Development of the term
The word femicide was first recorded in 1820 to 1830. The term femicide was first used in England in 1801 to signify "the killing of a woman." In 1848, this term was published in Wharton's Law Lexicon. Another term used is feminicide, which is properly formed from the Latin femina, meaning "woman" ("femicide" being truncated).
The current usage emerged with the 1970s feminist movements, which aimed to raise feminine consciousness and resistance against gender oppression. The term was also coined by radical feminists to bring to a political light the violence against women. American author, Carol Orlock, is widely credited with initiating the usage of the term in this context in her unpublished anthology on femicide. Diana Russell publicised the term at the Crimes Against Women Tribunal in 1976 while “testifying at the first International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Belgium". Here is part of what she wrote for the proceedings:
"We must realize that a lot of homicide is in fact femicide. We must recognize the sexual politics of murder. From the burning of witches in the past, to the more recent widespread custom of female infanticide in many societies, to the killing of women for "honor," we realize that femicide has been going on a long time. But since it involves mere females, there was no name for it until Carol Orlock invented the word 'femicide.'" Until recently femicide was invisible in much of the scientific literature. Intimate femicide can be identified as such by using the “severity of violence, such as access to and threats with firearms, forced sex, threats to kill, and strangulation” to determine whether a case can be considered an act of femicide or not. The definition of femicide also relies on "inequalities in gender “in terms of education, economic level, and employment"".
Contemporary definition by feminists
Feminist author Diana Russell narrows the definition of femicide to "the killing of females by males because they are female". Russell places emphasis on the idea that males commit femicide with sexist motives. She also chooses to replace the word woman with female to show that femicide can occur to both girls and infants as well. Russell believes her definition of femicide applies to all forms of sexist killing, whether they be motivated by misogyny (the hatred of females), by a sense of superiority over females, by sexual pleasure, or by assumption of ownership over women.
Russell's broader definition of femicide is stated as this,
- "Femicide is on the extreme end of a continuum of antifemale terror that includes a wide variety of verbal and physical abuse, such as rape, torture, sexual slavery (particularly in prostitution), incestuous and extrafamilial child sexual abuse, physical and emotional battery, sexual harassment (on the phone, in the streets, at the office, and in the classroom), genital mutilation (clitoridectomies, excision, infibulations), unnecessary gynecological operations (gratuitous hysterectomies), forced heterosexuality, forced sterilization, forced motherhood (by criminalizing contraception and abortion), psychosurgery, denial of food to women in some cultures, cosmetic surgery, and other mutilations in the name of beautification. Whenever these forms of terrorism result in death, they become femicides."
She includes covert killings of women as well, such as the mass murder of female babies due to male preference in cultures such as India and China, as well as deaths related to the failure of social institutions, such as the criminalization of abortion or the prevalence of female genital mutilation.