Diana E.H. Russell and the creation of a new term

A year after Diana Russel's death, her work on the anti-apartheid movement, but especially on feminism, leaves a strong foundation for research. Her numerous books are a source of knowledge and the invention of the term feminicide has allowed to point out a huge societal problem.

An academic and feminist activist, Diana E.H. Russell dedicated her life to fighting for victims of rape and incest. She was also fiercely opposed to the pornographic industry. She coined the term "femicide," which she defined as "murder with a misogynistic motive motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership of women". Crossing the terms "femicide" and "homicide," the politicization of the subject highlights the fact that misogyny leads to deadly crimes. She uses this word for the first time at the International Tribunal for Crimes against Women in Brussels in 1976.


Diana Russell was born on November 6, 1938 in Cape Town, South Africa. After graduating from the University of Cape Town, she went on to study social sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 1963, she was admitted to Harvard, where she studied sociology and revolutionary movements and devoted part of her studies to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In 1989, after meeting with activists in the movement, she published a book entitled "Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa", which has now been cited more than 150 times in other publications.


A very prolific author, she is at the origin of the first scientific work on incest, "The Secret Trauma", published in 1986. A true basis for studies on the subject, the book is cited today in more than 3000 scientific articles. In another study of 1984, based on an interview of 930 women, the author showed that among women who lived their childhood with their biological father, one in forty is sexually molested by her father, and this probability rises to one in six if the woman lived with a stepfather.



The term was first transcribed in 1992 in the book "Feminicide, the politics of killing women", which she wrote with Jill Radford. Their article is now cited nearly 1000 times.

Feminicide is defined as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. The term does not have exactly the same meaning in different countries: in Latin America the term "feminicidio" is used to describe the failure of governments to respond to the murder of women. Internationally, it is used more generally to refer to the killing of women and girls. Although this definition is broad to encompass the fact that sometimes women are involved in these murders, it is recognized that men are the main perpetrators of feminicide, and that most are committed by male partners.


Feminicides can take different forms, whether they are feminicides in armed conflict, associated feminicides (where the woman is "collateral damage"), dowry-related, honor-based, genital mutilation-related, lesbophobic, racist, etc.



Image: women are the biggest victims of their partners


In France, there is no official feminicide observatory. In 2006, the Institut médico-légal de Paris published a survey that showed that the murders of women were carried out in 85% of cases by their husbands, relatives or partners. In 2018, one third of the 120 women killed had previously filed a complaint or a handrail.


The creation of the term feminicide is of paramount importance in order to really state, and therefore fight against this phenomenon.


Image: Diana E.H. Russell, world-renowned feminist activist


Diana Russell spent her life fighting crimes against women through scientific studies. For 45 years, she wrote numerous books on rape, incest, pornography, and feminicide. She is also a grassroots activist, active in feminist events in the United States, South Africa and Europe. She has been responsible for tagging feminist slogans and destroying pornographic magazines.


In 2001, she received the Humanist Heroine Award from the American Humanist Association. She passed away on July 28, 2020 at the age of 81 in the United States.

Reference :

Russell, Diana EH. "The prevalence and seriousness of incestuous abuse: Stepfathers vs. biological fathers." Child Abuse & Neglect 8.1 (1984): 15-22.