by Ambra Visentin 

Abuse, control, death threats. The phenomenon of “feminicide” has been at the centre of public debate in Italy for months, following the many cases that have occurred this year. In order to find the terrible common denominator that links many of these stories, newspapers and the media have been using this term for some months now, which has still with very blurred semantic boundaries, but reflects the desire to combat a phenomenon that often has some specific patterns at its root: attempts to control the life of a partner or daughter, abuse, violence, inability to accept the end of a relationship. 

They force their daughter to marry a cousin: now they wear an electronic bracelet

On 26 December last year, in Novellara, a town in the Emilia Romagna region, a 20-year-old girl of Pakistani origin was placed under the protection of social services and the police, perhaps because of the increased attention being paid to “at risk” cases. In 2021, her father and stepmother forced their daughter to marry a distant cousin. She had refused to marry him physically, hence the father’s threats. As a precautionary measure, the Carabinieri imposed a ban on communication and on approaching places frequented by the daughter, and an electronic bracelet was ordered for both of them to track their movements.

The Carabinieri investigation revealed that the girl was living in isolation. The young girl had also stopped studying immediately after her eighth grade exams. The adults at home told her that she was a Muslim and therefore had to behave accordingly, and they also told her not to trust the social workers who were following her. What makes the case even more striking is her father’s threat: “If you don’t get married, you’ll end up like Saman Abbas.”

The murder of Saman Abbas

Saman Abbas was a girl who lived in the same city and was murdered by her family members in 2021 at the age of only 18 because she had objected to marrying a cousin in her home country (Pakistan). Her body was found in an abandoned farmhouse on 18 November 2022. A few days ago, her parents were sentenced to life imprisonment (her mother is still at large), while her uncle was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The difficult definition of “feminicide”

From 1 January this year to 19 November 2023, there were 106 female murder victims in Italy: 87 of them were killed in a family and emotional environment, and in 55 cases the murderer was a partner or ex-partner. The Italian Penal Code does not provide for a specific offence of feminicide. In March 2002, the United Nations Statistical Commission published a report explaining which statistics should be taken into account to better understand the phenomenon of feminicide.

According to the Commission, feminicide is the intentional killing of a woman as a woman. To identify a feminicide, it is necessary to consider who the victim is, who the perpetrator is and the context in which the murder took place. There are three types of homicide that fall under the category of gender-related killings. The first two categories of feminicide include murders of women committed by partners or ex-partners, or by a relative. Evidence shows that in most cases gender-related killings are committed by those closest to the victim, either from a sentimental or family point of view.

The third typology of feminicide concerns women killed by a person, known or unknown to the victim, with a specific mode of action or in a gendered context: for example, if the victim had been subjected to other violence in the past by her murderer; if she had been exploited in some way; if she had been abducted or deprived of her liberty; or if the victim was in a lower hierarchical position than the murderer.

In the different statistics and comparative analyses between the countries of the European Union, there is still no defined and common terminology to understand to what extent and where the phenomenon is developing. This is an important and, in view of the tragic events in the news, urgent step towards identifying effective tools to combat violence against women.

The Red Code

In view of the increase in the number of cases of violence against women in Italy, in 2023 the Italian government introduced new offences in the so-called “Red Code”, which includes all the amendments to the Penal Code introduced in 2019 to protect victims of domestic and gender-based violence: disfigurement of the person through permanent injury, illegal distribution of sexually explicit images or videos without consent, coercion or inducement to marry and violation of restrictions (removal from the family home and prohibition to approach places frequented by the offender). In addition, the legislation increased the penalties for the offences of ill-treatment, sexual assault, stalking and group sexual assault.

Cover image: Poste Italiane stamp dedicated to the theme of gender violence. The vignette shows, in a park setting, a red bench (one of the symbols used) on which, on the right, a woman sits hunched over, as if trapped in pain, while, on the left, a young woman paints the bench green as a sign of hope for the future.