Update: This post written for Franklin Templeton Investments sponsored Idea Caravan won a prize on IndiBlogger. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai.
There’s something very warm and welcoming about this woman featured above. I am not too sure how to define or describe it, but there’s something about her disposition that makes her come across as a very warm human being. She looks like a typical south India woman from the rural areas – homely, modest, nurturing and very motherly. Yes, she has such motherly aura about her. But I am glad she is not my mother. In fact, the truth is, long ago she had decided that she does not want to be a girl’s mother. So much so that when nature bestowed her bosom with daughters – 8 of them – she strangulated every single one of them, and buried the bodies in some corner of her farmland.
The warmth and the motherly disposition is now lost on me, as I watch her giggle and remorselessly gesture how she strangulated the girl child as soon as she was born – all 8 of them – year after year. ALL BECAUSE SHE WANTED A MALE CHILD.
And this, I have now discovered, is the just tip of the iceberg, all thanks to American filmmaker and activist Evan Grae Davis’ enlightening and goose-bumps inducing talk on gendercide at the TEDxGateway Mumbai. All this while, we had been hearing and discussing female infanticide, female foeticide, and selective abortion but it was only after watching Evan talk in detail about this horrifying phenomenon, that I was introduced to the word GENDERCIDE. Yes, in all honesty, I feel so ashamed of this, that as a supposedly ‘aware’ woman of the world, I was never aware that the randomly discussed-and-discarded issue of female infanticide and foeticide has now become a monster called gendercide.
A Monster called Gendercide
Gendercide is the deliberate and systematic killing of a gender group – usually girls. The United Nations estimates that as many as 200 million girls are ‘missing’ in the world today. Millions killed, aborted or abandoned simply because they were girls.
Census statistics report that in countries such as India and China, the male to female ratio is as high as 120 men for every 100 women. Today India and China eliminate more girls than the number of girls born in America every year. In addition to sex-selective abortion, gendercide also takes the forms of infanticide and violence against female gender at any stage of life. So much so that the girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members. A perfect case of the proverbial ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’.
Evan says he too was introduced to the word gendercide only after he traveled to India. (I am ashamed to write this – a country of snake charmers, magicians, and whatnots and now gendercide too – our country’s another claim to fame.) He had spent nearly two decades travelling around the world covering calamities of all kind – war, hunger, poverty, HIV Aids – but no horror of genocide had prepared him for this – standing at the edge of a farmland in southern India, looking at a row of graves and listening to a woman share how she had personally strangled 8 of her own newborn baby girls. Because she did not want a daughter, she wanted a son.
And that’s when he discovered that in this part of the world the three most deadliest words were: It’s a Girl, or as we say it in Hindi – Beti hui hai.
Evan has no hatred or derision towards the lady who killed her eight daughters, for he knows that this war against girls is rooted in centuries-old tradition and sustained by deeply ingrained cultural dynamics which push for the elimination of girls. That’s the social structure most Indian women grow up in – with the deeply embedded thought that the girls are inferior, a burden on the family and the society.
What’s ironical is the fact that it is not just the poor and supposedly unaware sections of society that hankers after a male child. The urban class is there too, albeit they do it all very discreetly. I am sure many of us know of family members or extended family members who bowed before the pressure of the so-called need for a male heir to carry forward the family name. And if it did not happen naturally, then there were many ways to work around god’s will.
So we see how an American activist comes to India and comes face to face with one of the deadliest genocides of his time, just that this genocide is gender specific – it is gendercide. So what does he do? Make a film out of it, express concern and move on? No, what Evan did was something very inclusive and of course, heartening. He collaborated with concerned Indians working in this field and came up with what is now called – It’s a Girl manifesto.
Here’s a clip from Evan’s documentary film It’s a Girl. The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughter’s lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son.
Both this videos give us a fair idea about the plight of women in India and China, caught up in a war against girls. In fact in China, the situation is worse. Government’s notorious One Child Policy has had serious repercussions on not just the male-female ratio in the country but also on the mental well being of millions of women who were forced to abort their girl child.
Studies and surveys reveal that besides the imbalanced sex ratio, gendercide in China has had far-reaching effects on its women and children.
- Around 500 women commit suicide in China every day.
- Violence against women and girls, discrimination in education and employment, the traditional preference for male children and birth-limitation policies are the major factors that contribute to the high female suicide rate.
- Around 8 million women undergo abortions every year.
- Over 35 percent of women who have had an abortion have another shortly after.
According to researcher Steven Mosher, it is no accident that “China’s women have the highest suicide rate in the world, not to mention the highest rates of breast cancer, all in consequence of having had their babies killed in utero by a state ruthlessly bent on population control.”
Here are some stark statistics that gives an idea about where India and China stand when it comes to the male-female ratio as compared to some other develop and not so developed countries in the world.
In the wake of all these stark statistics, Evan’s talk and work for the It’s a Girl campaign looks like a big ray of hope. For this campaign aims at not just enlightening the local communities of the affected countries about the numbing horrors of gendercide, but is also try to get the support international community in pushing for stringent measures to rein this brutality against the female gender.
What Can We Do for the Campaign?
I believe most of us here come from a different breed of women, women who were proud to have us and who gave us all the freedom to live our lives the way we wanted to live. They brought us up, nurtured us and guided us to make us what we are today – independent, healthy and happy individuals. They made men who love their daughter and respect their wives and see women as strong independent entities whose existence run parallel to them and not just around them.
So we all collectively can play a significant and practical role to help mobilize support for the movement against gendercide. As Evan so aptly suggests, we can all be the Culture Changers.
Let’s Take a Stand – Just because we are privileged enough to have a life that is largely devoid of the misgivings related to gender discrimination does not mean that we dismiss gendercide as an exception rather than a rule. Let us all talk about it and not just talk about it, let’s condemn it with well-meaning powerful words. Let us make our friends and families and everyone aware of gendercide, let’s make it famous, so famous the everyone knows about it, and feels ashamed to be a part of a culture that has for so long supported this heinous cultural trend.Let’s Speak Out – Millions of girls in India and China have no voice to demand dignity and equality and need support to defend them. Let’s speak out for justice for them, let’s stand with them in solidarity in every way we can – petitions, more documentaries, protests – whatever it takes to attract people and government’s attention. Let us push the government to make stringent laws against female infanticide, let us relentlessly push for severe punishments for crimes against women.
Let’s Involve the Men – No girl deserves to die because of her gender, and the good men in our lives and outside of it know that. Let’s us involve them in raising a strong voice against this reprehensible crime.
Involve the Media – Let us involve the media in highlighting the horrors of gendercide. Print, broadcast, web – all forms of media should be brought together to work in unison to create public awareness campaigns to increase the perceived value of girls in society.
Use Our Creativity – Let us use our creative skills to influence the people to come forward and show their support for this noble campaign. Sing, dance, perform, stage a play, make a film, write, walk, run – let’s do whatever we can do, use all our talents to help bring about a positive turnaround.Besides the above-mentioned broad steps, following concrete measures too would go
Besides the above-mentioned broad steps, following concrete measures too would go a long way in curbing gendercide:
Besides this, we can help make gendercide famous and mobilize a movement to restore dignity and value to the girls of India and China by taking one of the following actions (It’s a Girl campaign initiative) : sign the China petition (http://www.causes.com/itsagirlchinapetition), sign the India petition (http://www.causes.com/actions/1658138-tell-world-leaders-to-end-the-female-gendercide-in-india?reposter=789379), donate to save girls in China (http://www.causes.com/actions/1684039-help-mothers-and-daughters-at-risk-in-china?reposter=789379), donate to save girls in India (http://www.causes.com/actions/1681196-help-save-a-little-girl-in-india?reposter=789379)
P.S It’s heartening to see Evan interacting with concerned citizens on Twitter – he’s been following people and tweeting back replies to tweeple’s questions, thoughts and musings on gendercide. Here’s what he had to say on my blog post: