Taking the Patriarchy to Court
The human rights organization JUMEN wants to combat violence against women in Germany through strategic litigation. What they want to achieve and why a case from Mexico serves as a model.
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Violence against women*, including its most extreme form, femicide, is a global problem that societies everywhere must confront. Although the forms and ways of dealing with violence vary depending on the local context, a look across borders can provide instructive insights into the fight against violence.
In many Latin American countries, social movements have long existed to resist femicide, violence against women, and the state’s ignorance or complicity in it. In 2007, relatives of murdered women from Mexico went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after years of protests. Supported by women’s and human rights organizations, they filed a complaint there because the Mexican state was doing too little to combat the alarmingly high number of femicides in parts of the country. With the ruling in this so-called „Cotton Field Case,“ the Inter-American Court set an example of how jurisprudence can recognize gender-based violence as a human rights violation and oblige states to combat it. Since then, the issue has been litigated in high courts around the world. Now an organization in Germany is also planning strategic litigation on the issue of femicide. The members of JUMEN are convinced: The German authorities are not doing enough to combat violence against women!
JUMEN – Juristische Menschenrechtsarbeit in Deutschland e.V. (Legal Human Rights Work in Germany) is a Berlin-based human rights organization that uses strategic litigation to combat human rights violations in Germany. It’s work focuses on refugees and migration, violence against women and the right to housing. More information (in German): www.jumen.org
Lethal Violence against Women in Germany
What is a femicide?
Femicides (or sometimes feminicides) are killings of women because they are women. Femicides are a global problem, but differ according to social context. Motives vary from the assumed inferiority of women (e.g., in the killing of female babies), hatred of women (as in terrorist attacks by so-called incels), or punishment for deviating from role models considered feminine (e.g., in attacks against queer women or so-called „honor killings“). The most common form of femicide in Germany, however, is the so-called separation killing by the (ex-)partner. The perpetrator does not recognize the independence of the woman and her right to separate from him. This is based on the patriarchal concept of the woman as „property“.
While there have been major protests against femicides in some European countries in recent years, the issue has received very little attention in Germany. Only slowly is it becoming accepted that media reports no longer refer to „family drama“ or „jealousy act“ in a trivializing manner. But many people in Germany still see violence against women as a problem of „others“. When hearing the term femicide, many people first think of Latin America, and when women are murdered out of patriarchal ideas, they think of so-called „honor killings“. Many people in Germany do not seem to be aware that femicides by (ex-)partners, like domestic violence, occur in all social classes and regardless of background.
"Women have the right to equal access to justice"
The organization JUMEN – Juristische Menschenrechstarbeit in Deutschland e.V. (Legal Human Rights Work in Germany) has been working for years on the topic of violence against women and in recent years has focused primarily on the influence of gender stereotypes on court proceedings. Since last year, the organization’s jurists have been preparing strategic litigation on the topic of femicides. The German state, they argue, is not doing enough to protect the women affected and is thus ultimately violating their right to life. Therefore they are considering the options if having this established in court.
Strategic litigation refers to legal action in an area where a structural problem is seen, e.g. a systematic violation of human rights. Strategic litigation aims to achieve social change that goes beyond the individual case, e.g. by setting precedents, through public attention or by judicially obligating legislators to make changes.
Femicides as human rights violations - the "Cotton Field Case".
Is going to court the right path?
* In this article, in the context of gender-based violence, the term women is used without an asterisk (*) and rather than other terms in order not to obscure the misogynistic nature of this specific form of violence. This is meant to include anyone who identifies or is identified as women and is therefore affected by violence. This may reproduce a third-party definition, but I didn’t find a better term to avoid this
** Men are also affected by intimate partner violence, but they make up a much smaller proportion of victims. Therefore, this article is about the much more widespread form of domestic violence against women, that is generated by patriarchal thoughts and structures.
- Bundesverband der Frauenberatungsstellen und Frauennotrufe in Deutschland – bff. Tötung von Frauen- Merkmale und Tatsachen. Online: https://www.frauen-gegen-gewalt.de/de/infothek/toetung-von-frauen-femizid.html (last access: 14.02.2022)
- Bona, Marzia/Burba, Alberto. Frauenmord in Europa: Ein Vergleich zwischen Unterschiedlichen Ländern. Online: https://www.europeandatajournalism.eu/ger/Nachrichten/Daten-Nachrichten/Frauenmord-in-Europa-Ein-Vergleich-zwischen-unterschiedlichen-Laendern (last access: 14.02.2022)
- Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen: Femizide in Deutschland – Eine empirisch-kriminologische Untersuchung zur Tötung an Frauen. Online: https://uni-tuebingen.de/fakultaeten/juristische-fakultaet/forschung/institute-und-forschungsstellen/institut-fuer-kriminologie/forschung/gewaltkriminalitaet/femizide-in-deutschland/ (last access: 14.02.2022)
- Bündnis Istanbul-Konvention (2021). Alternativbericht zur Umsetzung des Übereinkommens des Europarats zur Verhütung und Bekämpfung von Gewalt gegen Frauen und häuslicher Gewalt. Online: https://www.buendnis-istanbul-konvention.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Alternativbericht-BIK-2021.pdf (last access: 14.02.2022)
- Geschlechterstereotype im Gericht, z.B. Stelzner, Lena/Minuth, Anne-Sophie (2018). Genderstereotype in Sexualstrafverfahren – Eine Untersuchung duch Prozessbeobachtungen. Forum Recht 03/18, S. 89 – 93
- Loyola Law School. González et al. („Cotton Field“) v. Mexico, Case Summary. Online: https://iachr.lls.edu/sites/default/files/iachr/Cases/Gonzalez_et_al_-Cotton_Field-_v_Mexico/Gonzalez%20et%20al.%20v.%20Mexico.pdf (last access: 14.02.2022)
- Amnesty International (2021). Mexico: Failings in investigations of feminicides in the State of Mexico violate women’s rights to life, physical safety and access to justice. Online: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/09/mexico-failings-investigations-feminicides-state-mexico-violate-womens-rights-life-physical-safety-access-justice/ (last access: 14.02.2022)
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