Photo by Ihsan Haffejee/GroundUp
Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
There are no words to describe the shock when a man cold-bloodedly murders his wife, seemingly without motive. One such a guy was Dr Colin Bouwer, a psychiatrist from South Africa, who emigrated to New Zealand, with his wife Annette. He engaged in a succession of extramarital affairs both in New Zealand and in South Africa. One of his lovers was Anne Walsh, who worked alongside Dr Bouwer at both the university and the hospital in Otago. After attending a conference in Copenhagen together towards the end of 1999, their affair flourished. It was also the same time when Annette Bouwer, who had previously enjoyed perfect health, began feeling dizzy and unwell. The sicker Annette became, the more Anne entered the children's lives as a close family friend. Dr Bouwer in the meantime had written prescriptions for glucose-lowering drugs, grinding them up with a mortar and pestle, and giving them to Annette, most probably in her food. Annette died in January 2000, but her regular doctor refused to sign her death certificate without having a post-mortem conducted. Dr Bouwer objected to a post-mortem of his wife, but his objection was overruled. Significant levels of sedatives and insulin were found in Annette's blood and a further investigation showed they had been obtained via 11 forged prescriptions. After spinning many lies, Colin Bouwer had to face the music and was eventually sentenced in 2001 in New Zealand to life incarceration - of which he had to serve a non-parole sentence of 15 years (refer to Servamus: February 2006 for this crime story).
Violence against women is institutionalised through family structures, social and economic frameworks as well as through cultural and religious traditions (Laurent, 2013). Therefore many people do not recognise that violence against women is in fact a crime. That is why it becomes difficult for some women to recognise that there is in fact something wrong with the way others treat them. Femicides are not isolated incidents arising suddenly and/or unexpectedly. In fact, femicide is the ultimate act of violence, experienced as part of a broader continuum of violence and discrimination. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the rate of women being murdered.
Gender Links for Equity and Justice (2014) estimates that worldwide approximately 66 000 women are violently murdered each year. Southern Africa is ranked as one of the five regions in the world with the highest rates of femicide. Lopez (2015) argues that it is possibly for this reason that society seems so desensitised about the horrors of violence against women and why some can so easily make light of a serious problem. Another reason is that South Africa is governed within the confines of a deeply patriarchal culture, one that is often marred by misogynistic ideology, values and attitudes which at various levels, and whether done so overtly or subconsciously, objectify women and impose notions of their inferiority to men. Within this context, violence against women is more easily excused or ignored.
The extent of femicide
Stephanie Burrows, a technical officer at the Violence and Injury Prevention programme of the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that the organisation's latest murder estimates provide data for 2015. They collected data using a questionnaire which was completed by respondents "working on violence prevention" in various ministries and institutions. Data was collected for the years 2000 to 2010 and by using this, the organisation projected murder figures for 2015. She noted that the estimated global rate of femicide (see definition for femicide below) for 2015 was 2.4 per 100 000 women. South Africa's rate for the same year was 9.6 per 100 000 women. This implies that South Africa's rate is almost four times that of the global average when considering the latest estimates (Makou, 2017).
The year 2017 started off badly for women and children in South Africa, when, during the first five months of the year, more than 20 women and children made the headlines after they had been murdered. The list of victims include Nicola Pienaar whose body was found in January 2017 with her pregnant belly slashed open as if she had a C-section; Akhona Njokana who was shot in January 2017; Priska Schalk who was stabbed to death in February 2017; Thapelo Ramorotong who burned to death in March 2017; Manaki Annah Boys who was stabbed and burned to death in April 2017; Lerato Moloi who was raped and murdered on 29 April 2017; Sgt Sthembile Mdluli who was kidnapped and beaten to death in April 2017; Jeannette Cindi who was raped and stoned to death before she was set alight in April 2017; Popi Qwabi who was shot on 12 May 2017; Bongeka Phungula who was shot on 12 May 2017 and Mavis Mabala who was murdered on 19 May 2017 (www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/south-africa-a-country-where-women-and-children-end-up-as-grim-stats-20170522). This succession of brutal murders sparked national outrage and many calls for action were made to end the violence. One of those who strongly reacted to these murders was Cheryl Tshabangu of the Pink Ladies Organisation, who said that it is important that education starts young. "It's high time we taught a boy child what it means to respect a woman. We are living in societies that are broken. Most of these boys who end up being abusive are growing up watching the abuse happening at home," she said. The SAPS also hosted an Action Indaba on gender-based violence and protection of vulnerable groups in August 2017 to address, among other things, murder on women (femicide) and children. In addition, it is foreseen that dealing with gender-based violence, will in future form part of the basic training of police recruits.
What is femicide?
The term femicide was first proposed by Diana Russell at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in 1976 in order to name the intentional "killings of females by males because they are females". Ms Russell's definition is broadly used (UN, 2014) and according to her, femicide can be defined as "the murder of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women" and "the misogynistic killings of women by men". Vives-Cases et al (2016) stress that in relation with this definition of femicide, different forms of female murder are recognised, which include:
- intimate partner-related murders;
- honour murders;
- dowry-related murders;\
- forced suicide;
- female infanticide;
- gender-based sex-selective feticide;
- genital mutilation-related death cases;
- targeted killing of women at war; and
- murders in the context of organised crime.
Intimate partner femicide
Although intimate partner violence can be perpetrated by both males and females, Abrahams et al (2013) found that women are disproportionately murdered more by their intimate partners. Femicide committed by a current or former husband or boyfriend is known as intimate partner femicide. There is no shortage of examples of women who have been killed at the hands of men, some known to them and some total strangers to them. Some men are the direct perpetrators, while others hire hitmen to do the job on their behalf. From research it is clear that intimate femicide, whereby women are murdered by their husbands, boyfriends or ex-lovers, is the biggest problem. A UK femicide census report reveals that of 113 women killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016, 78 (90%) were murdered by a partner or ex-partner and 75% were murdered in their own homes (Bulman, 2017).