Home / News / World /  Most dangerous place for women is the home, UN report finds

It’s a gruesome reality that is true around the world: Women face the greatest danger in their own homes, according to a new report on homicides around the world by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

More than half of all female homicide victims last year were killed by intimate partners or relatives, the report found. And efforts in some countries to stem such killings through new legal strategies and social programs have not yet made tangible progress, researchers concluded.

The report, released this week to coincide with the UN-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, examined how violence against women and girls relates to their status and role in society.

The killing of a woman is “a lethal act on a continuum of gender-based discrimination and abuse," Yury Fedotov, the agency’s executive director, wrote in the report’s preface. Here are four key takeaways.

The vast majority of murder victims are men. But women are far more likely to be killed by those closest to them.

About 1 in 5 homicides is carried out by an intimate partner or family member, and women and girls make up the vast majority of those deaths, the report concluded after analyzing the available data.

Of the approximately 87,000 women who were victims of intentional homicide last year around the world, about 34% were murdered by an intimate partner and 24% by a relative.

The rate of women killed by a partner or relative was highest in countries in Africa, followed by the Americas. The lowest rate was in Europe.

The data comes with some caveats.

The researchers wrote that it is not possible to accurately record gender-related killings during armed conflict — so the true numbers in certain regions could be far higher than the report states. The report also does not count unsolved killings that may be gender-related, and it notes that violence against women is often underreported.

The report also did not make clear how or whether it included violence against transgender women in the statistics. A spokesman for the UN office did not respond to a request for comment.

Jodie Roure, a professor at John Jay College in New York, who has done extensive research on violence against women, noted that data-collection practices vary from country to country.

“There’s limitations to the data," Roure said. “Are we getting a perfect picture? No. But the important part is that we’re talking about it, because we weren’t talking about it not too long ago."

Sexism is to blame. And women can also be perpetrators.

Domestic violence against women and girls is rooted in societal norms about men’s authority to exert control over women. Research cited in the study found that men and boys who adhere to stereotypical views of gender roles — for example, that men need more sex than women or that men should dominate women — are more likely to use violence against a partner.

Men who kill their female partners often cite jealousy, drinking and fears of abandonment, the study found. In contrast, women who killed their male partners often said that they had suffered extended periods of physical violence.

Though more rare, women can also be responsible for gender-based violence. For example, female family members may play a role in honour killings, in which relatives kill a girl or woman they say has brought shame upon their family.

There are many other triggers linked to gender-based killings, the report found, including a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity; threats faced by sex workers; disputes over dowries in South Asia; and accusations of witchcraft in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Some countries have passed laws against ‘femicide,’ but there’s no consensus on what the term means.

The term femicide, or feminicide, was coined in the 1970s to refer to the killings of women and girls. In recent years, there has been a push, particularly in Latin America, to use the concept to create new legal categories and public policies.

Last year, the president of Mexico called on his country to eradicate “a deeply rooted machista culture," one that “ultimately and truly generates violence against women." After a gruesome killing that was partially caught on tape, Brazilians used social media to urge people to intervene to stop domestic violence. In Peru, contestants in a beauty pageant mounted a poignant protest — reciting statistics on feminicides — instead of telling the judges their measurements.

And in September, the European Union and the UN launched a program to fight femicide in Latin America. But there is no standardized definition of the term, leading to many different legal and data-collection practices, the report found.

The new laws and programs have succeeded in raising public awareness, even if the number of killings has not decreased since a similar UN study in 2012. But the report concludes that more must be done to provide services to women — and to change cultural norms.

“A law alone is not enough," Roure said. “You need to have a comprehensive, holistic approach."

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