It’s been almost two months since the murder of Honiefaith Ratilla Kamiosawa, a Filipina waitress working in Japan. Much of the sensationalist news coverage focused on the details of her murder, mutilation, and dismemberment. Her death was painted as an isolated incident, a cautionary tale for Filipina overseas contract workers.
I argue that her death is a feminicide, and just one in the Arroyo government’s long track record of tolerating and sanctioning violence against women.
Feminicide provides a framework for analyzing the murders of women as systemic problems, rooted in the state’s indifference to gender-based violence. The advocacy group Migrante employs the language of feminicide when it assails the Arroyo government for contributing to the young Filipina’s death, through “mismanaging our economy and failure in governance, for massive corruption, and for the criminal neglect of migrant Filipinos around the world.
Framing the murders of Honiefaith in Japan and Fatima Maulana in Saudi Arabia as feminicides highlights their connections to the murder of Lourdes Rubrico and other activists in the Philippine countryside. Feminicide is rooted in gender, a recognition that women like Honiefaith are murdered because they are women who could be killed. By understanding their deaths as feminicides, these murders emerge not as isolated cases, but as systemic failures of the state.
Thus, feminicide highlights the complicity of state authorities, the political and economic elites, in committing violence against women.
This excerpt from Victoria Sanford’s Feminicide in Guatemala provides a good working definition of feminicide:
Feminicide is a political term…. It holds responsible not only the male perpetrators, but also the State and judicial structures that normalize misogyny. Feminicide connotes not only the murder of women by men because they are women, but also indicates government responsibility for these murders, whether through the commission of the actual killing, tolerance of the perpetrators’ acts of violence, or omission of State responsibility to ensure the safety of its female citizens. In Guatemala, feminicide exists because of the absence of State guarantees to protect the rights of women. Impunity, silence and indifference each play a role in feminicide.
Indifference. Silence. Impunity.
Instead of retribution and punishment, feminicide centralizes the issue of impunity, of the state’s role in generating an atmosphere of violence. Already, the Arroyo government has gone beyond mere tolerance to actually sanctioning disappearances, abduction, and murder of women activists. Laws like the Human Security Act allow agents of the government to detain and arrest anyone accused of conspiring against the Arroyo regime, so the president could further ally her government with Bush’s War Against Terror.
The Philippine government, with the collusion of economic elites, thus propagates an atmosphere of violence that gives rise to feminicides, where killers can murder women with impunity.
Feminicide’s emphasis on impunity further highlights the limitations of framing justice as an issue of retribution, of meting out proportionate punishment to the perpetrators. After all, how is retribution relevant when the perpetrators are unknown? Or when perpetrators are agents of government institutions, such as soldiers and police officers? Why would the families of feminicide victims turn for help to the very agents who abducted and are suspected of murdering their wives, mothers, daughters?
Melita Carvajal, an advocate for women and the urban poor, was shot in the face and in the chest for being an outspoken critic of the local government in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Her friends and family knew better than to look to those same authorities for justice.
Mely. Honiefaith. Fatima. The Arroyo government is complicit in their feminicides.
And the most chilling part? Until victims’ access to justice processes are restored, until perpetrators are stripped of their impunity, feminicides and violence against Filipina women will continue.