UN Women statement: Confronting femicide—the reality of intimate partner violence


UN Women extends its sympathy to the family of Jennifer Schlecht, murdered, along with her daughter, by her husband a few days ago. As for so many women, home had become a deeply unsafe place. As for so many women, no neighbour suspected the risks of her situation and the threat her husband had become, in part because a characteristic of such abuse is often the control exerted over public appearances.

Domestic violence can be very hard to detect and even harder to deal with, providing seemingly impossible choices for women trying to navigate unequal power relations and avoid further abuse. Women often face increased threats of violence to themselves, their children, and other family members when they are planning to leave, after they have left violent relationships, or if they alert others to their situation.

It is a real danger, borne out by global statistics. In 2017, an estimated 58 per cent of female victims of murder were killed by an intimate partner or member of their own family, amounting to 137 women every day. Yet, research shows that less than 40 per cent of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort. Among women who do, most look to family and friends. Less than 10 per cent of those women sought help by appealing to the police or other formal institutions and mechanisms, such as health services. More than 140 countries have passed laws on domestic violence, but illegality is not stopping its practice.

Domestic violence has previously been considered private and not a matter for state interference, however it is now recognized globally as an important area for intervention by law enforcement, health and other social services. The murder of women by their intimate partners is the most severe form of violence, which is often part of a continuum of other forms of violence experienced by women in intimate relationships in every country in the world, from every social category and level of education. Ms. Schlecht, for example, worked for the United Nations in the field of family planning and humanitarian response.

We must get better at preventing violence from occurring in the first place and in supporting the women and girls who experience it. Those responses must prioritize the safety of women and girls and hold perpetrators to account for their actions. Above all, as societies, we have to recognize and adjust the unequal power relations that feed and permit these behaviours.