What does it mean to count the number of women killed in Australia by their partners and ex-partners?

This blog is by Prof. Jane Maree, who writes about the stubbornly high and horrifying toll of women being killed in Australia, predominantly by men known to them. More than one woman each week, 27 already in 2023.

For more than a decade now, the weekly toll in Australia of women killed, predominantly by men known to them, often by men who know they are depriving their own children of a mother, has remained stubbornly high and horrifying: more than one woman each week, 27 already in 2023. Feminist databases such as Destroy the Joint and Australian Femicide Watch @MapFemicide pay tribute to and remember those killed, and remind us all of the resilience of patriarchal, raced, gender based violence that shapes everyday life in Australia. The UNODC 2019 Global Study on Homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls reminds us all that this phenomenon crosses national boundaries, cultures and inflects global social worlds too.

In 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Simonovic called for all member states to introduce country specific ‘femicide watches’. The importance of data emerging from such ‘femicide watches’ worldwide is reinforced by UNODC Deputy Executive Director, Aldo Lale-Demoz (2017) who states ‘more accurate and consistent statistics are essential to understand and respond to the nature, scope and trends of gender- related killing and related violence’. But counting or measuring is not enough as Sally Engel Merry reminded us in 2016 in the Seductions of Quantification ‘not all that should be counted is counted, nor does counting itself necessarily provide an accurate picture of a situation or its explanation’ (Merry 2016: 220).

So while counting the number of women killed is vital in challenging and hopefully changing the burden of gendered violence inflicted and carried each day, it is as important that we look beyond and beneath these horrifying figures. Each life lost to the misogyny of the patriarchy and the heteronormative family signals children, sisters, mothers and communities bereft. For each death accurately reported, there will be those lost to slow gendered violences – dying in poverty, dying of health burdens created by long term abuse or simply not recorded at all. We should all be ashamed that the Inquiry into Missing and murdered First Nations women and children itself disappeared with no report ever provided. Each of these terrible deaths represent only the final outcomes of years of suffering, racism, misogyny, the infliction of pain and the resilience of the gendered inequalities that we struggle to change. The counting of deaths, the creation of new knowledges, the memorialising and mourning that demands recognition; all of these are vital. But our goal has to be prevention, the cessation of gendered violence and the safety and security of all.