Christelle Taraud is a Senior Lecturer at NYU Paris and an associated member of the Center for 19th Century History (Paris I/Paris IV). Her research focuses on women, gender, and sexualities in the colonial Maghreb context. She also explores violence against women and femicides on a global scale, having developed the concept of the "femicidal continuum." Taraud is the author of several books, including "La prostitution coloniale: Algérie, Tunisie, Maroc, 1830-1962" (Payot, 2003 and 2009) and "Amour interdit: Prostitution, marginalité et colonialisme. Maghreb 1830-1962" (Payot, 2012). Additionally, she co-edited "Sexe, race et colonies: La domination des corps du XVe siècle à nos jours" (La Découverte, 2018), "Sexualités, identités & corps colonisés" (Editions du CNRS, 2019), and served as the editor for "Féminicides: Une Histoire Mondiale" (La Découverte, 2022).
[*This interview was conducted on August 24. On the day of its publication on the foundation’s website, November 24, an additional 26 women have died at the hands of their husbands.]
Since August 24*, the number of femicides has significantly increased. Counting these murders is complex: methods vary among collectives; some consider only intimate partner status, while others also include, for example, transgender women, creating discrepancies.
The term “femicide,” in its original sense, does not specifically refer to a woman being killed within the marital context by her partner. This term originated in Mexico to highlight a shocking situation denounced by Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos: the disappearance of hundreds, then thousands, of Mexican women at the border between the United States and Mexico in the 1990s.
Violence against women is incredibly ancient. Since women entered the academic world during the second wave of Western feminism in the 1970s, numerous studies in all disciplines of the humanities have been conducted on the history, anthropology, and sociology of women. Alongside these often quite traditional studies, feminist theories have been developed and permeated universities, allowing for a reexamination of many narratives that had previously been presented as eternal and definitive truths.
In this extensive body of studies, prehistory proves to be instructive and was a major ideological battleground in the 19th century. This period helped legitimize the idea that the history of our species, our common humanity, was the direct result of men’s work, and women played an extremely secondary role in perpetuating the species through their wombs. Since the 1970s, this narrative has been challenged by the work of prehistorians, paleontologists, paleoanthropologists, and historians. Even in those times, murders of women because they were women took place. This observation implies that millennia of violence were inflicted upon them in the context of constructing a system of oppressing women, which likely constitutes the fundamental matrix of violence. In the early human groups, wars were often the motive for seizing the resources of another group. At that time, these groups were mobile, and therefore the resources they possessed were not food or animals but women and girls. In times of crisis, these groups would kill women first to conserve resources that became insufficient. Women were not considered essential to the immediate survival of the group. However, once the crisis passed, there were not enough women left to reproduce, explaining why they would raid other groups to acquire them. Even before the emergence of strictly human societies, we observe femicidal patterns: in burials, the skeletal remains of individuals killed violently, outside of war, show an overrepresentation of women, for example. The same goes for infanticide, where girls are in the majority.
There is therefore an extremely ancient gendered violence that has only become more complex over time. This violence has replicated itself in issues of caste, class, race…