Interview with Christelle Taraud: Effectively Combating Femicide

24 November 2023

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).


  • According to the collective “Femicides by Partner or Ex-Partner,” as of August 24*, 69 women have been victims of femicide since the beginning of the year 2023. What does the term “femicide” refer to? Is it appropriate for the reality?

[*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.

Far from being an isolated incident, it was a massive and systemic attack against women.

The original concept to describe the murder of a woman by a man within the domestic sphere is that of “femicide,” born in 1976 in Brussels when nearly 2000 women, feminists, researchers, and activists from 40 different countries organized the first International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women.

One of them, Diana E. H. Russel, a South African researcher residing in the United States, defined femicide as a misogynistic hate crime whose primary objective is for a man to kill a woman because she is a woman.

In France, the use of the term “femicide” aligns more closely with the definition of “femicide” than with that of “feminicide,” which, according to Marcela Lagarde y de los Ríos, denotes a mass crime, collective, with genocidal tendencies, where women are targeted not only as physical individuals but also as an identity and a universe associated with the feminine. Thus, women as a people are the focus. The evidence lies in how the murder is committed: it is not simply about killing the physical body through strangulation or gunshot. Here, the victim undergoes violence before or after death: rape, mutilation of the sexual and genital organs, dismemberment, burns, etc.

The body is not only killed but overkilled: it is desecrated.

Femicide, on the contrary, is not strictly an individual crime, but it is consistently presented as an isolated incident: a man specifically attacking a woman within the context of an intimate relationship, whether it be a partner, ex-partner, husband, ex-husband, or any man having any form of relationship with the victim.

Nevertheless, the term used is not of great importance; what matters is having a word that sheds light on a crime that did not exist until now. If French society considers the term “femicide” more suitable than “femicide,” then it is acceptable if it allows the concept to spread, the key being as quickly and as widely as possible because the urgency is indeed present.


  • In your book “Femicides – A Global History,” you conduct a comprehensive study of violence against women throughout the centuries and across continents. In this broad chronotope, what patterns have you identified concerning violence against women?

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…

The fundamental matrix, nevertheless, remains violence against women, as emphasized by the Argentine-Brazilian scholar Rita Laura Segato.

This millennial violence has led to women experiencing multiple polymorphic forms of violence in a human lifetime. To shed light on this, I coined the concept of the “femicidal continuum,” which helps to understand that murder is only the most visible part of the spectrum of violence. In France, many cold cases – unsettling disappearances, unsolved sexual crimes accompanied by acts of brutality – are being unearthed. The overrepresentation of women in these cases must be examined in terms of gender and through a feminist approach. Many of them are undoubtedly femicides that were not identified as such at the time of the events. Similarly, many forced suicides within extremely coercive relationships should be considered as femicides. All of this deserves to be rethought. Women’s biographies, for example, are articulated by violence that they themselves do not always connect. This is explained for two reasons: first, they have been accustomed to excusing what is inflicted upon them, domesticated to accept it, to trivialize it, and secondly, because it is a strategy of psychological survival. If women start deciphering their lives by articulating all the violence they have endured, from the most obvious to the least obvious – physical, symbolic, epistemic violence – they can become aware of the extent of the discriminations and inequalities to which they are victims, which can encourage them to collectively fight to end these discriminations. For example, having to speak in a language that humiliates women, being in a school where women are not represented or even denied in the history of the country and humanity, enduring constant sexist insults, being harassed on the street, in transportation, at school, at work…

Therefore, the femicidal continuum extends from the most obvious and dramatic violent episodes to those that are less questioned and questionable, including by women themselves. Certainly, murder and insult are not at the same level, but they correspond to a similar dynamic. Similarly, if we do not understand the entire spectrum, we do not understand what ultimately led to murder, that is, the accumulation of all the things that were not taken into account, accepted, or even excused.

Because a femicide is never a spontaneous act. It is a crime prepared by multiple years of violence that escalate over time.

If the man had been immediately arrested during the first act of violence, the murder could have been avoided. But when a woman is insulted or slapped, she often says to herself, “It’s not a big deal, it will pass.” In reality, it does not pass, and it is serious.


Have there been moments in history when significant measures were taken to combat femicides? Can you provide examples?

There have certainly been significant measures in history to combat femicides, particularly concentrated in the present time.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the issue began to be truly recognized. In France, for example, the short-lived concept of “conjuguicide” emerged during this period. Before that, “uxoricide” referred to the murder of a woman because she is a woman but formulated differently, allowing the femicide perpetrator to be judged in a criminal court for murder. However, in the 19th century and even in the early 20th century, the issue of adultery was subject to double standards: it was not perceived the same way depending on the gender of the involved spouse. The 1810 Penal Code, in its Article 324 – known as the “red article” – “excused” men who killed their wives if they caught them in the act of adultery at home. They did not hesitate to use this provision, and when they ended up in court, they received extremely lenient sentences or even complete acquittals in some cases. In general, these murders were seen as an intimate problem related to marriage, which the justice system had to address, even if it found it uncomfortable, rather than as a systemic social phenomenon.

The recognition of femicides in Europe truly dates back to the second half of the 20th century. Spain, for instance, is a pioneer in gender-based violence in Europe. On December 28, 2004, the country implemented a comprehensive law to try to eradicate what is now referred to as a “pandemic of femicides.” Spain invested a significant amount of money in this initiative and demonstrated a genuine political will by first addressing the repressive chain: specialized courts, immediate appointment of judges, swift issuance of orders and protective measures, harsher sentences for male femicides, etc. A more supportive society towards female victims was fostered: it believes, protects, and supports them in their recovery. In Belgium, the “Stop Femicides” law initiated by Sarah Schlitz and adopted by the federal parliament on June 29, 2023, also reflects progress on the European continent.

While these measures work in the short term, particularly in responding to urgent situations, long-term action must also be taken. Sending a man to prison will not necessarily deter others from killing their partners, female family members, or even strangers, especially when the latter belong to marginalized categories (racialized women, undocumented women, women living on the streets, women with disabilities, sex workers, lesbians, transgender women, etc.). This is true even when women themselves act quickly and effectively in the face of violence, as demonstrated by the machete murder of a policewoman in Savoie in August 2023, committed by her ex-husband, even though she had divorced, moved to another city, and obtained a restraining order. The tragic case of Shaïna in Creil in 2019, burned alive at the age of 15, also illustrates this point.

Therefore, a lengthy and massive effort in education and awareness is necessary to combat gender-based violence, spanning all facets of socialization and all levels.

This work must be undertaken at both the individual and, more importantly, the family level. Families are incredible sites of violence: in France, one in ten people declares being a victim of incest. Therefore, it is crucial to target schools, sports, the streets, media, companies, sensitize society as a whole to equality, and educate boys differently. It is challenging to be appalled by femicides and continue educating boys to be all-powerful gods who believe they have the power of life or death over their “property.” The education of girls must also be transformed so that they stop accepting, trivializing, and excusing violence. The problem is also that while the government has indeed declared violence against women a “major national cause,” the reality on the ground – especially the budget cuts made to victim support associations, including emergency shelters, which are the first “frontline” – contradicts this declaration and makes us understand that our lives are not worth much in this country that is supposedly ours.

[1] The term genocide, defined in 1948, refers to the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a specific category of the population based on specific criteria.

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