Belgium, new law on femicide. To study
In Europe, male violence is the main cause of death for women between 16 and 44 years old. Belgium is equipped with a new law which for the first time legally defines feminicides in order to develop policies based on official statistics. Bearing in mind that violence is a device of male domination

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Stop the massacre of women. This is the meaning of the new "law on the prevention and fight against feminicides, gender-based crimes and the violence that precedes them” adopted at first reading in the Council of Ministers last 25 October in Belgium.

Deposited by the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Sarah Schlitz (Ecolo/Verdi), the framework law for the first time it legally defines feminicides in order to develop fight policies based on official statistics. And in this sense it is one absolute 'first' in Europe, even if femicide already appears in the penal code of various European countries, such as Spain and Italy and in many Latin American countries. The Belgian Criminal Code itself provides for more severe sanctions if the crime committed presents discrimination on the basis of gender. Now the law, awaited for years by civil society, includes in a broader definition all types of gender violence that could lead to a crime.

“I dedicate the law to all those women who lost their lives at the hands of a man. Even today we are not born a woman but we die one"

Sarah Schlitz

“This law is a revolution: finally we will officially count feminicides, we will study this scourge in more detail and implement several additional tools to eradicate this phenomenon and save human lives – said Sarah Schlitz -. Too many women could have been saved if the risk assessment had been carried out. I dedicate the law to all those women who lost their lives at the hands of a man. Even today we are not born a woman but we die one."

The definitions

The definition, based on European and international texts, distinguishes between “intimate femicide” (for example on a wife or partner), femicide not intimate (for example a prostituted woman), feminicide indirect (for example following a forced abortion or female genital mutilation) e gender homicide (e.g. of a transgender).

They are also defined as different forms of violence that can precede a femicide, such as sexual violence, psychological violence and coercive control. The fact that the “gender perspective” is also legally defined for the first time allows it to be used during the adoption and implementation of any decision, policy or measure relating to the scope of this law.

The three measures

  1. A report will be published each year containing the main statistics relating to feminicides, the characteristics of the victims, the perpetrators and the relationship between the victim and the murderer.
  2. Every two years a study on feminicides will be released which focuses on the prevalence of the different categories and types, their evolution over time and the measures adopted to stem the phenomenon, the relevant data on the victims, the perpetrators, the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the circumstances relating to the death, the characteristics of the murder and the reasons, linked to the sex of the victim, that triggered it.
  3. Finally, aqualitative analysis of cases of femicide will be carried out by an interdisciplinary committee in order to identify shortcomings and make recommendations to the government.

Women's rights in the new law

The victims of attempted femicide are at the center of this law and will have new rights:

  1. The right to have the main elements of their testimony translated into a language they understand. For example, if a woman victim of violence only speaks Ukrainian, she will be able to have access to her hearing in this language, without having to pay a translator.
  2. Women they may ask to be heard by a member of the police force of the gender of their choice.
  3. The law guarantees that victims are welcomed in suitable premises and equipped with the necessary discretion, and that they are heard by a police officer trained in gender violence.
  4. The right to information for victims of existing protection measures: temporary residence ban, place or contact ban, non-communicable address, etc. and their implementation.
  5. Finally, victims of non-serious gender violence will be able to file a complaint online.

Risk assessment

We know that gender violence sometimes begins with harassment that may seem less serious. An important element in the fight against the escalation of violence will be theobligation to evaluate and manage risk considering the vulnerability of the victim, the analysis will have to be updated in each new phase of the investigation. This should allow the police and the judicial system to better assess the risks faced by the victim, to analyze the dangerousness of the perpetrators and to adopt protective measures, such as a temporary restraining order (stay away order) or an anti-approach warning.

Training

It is extremely important that the police and magistrates know this law and master the new tools to combat the violence that precedes feminicides. Therefore, within the existing training for police officers and magistrates, particular attention will be paid to feminicides and the cycle of violence that precedes them. Magistrates already trained in gender violence will have the opportunity to follow a specific module relating to this new law.

The data

In 2022 in Belgium at least 18 women died at the hands of men because they were women. It is estimated that there were 22 feminicides in 2021, 26 in 2020, 24 in 2019, 39 in 2018 and 43 in 2017. A total of 172 in the last 6 years but the estimate is downwards. These figures come from a census carried out by feminist associations on the blog Stop Feminicide based on press articles, since Belgium had no official statistics so far. Everything suggests that they are actually much more numerous than that.

The Miracle of the Jealous Husband

In Belgium it is estimated that in the last five years, every 12 days a woman has been killed by her ex.  Male violence is the leading cause of death for women and girls aged 16 to 44 in Europe. It is important to remember that femicide is the most extreme form of gender violence. Death often comes after months or even years of suffering. These dire figures show the urgency of taking action to eradicate persister-related violence domination relationships between women and men.

Elena Bandiera


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