Calls for femicide to become separate crime in Greece mount as two more women killed

The Greek government has come under growing pressure to introduce femicide as an offence in the country’s penal code amid outrage over the growing and unprecedented number of women being brutally murdered by their partners.

Two women were murdered by their husbands within five days last week, bringing the death toll to 17 since January, according to state-run television. Both men allegedly told police that they had killed their wives out of fear that they would leave them.

On Saturday police narrowly prevented an 18th woman being killed by her husband when officers broke down the door of the couple’s house as he held a knife to her throat.

With the Mediterranean country shaken by the sheer savagery of the killings, calls have mounted for tougher legislative action to confront what are seen by many as hate crimes.

Highlighting the issue, Alexis Tsipras, the country’s former prime minister and main opposition leader, emphasised that time was running out. “Disgust and fury is not enough. It’s the time for action.

“We’re already late,” he said, deploring the Greek parliament’s refusal to discuss the issue. “Recognition of femicides by the state ought to be only the beginning.”

A dramatic rise in domestic violence – attributed increasingly to the pandemic and months of confinement – has been accompanied by a string of brutal murders, putting renewed focus on abuse in Greece.

From the start of the year, Greek media has reported victims being shot, strangled, suffocated, stabbed, beaten and drowned, with many of their arrested partners reportedly confessing to the murders.

The femicides come amid unparalleled allegations about sexual abuse of women in the arts and sports worlds. The revelations have been widely seen as a turning point for a society that remains one of Europe’s most socially conservative.

In November the centre-right government responded by initiating a public campaign urging victims of domestic and gender-based violence to speak out. It also established a 24-hour helpline and is set to expand a network of counselling centres.

Changes to the penal code more recently have ensured that the severest penalties will be meted out to those found guilty of murdering women, with perpetrators no longer able to cite extenuating circumstances in the hope of receiving a lighter sentence if the act is deemed a “crime of passion”. The justice ministry is also poised to overhaul domestic violence legislation drafted more than a decade ago.

The country’s gender equality minister, Maria Syrengela, described the measures as unprecedented. “There’ll be no ability for men to claim they acted in the heat of the moment, that it was a crime of passion,” she told the Guardian.

“And when the domestic violence law is redrafted in line with the Istanbul convention, we will of course advise that femicide is included,” she said. “It’s about time.”

It was appalling, she added, that in cases of homicide, men in Greece had been able to claim “provocation”, or claim that it was a crime of passion, when the murders amounted to the ultimate exercise of power over women.

“We will be one of the first countries in Europe to have a law that refers to femicide and that is what is important,” she added, noting that no EU member state had so far incorporated the intentional killing of women and girls as a separate criminal offence.

Classes on sex education and promoting greater awareness of diversity have also been introduced in schools.

But the opposition say the policies still fall short of what is needed. With passions running high and graffiti condemning the hate crimes appearing more often around Athens, the left-wing opposition has vowed to keep up the pressure until femicide as a motive is introduced into the country’s criminal code.

“It has to be recognised as a term and as a crime,” said Eirini Agathopoulou, Syriza’s spokesperson for human rights and gender equality. “We have tabled proposals twice in parliament but the government simply refuses to discuss it.”

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