Femicides: Belgium still failing to collect data despite pioneering law

Femicides: Belgium still failing to collect data despite pioneering law
Protestors in Brussels at a national demonstration against violence against women in 2021. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Laurence, Ingrid, Marie-Anne and Stéphanie. These are the names of the four Belgian women who died at the hands of their husbands. Despite introducing a pioneering law to collect data on such deaths, complete figures are still missing.

A total of 26 women were victims of femicide – the intentional killing of women because of their gender – last year and so far this year, four women have already been killed in the same way. Across Europe, more than 14,000 women were intentionally killed for being a woman between 2012 and 2022.

However, this figure is likely an underestimation of reality, as few countries recognise femicide, resulting in many deaths being written off as "ordinary" murders. Belgium signed the Council of Europe's Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention) in 2016, which requires signatories to collect statistical data on gender-based violence.

Belgium last year positioned itself at the forefront of the battle against gender-based violence with a new law, the Stop Feminicide Law, in which the legal definition of femicide was enshrined and boosted protections for victims.

Recognising that, to fully understand the phenomenon and its scale, more accurate official statistics were needed, the country also vowed to improve the collection of statistics on the phenomenon. Belgium is one of the worst performers when it comes to femicide data collection, but suddenly became one of Europe's legislative pioneers in the fight against this crime.

However, almost one year later, Le Soir reported that, while the Federal Government does collect general data on cases of domestic violence, as well as on suspects of domestic violence and their gender, no figures on femicide victims could be provided, not by the Public Prosecutor's Office, nor by the Federal Police.

Not reflecting reality

While in many cases a breakdown can be made between minors and adults and between men and women for the perpetrators, this information is not provided for the victims.

Any statistics shared by the government on femicide so far were compiled by feminist associations such as the Stop Féminicide blog, which sifts through press articles to give a face and name to the victims. But these figures have serious limitations as, due to the lack of official information, the press is the only source, and not all deaths are named as femicides or reported on in connection to domestic violence, for example. This means some crimes are potentially overlooked.

Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Marie-Colline Leroy (Ecolo), Secretary of State for Gender Equality, explained that the count is still being drawn up and that the aim is still for Belgium to have official data.

However, several feminist organisations have stressed that, even if the law does eventually ensure data collection, Belgium still has a long way to go. Notably, they argue the measure is not well-funded, is meagre in terms of prevention and is virtually non-existent on the issue of primary prevention to reduce the risk of violence occurring.

Most importantly, it does not aim to change mentalities – for example through educating young people – meaning the cause of the problem is not being tackled.

Meanwhile, the term femicide has not made it into the Penal Code, meaning it cannot be used in criminal procedures. Several lawyers have also highlighted that the temporary residence bans are in practice difficult to implement, meaning the actual protective measures offered to victims are limited.

Related News

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.