71 Am. U. L. Rev. 377 (2021).
Femicide is typically defined as the killing of a woman because she is a woman. It has been the subject of mass protests in cities from Buenos Aires to Paris and in some places has made the leap to law as a crime unto itself or basis for a sentencing enhancement in homicide cases. Proponents of the label of femicide seek to bring attention to gendered violence against women and end a culture of tolerance and impunity for such violence. Meanwhile, in the United States, it is neither legislated nor discussed.
This Article explores the concept of femicide and asks what the United States can learn from places where the idea has more purchase, and what these places can learn from us. It assesses our closest domestic analogues—violence against women (VAW) and hate crimes—and concludes that they have not met their promises of bringing attention to gendered violence against women and have failed to connect to the broader language of human rights as a way of understanding and addressing the phenomenon.
The Article argues that while femicide statutes are likely not the answer in the United States, we have much to learn from countries that “speak femicide,” including the importance of putting gender front and center, the utility of harnessing human rights language and institutions to combat the problem of gendered violence, and the need for more nuanced and complete data on the gendered killing of women. Femicide statutes and prosecutions elsewhere may give us ideas for identifying and proving the gendered dimensions of violence, which has proven difficult in the context of American hate crimes. And, from us, countries fighting femicide with femicide laws may draw the lessons that it takes more than a statute to make change and that a strictly carceral approach to VAW comes at a cost. We need to learn from one another how to develop approaches that include people of all genders and acknowledge intersecting aspects of a person’s identity that may compound violence, without dropping gender from the picture altogether.
* Professor, Willamette University, College of Law. Many thanks to the Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network of Law & Society for the opportunity to vet and improve the ideas and, in particular, to Yiran Zhang and Nancy Chi Cantalupo for their insightful comments. As always, I am grateful to Mary Rumsey for invaluable research assistance.