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Jakarta Post

What's missing from media reports on femicide?

  • Andi Misbahul Pratiwi


Jakarta   /   Thu, September 12, 2019   /   08:40 am
What's missing from media reports on femicide? Illustration of gender-based violence (Shutterstock/rudall30)

The public will hopefully not forget the horror of the deaths of 14-year-old “Y”,   who was gang-raped before her murder in 2016 in Bengkulu, and “dr. L”, shot by her husband in 2017 in Jakarta. Both, along with many other women, were victims to gender-based violence, breaking our hearts again and again.

The extreme of such violence against women is murder against females or femicide. This concept is generally understood to involve the intentional murder of women because of their gender, or any killings of women or girls. Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways.

Femicide is always preceded by other types of violence, including physical, verbal and economic violence. The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) views that cases of violence against women are not only increasing in number but have also evolved with increasingly sadistic types of violence.

 The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's report “Global study on homicide” in 2011 showed particularly in Europe, between 40 and 70 percent of female homicide victims may have been killed by a partner.

Patriarchal culture is the root of this problem. While the law to protect female victims of violence is still not available in Indonesia despite increasing demand, violence continues to occur on various spectrums. The mass media takes an important role in building discourse about the killing of women. In reporting the case of femicides, the media often missing the gender-based violence issue, perspective, and standpoint.

News in the mass media tend to blame the femicide victim, and media often facilitate the perpetrators to justify their actions, as reflected in headlines and in the reports. For example: "Requested divorce, shot by husband", "Not permitted to see mobile phone, husband kills wife". Similar trends are found in reports on sexual violence victims.

Jane Monckton-Smith in Murder, Gender & The Media: Narratives of Dangerous Love argues that the media often develops the intimate partner femicide discourse only as a tragic story of a man's love for women, instead of building a story about violence itself and hence missing the value of human life.

The pretext of "love", "his love", "protecting", "depressed", "jealous", "out of control" cannot be used as an excuse to ease the punishment of the perpetrators. The mass media in responding to femicide cases should trace the history of violence or forensic narratives.

Such media reports that arise in preaching tones include (1) They kill for their love; (2) They kill because they are depressed, social pressure, etc; (3) They kill because they want to protect their loved ones, they kill their partners out of control.

The public, media and law enforcers need to be conscientious to see the issue of intimate partner femicide as a matter of humanitarian crime that has roots in gender-based violence, not just use "love" as the source of the problem.

Femicide is not only about a serious crime, but also about gender issues -- not only because the victims are women, but because there is a gender system that has long been constructed and thus difficult to see. So for instance when a perpetrator perceives a gender role or norm to be violated, such as a supposedly obedient wife demanding divorce, resistance can lead to anger and femicide.

In the case of femicide, media and society only focus on the man and his love and forget the voice of the murdered female victims. The community is busy looking for perpetrators, hearing stories from perpetrators. Even before the law, oftentimes the voice and perspective of the perpetrators are only present.

 In local mythology, adapted to our horror films featuring female spirits,  the kuntilanak is the ghost of a rape victim, and the sundel bolong with a hole in her torso is the ghost of a woman who dies while pregnant.

Instead of mystifying and sensualizing victims of violence through preaching and myths, why don’t lawmakers pass the bill on elimination of sexual violence? Why don't we improve maternal health services, to decrease the maternal mortality and infant mortality rates?

We should further take a stand for such women and girls even though they are dead.

Keep track of their stories, because there is always a trace of violence in it. Surely we will be brokenhearted many times, but at least we would get their stories right.


The writer is editor and researcher at Jurnal Perempuan, alumni of Master program, Gender Studies, University of Indonesia (UI).

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.