Why Are So Many Women Being Killed in Rich Countries?

Why Are So Many Women Being Killed in Rich Countries?

By Devon Van Houten Maldonado


Because violence against women remains a problem even in unexpected places.  

By Devon Van Houten Maldonado

Male victims accounted for 84 percent of all violent deaths worldwide in 2016, excluding conflict zones, says a study conducted by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group based in Geneva. Tragic, but not unexpected.

However, the study also uncovered a surprising statistic from affluent regions with historically low rates of violent crime:

In Western Europe, women were the victims in 44 percent of all violent deaths — the highest regional rate in the world.

Trailing close behind were Australia and New Zealand, at 36 percent each. Moreover, seven countries with high GDPs and low rates of violence saw equal or greater numbers of women being killed than men in 2016: Austria, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Slovenia, South Korea and Switzerland.

Turf wars and other drug-fueled violence may ravage the streets, but the real threat may already be inside, behind closed doors …

Granted, the total number of female victims of violent death in those countries was small. Between 1979 and 2010, the homicide rate for females in Western Europe, for example, was one per 100,000, and for men 1.4 per 100,000 — among the lowest overall homicide rates anywhere, according to a 2017 study by Meghan L. Rogers and William Alex Pridemore.


In contrast, Central and South America has one of the world’s highest murder rates. And yet from 2011 to 2016, the Small Arms Survey study found that women and girls comprised just 11 and 12 percent of violent deaths. 

In Mexico, that type of ratio may be changing. During the same period, it had the highest homicide rate in North America — 27.9 per 100,000 males and 2.7 per 100,000 females. But after the drug war began in 2007 and violence increased, femicide and female violent deaths also rose sharply.

Feminist author Susana Vargas, who studies gender-based violence against women in Mexico, didn’t find the Small Arms Survey study surprising — it illuminates long-standing inequality between rich and poor nations, even if it is an inverse relationship in this case. She notes that studies like these undermine the scale of the problem in a place like Mexico City, where she lives and works. “Common knowledge is that, yes, in nonconflict countries … women … are treated with more equality,” Vargas tells OZY. However, “there is a great bias against … underdeveloped countries.”

The Small Arms Survey monitors data from 221 countries, although only rough estimates are available for 64 nations. As of 2016, 103 countries began providing sex-disaggregated data. It revealed to researchers that there is an inverse relationship between violent deaths and the average percentage of female victims, meaning that as the overall violent death rate in developed nations goes down, the percentage of women killed by violence goes up. 

One possible explanation as to why gender-based violence against women is disproportionately high in societies where fatal violence has nearly been eradicated: 38 percent of female murder victims worldwide die at the hands of intimate partners, according to a 2013 report by the World Health Organization. So, turf wars and other drug-fueled violence may ravage the streets, but the real threat may already be inside, behind closed doors.

As Irene Pavesi, one of the authors of the Small Arms Survey study, tells OZY, “The proportion of female victims of homicide indeed sheds light on the prevalence of violence against women across settings.”