France recorded its 100th case of femicide this year at the beginning of the month. With one of the highest rates of female murders perpetrated by partners, ex partners or male family members in Europe, it’s estimated that a woman is murdered every three days in France.
Femicide is Increasing
Annual figures released by France’s Interior Ministry reveal an increase in femicide since 2016. This month saw renewed calls for the country to collectively do more to reduce the 220,000 incidents of marital, physical or sexual violence that take place each year.
In July protestors gathered in Paris at the Place de la Republique to demand action from the government. A minutes silence was held for the 74 women who had been murdered in 2019 alone. By now, that number will be more like 115. In an attempt to tackle one of the worst records in Europe for domestic violence, the French government have launched a series of interventions to raise awareness.
Femicide vs Domestic Violence
Are the French any worse than the rest of Europe? Statistically, yes. Culturally? Probably not. Even our language lets us down. Domestic Violence. Different somehow to ABH and GBH. It happens behind closed doors and is easier to ignore. It’s not really violence, is it? ‘Domestic.’ A feeble, impotent use of language evoking a Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus glossary of petty squabbling. Pedestrian bickering over whose turn it is to put the rubbish out rather than a context for coercive control and grievous bodily harm.
French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe challenged this traditional thinking “Acts of domestic violence are not disagreements within a couple where the blame is shared. Very often it is a process of sexist control, so ingrained in our mentalities and our habits that some men have grown used to a form of impunity.”
Although femicide is not recognised by French law as a legal term, Marlène Schiappa, the junior minister for gender equality, is campaigning for legal recognition. To the 100 dead women, language mattered. It permeated policy, funding and systemic failure to intervene before it was too late.
Philippe has promised increased efforts, stating “For centuries, women have been buried under our indifference, denial, carelessness, age old machismo and incapacity to look this horror in the face.”
He has a point. It’s 2019 and I can’t help but wonder why we still seem incapable of examining and eradicating domestic violence. What fuels our reluctance? A week in the news on this side of the channel provided some well worn answers.
Blessed be & Boycott
Margaret Atwood’s much anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale was launched. The Testaments, documents political resistance in a patriarchal, dystopian future named Gilead. Defending herself against accusations of misery mongering, Atwood points out that she didn’t include anything in the book that hadn’t happened to women at some point in history. In a spectacularly unplanned coincidence, the same week saw the NHS launch specialised Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) clinics across the UK.
Despite being a criminal offence since 1985, it was only this year that the first conviction for FGM in Britain took place. The latest yearly NHS statistics show that there were 9,490 total attendances where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM was undertaken in the UK. We’re still trying to persuade women and men that cutting children as young as 5 years old is wrong.
Teresa May’s offer of a knighthood to Geoffrey Boycott, convicted of violently assaulting his partner by a French court twenty years ago also stirred much controversy this week. Not least when Boycott informed BBC Radio 4 presenter, Martha Kearney that he couldn’t “Give a toss.” about calls by Women’s Aid Chief Executive, Adina Claire for his knighthood to be revoked. Geoffrey’s lack of self regulation under fire rendered his protestations of innocence somewhat redundant.
As Boycott ranted, I was transported back in time to my 1980s childhood in Yorkshire. Coke and Pepsi wars. Big hair and mullets. Leg warmers and Sherbet Dips. Alongside the casual misogyny, sometimes benign, displayed by most men I knew (including the men in my own family). They would have responded in much the same way, viewing a slap as an acceptable and final form of communication.
What do you say to a woman with two black eyes?
Boycott continued to let down the Yorkshire side by tautologically complaining that the French court responsible for convicting him spoke, you’ve guessed it, in French and was therefore unfit for purpose. The rest of the week’s talking head slots were filled with friends of Boycott defending him on account of his “Good manners” and “gentlemanly” approach to life. It reminded me of my first week on secondment to the Metropolitan Police. A sergeant leading the domestic violence unit, one floor down, entered the office and after genially introducing himself asked “What to you say to a woman with two black eyes? Nothing. You’ve already told her twice.” That was 2006. Sometimes, progress is painfully slow.
This week was a snap shot of life in Europe today. It was business as usual. We like to think that things like that don’t happen here. We shy away from talking about FGM in the mistaken belief that it is a cultural issue. It isn’t. Ten years ago I spent a day working with Sister Fa. She made it clear. It’s a human right not to be cut and a human right to expect somebody, somewhere to help us. Whomever and wherever that might be.
We refuse to believe that the man with nice manners who charms us is capable of breaking bones and causing yellow haloed purple bruises. The victim is discredited. She’s ‘difficult’ “Gobby” or ‘asking for it’ or maybe as the sergeant suggested, “She’s already been told.” The man (sometimes woman) you work with, drink with and share a joke with insists he didn’t do it. To quote Mandy Rice Davies, “Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
Oh and that French judge, Dominique Haumant, the one who spoke French in a French court, full of French people and an English cricketer with a French speaking defence team? She still stands by her verdict. Tracked down this week, by the Guardian, she said “It is more than 20 years ago, but I still remember his behaviour in the courtroom. He was arrogant and he had a deplorable attitude throughout the trial.”
femicide is defined as the murder of a woman by her partner, ex partner or family. President Emmanuel Macron began using the term as a move away from the indifference and inertia that the words ‘domestic violence’ often elicit.