Stop the slaughter of women. This is the meaning of the new "law on preventing and combating feminicide, gender-based crimes and violence preceding them"adopted at first reading in the Council of Ministers on 25 October in Belgium.
Deposed by the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Sarah Schlitz (Ecolo/Verdi), the framework law for the first time legally defines feminicides in order to develop combat policies based on official statistics. And in this sense it is a 'first' in Europeeven though feminicide already appears in the criminal code of several European countries, such as Spain and Italy, and in many Latin American countries. The Belgian Penal Code itself provides for harsher penalties if the crime committed presents discrimination on the basis of gender. Now the law, which has been awaited by civil society for years, encompasses in a broader definition all types of gender-based violence that could result in a crime.
"I dedicate the law to all those women who have lost their lives at the hands of a man. Even today we are not born a woman but we die of it"Sarah Schlitz
"This law is a revolution: finally we will officially count feminicideswe will study this scourge in more detail and implement several additional tools to eradicate this phenomenon and save 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 have lost their lives at the hands of a man. Even today we are not born a woman but we die of it'.
The definition, based on European and international texts, distinguishes between 'intimate feminicide' (e.g. on a wife or partner), feminicide not intimate (e.g. a prostituted woman), feminicide indirect (e.g. following a forced abortion or female genital mutilation) and gender homicide (e.g. of a transgender).
They also define the different forms of violence that can precede a feminicidesuch 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 related to the scope of this law.
The three measures
Women's rights in the new law
Victims of attempted feminicide are at the centre of this law and will have new rights:
We know that gender-based violence sometimes starts with harassment that may seem less serious. An important element in combating the escalation of violence will be theobligation to assess and manage risk considering the vulnerability of the victim, the analysis should be updated at each new stage of the investigation. This should enable the police and the justice system to better assess the risks faced by the victim, to analyse the dangerousness of the perpetrators and to take protective measuressuch as a temporary restraining order (removal measure) or an anti-approach warning.
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, special attention will be paid to feminicides and the cycle of violence that precedes them. Magistrates already trained in gender-based violence will have the opportunity to follow a specific module related to this new law.
In 2022, at least 18 women died at the hands of men in Belgium because they were women. There were an estimated 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 Femicide on the basis of press articles, as Belgium had no official statistics so far. Everything suggests that they are in fact much more numerous than that.
In Belgium, it is estimated that in the last five years, a woman has been killed by her ex every 12 days. Male violence is the leading cause of death for women and girls aged between 16 and 44 in Europe. It is important to remember that feminicide is the most extreme form of gender-based violence. Often death comes after months or even years of suffering. These terrible figures show the urgent need for action to eradicate violence linked to persistent relations of domination between women and men.