Femicide in Egyptian society: Motives, Indicators, and Recommendations
By: Ghada Qandeel, Political Science PhD Researcher
In light of the increase in femicide cases in Egypt, the data shows the extent to which this phenomenon occurred, as approximately 51 cases were monitored during only the first quarter of 2023. However, crimes targeting women are still a phenomenon that doesn’t receive much attention. This ignorance is due to several cultural, social, and economic factors. Based on this, this paper discusses and analyzes the concept of femicide, which raises questions about what femicide is and how to analyze this phenomenon through studying its determinants. Moreover, it raises the question of how Egyptian law addresses this phenomenon. And what are the procedures and policies needed to confront it?
The United Nations defined femicide as the most extreme and brutal form of violence that women experience. The international community set a goal of eliminating this phenomenon that affects all countries with various cultural and social beliefs despite the difficulty of identifying and measuring femicide correctly. In this regard, femicide can be defined as intentionally killing women just because they are women, which men in their families usually commit. Additionally, femicide comes alongside other forms of gender-based violence such as intimate partner killing, sexual violence, killing women and girls in the name of “honour,” targeting women and girls under armed conflicts, killings due to their sexual orientation and identity and lastly,, deaths related to genital mutilation.
The term “femicide” dates back to the late 19th century when it was coined to raise awareness of the deaths of women due to violence. It referred to the killing of females by males because they are females. Then, the concept was updated in 1992 to include “the killing of women by men out of hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership, rooted in historically an unequal power relation between women and men.” Nonetheless, Egyptian society did not pay any attention to that concept despite the increasing number of victims of femicide day after day.
The murder of the Egyptian student, “Naira Ashraf”, last year by her colleague because she rejected him was considered the spark that shed light on the brutality of femicide in Egypt. Especially since the killer, as in the usual case, is either from the victim’s family or from her close acquaintances. However, similar cases usually make headlines briefly as society often treats such crimes as private matters. It is also important to highlight that only 24 hours after the killing of Nayra Ashraf, two more femicide cases committed by their brothers were reported, which were followed by another dozen cases from various parts of Egypt.
The previous justification comes along a more heinous one, which is killing in the name of honour, especially in some rural areas in Upper Egypt. Killing in the name of honour happens when women and girls are killed simply because their families are suspicious about their behaviour with the absence of conclusive evidence. Women are then subjected to killing, slaughtering, or coerced to commit suicide. Usually, the killer, in this case, is a close relative, and it is often tolerated due to cultural and social norms. This crime also occurs in girls who their family members have raped. To cover up for their crime, the perpetrator kills her after promoting her misbehaviour as a justification for killing her whilst claiming that he did so to preserve the honour and reputation of the family.
Despite the severity of the subject, it is difficult to obtain accurate governmental statistics on the number of women killed in Egypt. Nonetheless, according to a study by Tadween Foundation for Gender Studies, during the first quarter of 2023, 51 cases were monitored. This study was based on what was published in Egyptian newspapers, which is much lower than the actual reality, as not all femicides are classified or published as gender-based crimes. In this study, women killed were between the ages of 21-30, while 11.8% were between the ages of 11-20. Giza recorded the highest rate of femicides during the first quarter of 2023, with a rate of 31.3%, Cairo at 12%, and Sohag at 8%.
The scary thing is that by comparing this percentage with what was monitored during the first quarter of 2022, we find that the number of female victims increased by 25 cases, totalling 142 cases during 2023. Their husbands killed 58% of these women and 41% of other family members. This highlights a serious increment in the rates of femicide in Egypt.
Efforts by the Egyptian state to confront the phenomenon
Looking at Egyptian law and its position on femicide, especially the Penal Code, we find out that it contains some loopholes representing a direct threat to the rates of female murder in society, especially honour killings. For example, in adultery—which is supposed to be a moral crime in which men, like women, are punished under the Sharia law—the law does not apply if a woman kills her husband under the influence of stress. She, however, is punished with the death penalty or, at the very least, extreme labour. On the other hand, women are punished for adultery wherever it was committed. Moreover, suppose she is killed in the act of adultery. In that case, the husband is punished with the slightest penalty, which may suspend the sentence (based on Article 17 of the Penal Code), allowing the judge to use compassion with the accused. This helps in the spread of honour killing.
The proposed solutions to confront the phenomenon of femicide:
In Egypt, killing a woman by her partner is often the culmination of long-standing violent behaviour. Therefore, it can easily be prevented through intensifying the efforts of both local and international institutions to assist and protect women who are victims of this type of violence. Hence, women need a coherent series of measures to ensure their protection and the prevention of such crimes. These measures are as follows:
1- Taking specific measures to enable women to leave or be confrontational in abusive relationships: These measures must consider that women are often financially dependent on their intimate partner. Thus, they risk being deprived of their only source of income if they end an unhealthy relationship. Support services for women to help them leave abusive relationships are essential in protecting them. Some of these services are provided by the National Council for Women’s Rights, including shelters, protection orders, counselling and legal aid.
2- Involving men in combating domestic violence and femicide: It is essential to stand up against femicide by developing cultural norms that reject toxic masculinity and gender norms to address the underlying discriminatory social norms that legitimize male power and gender-based violence.
3- Confining the violent environment that incubates femicide: The risk of women being subjected to gender-based violence increases due to cultural norms and traditions. This necessitates that the government work on implementing the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which includes specific provisions on femicide, which falls under the prevention and protection sections.
4- Developing an international unified and sustainable method for monitoring casualty counts: Unified data on femicide is still incomplete and insufficient, which hinders the process of tracking trends or understanding the scale of the problem. This necessitates establishing a unified measurement of gender-based violence in Egypt through recording the gender characteristics of victims and perpetrators. Thus, it can be of added value to the collected data. This allows for a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of femicide in Egypt as well as a comparable system for collecting data across countries.
The bottom line is that the real response to femicide depends on implementing efficient policies. Subsequently, these policies would depend on high-quality data based on a clear and globally agreed-upon definition, units of measurement and indicators to protect potential victims of gender-based violence. Thus, after offering a cohesive number of alternatives, this paper highlights the importance of acquiring comprehensive and accurate statistics on femicide cases in Egypt. This is vital since the presence of such data, both locally and internationally, and its accessibility to all citizens helps understand the scale of the problem. Furthermore, measuring gender-based violence is the first and most crucial step towards protecting victims of violence and preventing femicide in particular.
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