This is a long-standing demand that still finds no response. On Saturday November 25, the inclusion of femicide in the French penal code will be among the demands of the demonstrations planned throughout France against violence against women. Spearhead of the marches, the collective

The term theorized by sociologists Jill Radford and Diana Russell in 1992 as the “killing of a woman because she is a woman” is today widely used in the media, social sciences and everyday language. Furthermore, the tragic countdown continues: since the start of 2023,

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Emmanuel Macron used the term in 2019, calling for “a legal status to be given to this subject”. Four years later, in French criminal law, femicide is not an autonomous offense and, therefore, does not have its own definition and penalty.

A crime punished but not formally recognized

If the term femicide is not legally recognized, an arsenal of repression exists: voluntarily killing a woman because of her gender is an aggravating circumstance, as is committing murder as a partner. Since a law of July 9, 2010, exes are also targeted. Without naming them, the law already condemns femicides as aggravated murder and therefore allows sentences of more than thirty years’ imprisonment, such as life imprisonment.

However, these criminal qualifications “do not allow us to say a word about the crime perpetrated because of the sex of the person which is the result of patriarchal and systemic oppression”, opposes Violaine de Filippis-Abate, activist for Osez le feminisme ! and lawyer. A position joined by Maëlle Noir, member of the national coordination of

However, it is this symbolic dimension that opponents of inclusion in criminal law reject. Carole Hardouin-Le Goff, director of studies at the Paris Institute of Criminology and Criminal Law at the University of Paris-Panthéon-Assas, regrets a desire to “vote criminal laws to simply recognize a social phenomenon and show the seriousness of the issue, while the tool to suppress it exists. Criminal law therefore becomes a symbolic law.” She also warns of the risk of legislative inflation.

Recognizing a criminal specificity when a woman is the victim of a murder also poses a legal problem, according to the lawyer. “The law wants two things: to maintain neutrality and above all universality. This is the reason why criminal law does not distinguish between citizens – men or women,” she explains, recalling that the principle of equality before the law is constitutional. Moreover, the terms “infanticide” and “parricide” were repealed from the penal code in 1994 “so as to consider any situation”, analyzes Victoria Vanneau, legal historian at the law and justice research mission, created at the initiative of the CNRS and the Ministry of Justice. “Putting feminicide in the penal code goes against this desire for neutrality and universality,” adds Carole Hardouin-Le Goff.

What is the definition?

Does this definitively bury the debate? “The law must reflect society and needs to adapt to the lack of equity, rather than equality,” argues Maëlle Noir. As for the risk of unconstitutionality, it is up to the “Constitutional Council, in the event of a referral, to decide whether femicide infringes the principle of equality before the law,” recalls Violaine de Filippis-Abate.

However, even before considering a referral to the Constitutional Council, the debate was never really invited to Parliament. In 2020, a parliamentary report concluded that “the inclusion in law of the term femicide seems to pose more difficulties than it would provide real solutions to the care of women victims of violence”, recognizing, however, a need to develop its use in other spheres.

Currently, the legal arsenal intended to punish femicides is limited to the marital sphere. A limit that Inter Orga Féminicides, a meeting of feminist associations, wishes to overcome. For a year, its members worked on a definition and concluded that it was “the forced murder or suicide of a woman because of her gender, regardless of her age or the circumstances”, therefore including the murder of a woman. by a work colleague, for example. Maëlle Noir recognizes that it is “an activist definition that is difficult to implement but which can be adapted and codified”.

In reality, there is no single definition of femicide. In 2012, the World Health Organization – which speaks of “femicide” – listed four cases with different motivations. The widespread meaning, retained by Larousse, is the “murder of a woman, a young girl or a child because of her belonging to the female sex”. A meaning close to the vocabulary of law and the human sciences which speaks of “homicide”. The difference lies in the fact that homicide can be intentional or not while murder is the “intentional act of causing death to another”.

Victoria Vanneau recalls the difficulty of legally defining femicide. “For mass crimes, like in Mexico or Canada, these women were killed because they were women, but in the marital context, how can you prove that a spouse kills his wife because she is a woman? He kills her because she’s his wife, so it’s more complex. »

Coercive control, a notion that achieves consensus

Beyond these criticisms, would the offense allow for a better criminal response? Not so sure, according to Carole Hardouin-Le Goff. Today, when a judge cannot determine the aggravating circumstance of femicide in a murder, the criminal classification of murder remains. “In the case of an independent crime, if the elements are not all present, the judge cannot convict for “femicide” and it is up to the prosecutor to prosecute under a new charge, such as violence leading to death without intention to give it. » A crime punishable by fifteen years in prison, compared to thirty years for murder.

However, a notion interests jurists, feminist associations and politicians: that of coercive control. This involves one member of a couple going through the other’s phone, checking their clothing, monitoring their spending or even preventing them from hanging out with their friends. “Unlike control, where we examine the victim, it is simpler and objective for a judge to ask whether a particular person exercised coercive control,” compares Carole Hardouin-Le Goff.

The recognition of this mechanism is important for associations in the prevention of feminicides “because coercive control is considered at the basis of the continuum of violence” which can lead to feminicide, develops Maëlle Noir, who deplores that this concept applies exclusively within the couple.

In mid-April, Isabelle Rome, then minister for equality between women and men, launched a working group to study its possible entry into the penal code. “In the feminicides that I judged, I found this mechanism 9 times out of 10,” assured the former president of the Assize Court. A desire to move forward on this issue also expressed by Bérangère Couillard, the current minister.