Friday, September 27, 2019

DEAD WOMEN COUNT





She counts murdered women. Not women 
wiped out in warzones by bullets and bombs, 

nor the 63 million missing in India - Rita Banerji 
keeps count of them. Nor is she counting 

the Korean Comfort Women, piecing
together what’s left of their bones 

from the fire pits where they perished.  Though 
that too needs done. No, she is counting close 

to home. But not the victims of wild-eyed strangers 
they drilled us to evade: stay with your pals when 

you leave the pub, don’t walk down darkened lanes, 
don’t take shortcuts through woods alone, don’t 

get into vans, don’t wear too short skirts, too 
high heels, low-cut tops, don’t end up a headline, 

a corpse a break-a-mother’s-heart statistic 
in a ditch. Though we miss them too. Every one. 

She counts women, girlfriends, wives, killed with 
shotguns, ropes, with septic tanks and fists, 

with poison, acid, cricket bats and knives, each 
murdered by a man who said he loved her once; a 

boyfriend, husband, partner, ex; a man she’d trusted 
in her heart, her home. A man who thought her life 

no longer counts. But she is counting, every week, 
every one. And we are counting with her.





The two images are of an artwork graphic designer Vahit Tuna from Turkey. 

Vahit hung a pair of women's shoes on a building in Istanbul for every woman killed in Turkey by their husband in 2018.


Women in the UK are more likely to be raped, beaten and/or murdered by men they know than by a stranger. One in four women will experience domestic violence.


Two women a week will be killed by a partner or ex-partner.

40% of cases feature over-killing. That is, being way, way more violent than he had to be if he'd simply wanted to "kill" her.


Yet to a great extent this domestic violence, this femicide, has become so normalised that we don't even recognise it as a major problem.

In fact, our news headlines often go out of their way to make up excuses for perpetrators. "Good fathers" snap and kill their "cheating" wives. "Lovesick" men kill the women they adore. As if the woman is responsible for his - an adult male's actions.

Time and again we are invited to feel sympathy for the man, who, we're told, now faces a future in ruins...  while the woman, no longer there, is already fading from view.


Which is why it is so important that the murders of these women are recorded - that we honour the memory of each individual woman, as well as record the build up of statistics.


Murdered women 2018 - Karen Ingala Smith

In the UK Jean Hatchett does sponsored bike rides every week for women killed by men they know.  But Jean doesn't just ride her bike, she also publishes something about the woman she's riding for, enabling the public to see her - and remember her as a fully rounded person in her own right, with friends and family who are grieving. Not just a victim whose last moments are being argued about in a court case, as if she's already become the female corpse we see far too often kicking off the story for detective series and thrillers, whether books or films. 


All part of the horrendous normalisation of male violence towards women in our society. As if by the end of the film/book we really do believe it's all okay, the world is steady on its axis once more because the killer is behind bars, justice has been meted out, and our tired and exhausted cop has done a good job and deserves that weary glass of whisky.


BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WOMAN? THE ONE THE STORY SHOULD REALLY BE ABOUT?


AND THE ONE AFTER THAT.


AND THE ONE AFTER THAT.


Karen Ingala Smith has been keeping count of all women murdered in the UK since 2013 with her Counting Dead Women campaignAnd again, Karen, who also runs a women's refuge in the north of England, understands the importance of restoring dignity to women who so often are only referred to on the press in such dismissive terms. She also collaborated on The Femicide Census with Women's Aid.



When Karen recorded her 1000th murder she wrote a moving piece detailing why she kept going. 


"I continued because I cannot bring myself to say that the next woman killed isn’t important. I continue because a focus on intimate partner homicides at the exclusion of other killings disguises and diminishes the true rate of men’s fatal violence against women. I continue because the killing of women by their current and former partners is so normalised that it is not recognised as a national emergency[....]I continue because the slaying of women by men, although it has happened at least 1,000 times in seven years, continues to be described by the police and reported in the media as an ‘isolated incident.’[...] I continue because I believe a different world is possible, but it is only by consciously committing to making changes that look at the multitude of factors that support and enable men’s violence against women, that will give us a hope in hell of getting there."


Inspired by Jean and Karen, a woman called Charlie started up another Dead Women Count in New Zealand. While these websites make for grim reading, they really do drive home just how normalised violence against women is in what we like to think of as our civilised western society. A society where, the narrative runs, women have equal rights, are fully protected under law, and are treated with respect.



And in the States there is Women Count USA, also known as the United States Femicide Database.  Nurse, Dawn Wilcox, started it after she saw the public outcry over the killings of two zoo animals, Cecil the Lion and Harambe the Gorilla.  She was taken aback that the public did not get so exercised over the killings of women in their own cities and hometowns. Killings which we are so inured to - why even our country and western songs contain them, complete with heartbroken lovers/husbands, such as Johnny Cash's song, Banks of the Ohio - we seem to think they are an inevitable part of everyday life.  IF YOU ARE BORN FEMALE.


Confession here. I've been singing/humming along, to the Banks of the Ohio for years not fully comprehending it was about a man brutally murdering his lover because she refuses to marry him and he suspects she's been 'untrue'. Same old, same old. And how as girls and women - and as men - we internalise this without realising. And it's not just the old songs. Eminem kept up the tradition when he rapped the pregnant girlfriend in the car trunk suicide song even though it was later censored. And hip-hop has its own streak of "ride and die" rhymes normalising/romanticising/numbing young minds to the horrendous misogyny that simultaneously reflects and shapes a culture that harms us all - but most especially women and girls.


The Women Count USA project aims not only to collect statistics on every woman and girl killed by a male, but Wilcox also works with her team of volunteers to track down photographs and details about each individual woman and girl, so they are not only recording them as murders, but as very real people. 


The statistics are chilling. In 2018, at least 1600 women and girls killed.


One of the issues in the USA is that unlike in some Latin American countries they do not have a clear definition of femicide - the killing specifically of a woman or girl by a male. This makes it much more difficult to present a clear picture of the true and horrifying extent of the problem. 

Statistics and terminology really do matter so we get a clear picture of who is killed and who is killing. 


Now, in whose interests would obfuscation be? Certainly not in those of women and girls. And in Canada Metis artist Jaime Black knows exactly who she wants to remember with The Red Dress Project, which she calls an aesthetic response to the more than 1000 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. With the donated red dresses she hangs in unusual and unexpected places she honours these women - and shocks a public grown all too complacent and content to turn a blind eye. 


Isn't it amazing that in different countries around the world women are volunteering to do this work, collecting names and statistics? Highlighting the extent of the problem. Commemorating. Refusing to accept that routine killing of women by men - so often as punishment/control/revenge - should be normalised to the extent we no longer as society really notice just how bad it is.

As Dawn Wilcox says, "Femicide, it's the end of the road, where all other abuses of women sort of lead."

Dead women count. We count dead women. And we are not going to stop. Until the killing stops. 


From Women Count USA website



If you, or someone you know is at risk, please reach out. 

Domestic Abuse Helpline (Scotland) 0800 027 1234 (24 hour service)
Victim Support Scotland Phone: 0800 160 1985 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm)


With thanks to Poets React (The Poets' Republic) on Facebook and BellaCaledonia where the poem Dead Women Count was first published September 2019.

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DEAD WOMEN COUNT

She counts murdered women. Not women  wiped out in warzones by bullets and bombs,  nor the 63 million missing in India - ...