With the recent shootings at UCSB, there has been a lot of talk about the gendered nature of homicides, where the gender of shooters is almost invariably male, and the gender of the victims is largely male but also female.
I would like to pursue the point that, indeed, homicide is a gendered social fact. So, first, check out this visualization of the proportion of homicide by gender:
Let me note that ratio is not the appropriate term here. The map actually represents the proportion of males in the sum of homicides in a country. For instance, if you take Zambia, about 78% of murder victims are men, hence the dark blue color.
Now, you can notice that any country in red, orange, or yellow would be a country where the proportion of women victims of homicide is higher than that of men. The light yellow color would represent rough equality in the gender of victims (between 45 and 55%). So, congratulations, Iceland, on being the only country where 100% of murder victims were women. Anyone care to guess the murder rate in Iceland? The most recently published data show 1 murder in the last year (2012). I presume the unfortunate victim was a woman.
Similarly, you will notice rough equality in Germany and a couple of Scandinavian countries (Finland and Norway), and a couple of smaller European countries, Japan and South Korea. These are all countries with low murder rates.
Otherwise, the rest of the map is solidly blue, that is, there are more men victims of homicides than women, sometimes, dramatically so. And these darker blue countries are also countries where the murder rate is higher. Let me explore that a bit further with some more UNODC data I have used before.
Let’s look at where the homicides are, compared to population size, so we can get a rough sense of over/under:
Clearly, Africa and the Americas are the continents where homicides are a major issue. No surprise here. But when one adds the gender aspect of this, we see two different dynamics at work:
Women are more likely to be killed by a spouse (or ex), a relative, or an acquaintance. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be killed by someone they do not know (a rival gang member, for instance) or an acquaintance. For women, victimization is an intimate thing. Not so for men.
Let’s add another layer to this:
As you can see, high-homicide rate countries have more men victims, and the murders are more likely to take place in public places. On the other hand, in low-homicide rate countries, the proportion of women victims increases and these homicides become privatized, taking place at home.
This goes to the larger context: countries where homicide rates are high are countries where governments have a hard time exercising legitimacy and authority, and therefore, obtaining and retaining a monopoly over the use of force (see; Weber). So, such a country might have a very big gang / drug cartels / paramilitary groups problem. These groups are composed largely young men, who might end up killing each other. And the internal culture of these organizations is very much hegemonically masculine. Moreover, when a group like the Zetas engage in mass murder, they do not just as a tactical matter, but also as a public statement of power (hence the gruesome stagings). These killings are a form of “public policy” for these groups.
On the other hand, in countries with low homicide rates, governments tend to be stable and able to exercise their authority over their entire territory. As such, there is less public violence and less challenging of governmental authority. Therefore, murders become more private matters and women are more likely to be the victims.