The Need for a Femicide Observatory in Latin America

Conceptual Framework

In Latin America, the terms femicide and feminicide are used. The term femicide was first used by Russell and van de Ven (1976) who stated that the word femicide was introduced because “we must realize that a lot of homicide is in fact femicide. We must recognize the sexual politics of murder” (p. 144). Caputi and Russell (1998) view femicides as the most extreme form of terrorism against women that is motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership. In 1998, Jacquelyn Campbell and Carol Runyan refined the term femicide by suggesting that all killings of women, regardless of motive or perpetrator status should be considered femicide. The term feminicide is used in Latin America to describe an extreme form of violence against women and also to highlight the social, judicial, and political context which normalizes the crime (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2014). The term feminicide, is, therefore, used to emphasize “a structural focus on the state as a gendered institution complicit in this violence” (García-DelMoral, 2018, p. 936). Feminicide is viewed as the murder of women by men but it also includes “an analysis of the response or non-response of the State to murders of women” (Widyono; 2009; p. 10). It is seen as a crime which is tolerated by many Latin American governments which do not vigorously investigate nor hold the murderers accountable for their actions (Widyono; 2009). Countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama use the term “femicide”, and El Salvador, Mexico, Peru and the Plurinational State of Bolivia use the term “feminicide.” Other countries label the crime of female homicide as “aggravated homicide due to gender (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019a, n.p.).

Extent of Femicide

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an average of 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or family member every day. The statistics provided by UNODC indicate that more than half of the 87,000 women murdered (50,000) in 2017 were killed by a partner or a family member. This figure translates to 1.3 per every 100,000 women. The largest number of women who were killed in 2017 worldwide by an intimate partner or a family member was in Asia (20,000), Africa (19,000), Europe (3,000), and Oceania (300). However, when the rate of femicide for 2017 worldwide is examined, the hightest rate was in Africa at 3.1 per 100,000, followed by the Americas (1.6), Oceania (1.3), Asia (0.9) and Europe at 0.7 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2019).

The Fourth Femicide census of the United Kingdom reported that over half (61%) of the women killed by men in the UK in 2018 were killed by a current or former partner. This information was based on person who were charged or convicted of homicide (BBC News, 2020). In 2018, several countries in Europe reported an increase in the number of femicide cases. These countries included Germany with 147 cases, France with 121 and Italy with 121 (Statista, 2020). In 2016, Malta had the highest rate of homicides of women in Europe at 0.92 per 100,000 women, followed by Iceland (0.61) and Croatia with 0.51 (McCarthy, 2018). In 2003, Spain, began recording the number of femicide cases and by June 2019 it recorded its 1,000th murder of a woman by a partner (Blunt, 2019).

During the year 2017 and 2018, there were 15.2 murders for every 100,000 adult women in South Africa (Wilkinson, 2019). In 2016 Jamaica had a rate of 15.5 per 100,000 for “female interpersonal violence death” followed by Lesotho (15.4), South Africa (12.5) Guinea-Bissau (11.1) and Haiti with 10.6 (Wilkinson, 2019).

Extent of Femicide in Latin America

Through its Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has been collecting data on femicide in the region for several years. It reported 2,795 femicides in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017. El Salvador had the highest rate with a rate of 10.2 femicides per 100,000 women, followed by Honduras with 5.8 femicides, Guatemala with 2.6, the Dominican Republic with 2.3 and Bolivia with 2.0. Venezuela, Panama and Peru were the only countries in the region with rates below 1.0 (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2018). In 2019, ECLAC reported that there were 3,529 victims of femicide in 25 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The data for 2018 were similar to those of 2017: the countries with the highest rates of femicide (or feminicide) in Latin America were El Salvador (6.8), Honduras (5.1), Bolivia (2.3), Guatemala (2.0) and the Dominican Republic (1.9). Other countries with rates above 1 included Dominican Republic (1.9), Paraguay (1.7), Uruguay (1.7) Mexico (1.4) and Ecuador (1.3). All the other countries, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela had a rate of 1.0 or below 1.0 per 100,000 women (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019a).

Apart from the statistics compiled by ECLAC, many of the countries collect national data on the extent of femicide in their countries as shown in Table 1 below. It shows that Mexico (81), Brazil (68), Colombia (50), Guatemala (41) and Venezuela had the highest number of femicides for 2019. It is also important to note that the statistics were reported by different organizations/agencies in the region.

In Latin America, one of the most the profound effects of the home quarantine due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been an increase in violence against women. Several Latin American countries are experiencing a rise in the number of femicides during the quarantine. Data from Argentina indicate that from March 20 to April 10, there were 49 femicides; this means that the murder of a woman took place every 24 hours. Fifty percent (56%) of the perpetrators were partners or ex-partners, while in 89% of the cases, the victim knew their aggressor (Prusa, Nice, & Soledad, 2020; Wadhwa, 2020). During the first week of the quarantine, there were 3 femicides in Bolivia. In the first month of the quarantine, 4 femicides were reported in Chile (Wadhwa, 2020). In Columbia 19 femicides occurred during the quarantine (from March 24 to April 14). As a matter of fact, 3 females were murdered on the first day of the quarantine. A man killed his wife, her sister and mother inside their home (Wadhwa, 2020; Parkinson, 2020). According to a women’s right organization, in Mexico an astounding number of 163 femicides occurred between March 16 and April 14 during the quarantine (Wadhwa, 2020). Peru’s Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP) reported that 7 feminicides occurred during the quarantine and social isolation of March 16 and April 15 (LATIN AMERICA NEWS DISPATCH, 2020). The Feminist Network against Gender-Based Violence reported that there were 21 femicides in El Salvador between March 21 and May 14 of the quarantine (Guzmán, 2020). The incidents listed above indicate how dangerous Latin America is for females, especially in a time of crisis.

Challenges of collecting Data on Femicide Collecting accurate statistics on femicide in Latin American countries is challenging, mainly because in most of the countries in the region, there is an inconsistency of the legal definition of femicide, inconsistencies in the collection of the statistics, and mislabeling of femicide as homicide.

Latin American Countries Reported Femicides_2019

Challenges of collecting Data on Femicide

Collecting accurate statistics on femicide in Latin American countries is challenging, mainly because in most of the countries in the region, there is an inconsistency of the legal definition of femicide, inconsistencies in the collection of the statistics, and mislabeling of femicide as homicide.

Inconsistency in Legal Framework

Several of the countries in Latin America have incorporated the crime of femicide into their criminal codes. Eighteen countries in the region have either passed laws making femicide a crime or incorporated gender-based homicide of women as a separate crime in their criminal codes (Infosegura, 2019; Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019b). In Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru, femicide is codified as a crime. In Argentina and Venezuela, the crime is considered aggravated homicide, and the Dominican Republican still has no specific criminal category for gender-based violence (Global Americans, 2020). However, these laws differ in their approach to the crime of femicide. The legal definition varies from a broad definition to one that is applied only to intimate partners. The Chilean and Costa Rican laws define femicide within the context of a relationship as a relative or an intimate partner. In 2012, Argentina incorporated the word Femicida (murderer of women) in its criminal code, as an aggravated type of homicide perpetrated against women by a man. Nicaragua defines femicide as a specific gender crime and expanded the legal definition to include economic and psychological violence against women (Neumann, 2017). In Colombia, the killing of a woman for simply being a woman or for how she expresses her gender identity or sexual orientation is considered a femicide. As a matter of fact, three years after passing a femicide law in 2015, Columbia prosecuted the murder of a transgender woman as femicide (NBCNews, 2018; Acevedo, 2018). Initially, Chile’s femicide law was restricted largely to the murder of live-in partners or spouses. However, in January 2020, the Chilean government expanded the definition of femicide to include the killing of non-married partners and increased the penalties for the homicide of pregnant women and minors. This law is called Gabriela’s Law, named for Gabriela Alcaino, who was murdered by her boyfriend (Reuters, 2020). This lack of consistent, regional prescribed legal definitions results in the misidentification and mischaracterization of femicide cases as general homicides. Consequently, most cases of femicide are underreported. This severely underestimates the true extent of femicide in the region (Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America countries and the Caribbean, 2019b). 

Inconsistencies in the Collection of the Statistics

The collection of accurate and standardized data is essential for assessing the nature and extent of femicides in each country as well as implementing preventive measures against femicides. In Latin American, however, each country has its own data collection procedures. In addition, the statistics on femicides are generated by different countries’ institutions, such as the police, forensics institutes, ministries of the interior or public security and academic institutions (Brazil and Honduras). In 15 countries, the police, public security institutions, forensics institutes, ministries of the interior are responsible for producing official data on femicides. In seven Latin American countries, the public prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office are responsible for femicide records, in three countries the statistical institutes generate the statistics, in two countries the judiciary, and in one country the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In some countries of the region, femicide figures are produced by more than one institution (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019b).

Femicide Observatory in Latin American

There are a few countries in Latin America that created formal entities to collect national data on femicides. Mexico has established the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide which is an alliance of 49 human rights organizations from 22 Mexican states and is considered the largest “Observatory” on the femicide/feminicide in the Latin American region. The Public Ministry of Peru has developed a femicide registry that records intimate femicide and non-intimate femicide in Peru (Global Americans, 2020). Argentina has also created the Femicide Registry of the Argentina Justice – Registro de Femicidios de la Justicia argentina – and the national government formed the Registry, Systematization, and Tracking Unit for Femicides and homicides aggravated by gender (Claros, 2015). The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (2019b) has proposed the development of femicide registration system for Latin America and the Caribbean to improve the collection of data on femicide.

It is quite evident that the present approach to collect statistics on femicide in Latin America is not harmonized. The inconsistencies and weaknesses in the collection of data on femicide in that region are barriers to investigations of femicide, the development of meaningful prevention programs and strategies, and successful research, activism, and advocacy. Comprehensive statistics are necessary for the surveillance of trends in femicides that can improve the understanding of the nature and extent of femicide in the region. 39 What is therefore needed is a regional observatory on femicide in Latin America which standardizes the collection of statistics in the region.

The following recommendations/guidelines will form the framework for the establishment of the Observatory which will generate consistent, credible, and comparable data on femicide in Latin America.

a) There needs to be a common definition or terminology for femicide. This may require the amendment of some of the existing femicide legislation in Latin America countries so that a common definition can be determined. This uniformity will result in comparable statistics among the countries in Latin America.

b) There should also be standardized guidelines for identifying intimate femicide and nonintimate femicides, including femicides by strangers. It will also be necessary to establish standardized classifications of various forms of femicide.

c) The statistics on femicide should be systematically collected from multiple sources including police, mortuaries, fatality reviews, survivors’ interviews and other credible sources. In addition, standardized procedures for the collection of the data should be established in every Latin American country and the information on femicide should be submitted regularly to the Observatory for publication (Widyono, 2009).

d) The information to be collected should include the sociodemographic information of the victim, the incident report (location, date, weapon used etc.), details of the cause of death, and motives for the femicide. The sociodemographic information of perpetrator and the victim-perpetrator relationship should also be included, when available.

e) The standardized and uniformed collection of these statistics, when compiled, can be used to compare trends in femicide, over a period of time, in the different countries in Latin America. The statistics can also be used to determine risk factors for femicide victimization (Widyono, 2009).   

The specific purposes of the Observatory will be to:

a) collect, integrate, and store accurate and reliable information about femicides in Latin America. This data should be aggregated by gender of victim and offender, age of victim and offender, the victim-offender relationship, the nature of the victimization and context of the femicide (if available). This information will form the foundation for a surveillance system.

b) gather data from multiple stakeholders and sources to provide a holistic and comprehensive picture of femicide in Latin America.

c) develop a common standardized definition of femicide. This will also include standardized indicators of different forms/contexts of femicide, using a multidimensional and multifaceted approach. In addition, it will collect qualitative data about femicide.

d) conduct data analyses to identify risk factors for femicide and patterns and trends over time. Such information should be used for the creation of effective intervention and prevention strategies.

e) disseminate information to the stakeholders and the general public. The goal is influence public policy with a gender perspective so that evidence-based, effective and targeted interventions can be created to address the problem of femicide.

f) recommend how the data collected could be used for crime prevention strategies.

g) evaluate ongoing anti-femicide strategies by Latin American governments and nongovernments actors and experts in their quest to prevent femicide.

This proposed regional Observatory will coordinate all the activities outlined above, thereby creating a uniformed approach for the collection and dissemination of data on femicide in Latin America countries.


Femicide is one of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence in the Latin America. An understanding of this phenomenon requires reliable, comprehensive and comparable data that will measure the nature, extent and scope of the problem. The collection of such data will be the basis of targeted responses and prevention of femicide. This chapter recommends a number of strategies that will improve the quality of the data collection on femicide if Latin American countries work together to establish a regional Observatory on femicide.

All of the strategies recommended in the chapter are vital for the establishment of a Femicide Observatory in Latin America. In addition, the multisectoral approach to data collection on femicide will provide critical information for the designing of intervention and prevention programs against femicide. Information collected by the Observatory will contribute to increased public awareness of femicide, raise the visibility of femicide, and form the basis of successful advocacy efforts.

Gender-based violence, such as femicide, is not the priority of every government in Latin America but many Latin American countries have made some legislative strides with regarding to femicide. However, legislative reform is not enough to address the crime of femicide in the absence of comprehensive, creditable and reliable data. The successful establishment of a Femicide Observatory for the collection of data in Latin America to measure femicide and inform the shaping of public policy is vital and this will require the commitment (socially, financially and politically) of all the governments in region. It is therefore, imperative, to convince all the governments in the region of the urgent need for a Femicide Observatory in Latin America.

An Article byJanice Joseph, Ph.D. and Arleen Gonzalez, J.D., Stockton University, New Jersey, U.S.A


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