Reflections on the Issue of Femicide: How Easy is it to Gather Information?

The process of finding and adding information to the WomanStats database provides researchers the opportunity to learn about many different topics that affect women’s security. Additionally, one becomes increasingly aware of the importance of collecting data in order to gain a greater understanding of any particular problem. Hence, when I discovered “Ni Una Más”, a femicide database created by Silvia Suárez, I wanted to talk to her and discuss her experience with creating and working on such a specific database.

DatabaseAs a journalist, Silvia’s main interests include feminism, gender equality, and the relationship of both with popular culture. “Ni Una Más” was her graduation project for her master’s degree in digital humanities through the University of Los Andes in Colombia.  This offered her the opportunity to explore why femicides are occurring in Colombia and how they are associated with ideas that the perpetrator is “sick” or “a monster”, rather than with the concept that there are structural inequalities creating or aggravating this problem.

One of the project’s main objectives was to learn from judicial records, something that proved difficult to do. Prosecutors typically carry out detailed investigations into alleged offenses in order to create a legal case against an offender. The findings of such investigations, when available, could give better insights into the problem of femicide and its causes. Her intention, as she stated it, was to create a database that showed variables that went beyond numeric data and that allowed people to analyze the phenomenon of femicides. “When you’re given a figure, sometimes you don’t really know what to do with it. You need more information to recognize how femicide and violence against women move in Colombia, what promotes it, among other variables,” she told me. “Maybe, if we better understood it, there would be a path towards prevention rather than punishment, which is the current focus. Even in academic studies, the attention is placed on the law and how legal institutions are responding to the law. There is no analysis of what happens to a victim before she is murdered.”

She eventually had to rely primarily on media outlets, mainly local newspapers, in order to gather the information she wanted. As a side note, she pointed out that traditional newspapers (the big news outlets in Colombia) have less information and/or report crimes less often than local and smaller ones. “Some [local papers] even have the most gruesome details, while in the traditional newspapers they barely mentioned it,” she explained. By using these sources, she was able to gather information that went beyond Colombia’s main cities. This demonstrates one main inequality between information sources: many of these femicide cases happened far from these large cities and, thus, were reported less often by the media.

As a contrasting example, Silvia talked about Claudia Rodriguez’s case. She was a femicide victim in 2017. She was killed in a mall in the northern part of Bogotá, an area that tends to be wealthier than the city’s southern counterpart. A quick Google search of her name coupled with the word ‘femicide’ produces more than a thousand results providing details of her and her murderer, as well as other circumstances surrounding the crime. “This [kind of detailed reporting] happened with only around 5 cases out of 100 that I studied,” Silvia mused.

In the end, this reveals a general lack of data availability and openness. However, Silvia’s database, just like the WomanStats database, is open to the public and available for anyone who wants to use it.

Most of the cases analyzed by Silvia were crimes committed by the victim’s partner or significant other, who were most often male. This usually happened because those were the easiest cases of femicides to identify and were covered by the media at greater lengths. Silvia concluded our interview with something that was deeply saddening: “It seems like there is a need for the man to show power over the woman’s body. The ultimate power is this one, the power over deciding if she lives or dies. Plus, if you kill her with your own bodily strength, then you are the ultimate ‘macho-man,’ [because] you killed someone.”

Colombia has a history of armed conflict, which has impacted our society and created a culture of violence that also results in misogynistic violence. As a commentary published by the CSIS: “Hate crimes in a macho culture involve giving license to any man who thinks being young, pretty, and independent merits an acid attack as revenge. The women who have been attacked have generally been victims of domestic violence.”[1]

Besides this problem, Silvia was also able to identify “post-victimization” in the cases she studied in Colombia. This term comes from a study carried out in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.[2] It refers to the way a victim, after being murdered, may be further humiliated through actions such as being thrown out onto the street or being improperly attended by service institutions post-mortem. One example from her database comes from one femicide in Cali, Colombia when the Prosecutor’s office called Jhor Jhany Esquivel to testify about her domestic violence allegations after she had already been murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

Being able to identify these kinds of issues is proof that databases transcend the information they are presenting to us. As Silvia puts it, “You have to be aware that a database tells you something.”  Her work reminded me of one of the WomanStats’ main premises: our database is more than a just database. We go beyond figures to create a more comprehensive database, a database that can contribute to a better, more holistic understanding of issues surrounding women’s security.

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[1] Mendelson Forman, J., Meacham, C. 2013. “In Latin America, Women Still Confront Violence” CSIS, Center for Strategic International Studies, (April 24, 2019).

[2] Mónarrez, J., Cervera, L., Fuentes, C. y Rubio, R. (2010). Violencia contra las mujeres e inseguridad ciudadana en Ciudad Juárez. México: El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.


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