The Observatory’s latest #CallItFeminicide report reports 173 women and girls violently killed across the country in 2021, or nearly one every two days.

  • March against feminicides in Quebec, in June 2021

    PHOTO YAN DOUBLET, LE SOLEIL ARCHIVES

    March against feminicides in Quebec, in June 2021

  • Large citizen march in Montreal against domestic violence and feminicides in April 2021

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Large citizen march in Montreal against domestic violence and feminicides in April 2021

  • Large citizen march in Montreal against domestic violence and feminicides in April 2021

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    Large citizen march in Montreal against domestic violence and feminicides in April 2021

  • Vigil in memory of the victims of feminicides in Quebec in 2021.

    PHOTO PATRICK SANFAÇON, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

    Vigil in memory of the victims of feminicides in Quebec in 2021.

  • Vigil in memory of the victims of feminicides in Quebec in 2021.

    PHOTO PATRICK SANFACON, THE PRESS

    Vigil in memory of the victims of feminicides in Quebec in 2021.

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United for the cause

“The data is a way to draw attention to this issue, but also to remember these women and their lives,” emphasizes Helena Suárez Val.

To support the initiatives that collect it, the Uruguayan researcher has surrounded herself with two other activists: Catherine D’Ignazio, director of the Data+Feminism Lab at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Silvana Fumega, head of the Research and Policy at the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA). Together, they created the Data Against Feminicide project.

One of the aspects of the project: the development of technologies based on artificial intelligence. An alert system has been trained by machine learning to recognize any article related to femicide. It scans local newspapers continuously and sends emails to its users to report the latest cases.

Since this year, several groups have been using the alert system, particularly in the United States and Latin America. “This tool makes our job easier,” says Helena Suárez Val. It also reduces our exposure to violence, as it filters out the homicide-related articles we will have to read. »

But even more, Data Against Femicide aims to form an international community among the activists who collect this data. The instigators of the project have listed more than 150 groups that do this work around the world. They organize events to give them the opportunity to meet and share their know-how.

1664712448 127 Feminicides In search of lost lives

PHOTO FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK WEBSITE

Helena Suarez Val

“There is an effervescence, enthuses Helena Suárez Val. Several networks are created among the militants. Our project participates in this phenomenon, and I am proud of it. »

A whole system to rethink

Despite the successes of the project, much work remains to be done to ensure that collecting accurate official data is a priority for governments, insists Myrna Dawson of the CFOJR. “We need to start asking ourselves why this important data for the prevention of femicide and male violence against women and girls is not being collected systematically today,” she argues.

“There are still several limits in legislation, in human resources working with data and in the recognition of this issue,” adds Silvana Fumega. But the ILDA researcher is not giving up. Within her organization, she works with the governments of several countries to standardize the documentation of feminicides.

“Perhaps one day we will no longer need to collect this data because it will no longer be an issue,” the researcher allows herself to dream. This is the ultimate goal of the project, to be useless! I really wish I was still alive then. »

Learn more

  • 23%
    Increase in the number of women and girls violently killed in Canada between 2019 and 2021

    source: Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability

    46
    Number of femicides by an intimate partner recorded in Canada in 2021

    Source: Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability

  • 26
    Number of murders of women and girls involving a male accused recorded in Quebec in 2021

    Source: Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability

    31
    Number of feminicides recorded in Uruguay in 2021

    Source: Feminicidio Uruguay

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Feminicides | In search of lost lives


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