In a small house in a faraway village, surrounded by huts and cows, there lies a woman, breathing hard in efforts to bring a new life into this world. Surrounded by her family, who are anxiously waiting to see the new addition, she reaches her goal and hears her child cry in the nighttime air. She smiles as her baby is placed in her arms, but then she hears a whisper in her ear: “It’s a girl.” Warily, the woman’s smile fades as she looks away from her child and into the eyes of her family, all of them with a look of expectation for the task that is now before her. She takes a rag in her hand, soaks the rag in a bowl of water, and takes a deep breath as she places the cloth on her child’s face. No longer being her child, no longer being wanted in the world, the baby girl will no longer be breathing, no longer a part of the living. This child now lies cold and limp in the arms of the woman who gave her life, killed by her own mother solely for being female. This scenario describes one of the 100 million instances of gendercide that are thought to have occurred in the world. (The Economist).
Gendercide is a sexually neutral term that describes the systematic killing of a specific sex. The previous example would be considered femicide, defined as a systematic killing of female children in utero, as newborns or as young children. Although the reasons for killing females can differ, often they stem from cultural contexts, family traditions or, in some countries, government policies. Another term related to gendercide, androcide, refers to the killing of males, usually for cultural reasons. An example of androcide would be if a country were to kill its enemies’ men to minimize the amount of capable soldiers in wartime.
In regard to femicide, the subject of killing females is one that is barely spoken of in the countries where it is taking place, yet there are some people who do not know that something like this exists at all. The documentary “It’s a Girl” offers a deeper look into the subject, and it allows audiences to gain knowledge on a subject they might have not have known existed. It raises several issues: How does femicide affect the world as a whole, and what are the problems associated with it? Not to mention the blatant attack on the female gender and the increasing lack of respect toward females in these cultures, which will be passed down to further generations. Females in these cultures lack recognition within their society, and they are forced to be silent in their views of an old tradition. They have no control over their bodies as well, with the choice of life or death in birth given to the families.
In its hushed state of reference, this could be a practice that is done all over the world, but the main contributors to this cultural demand of more men are the world’s two largest countries, China and India. What causes this acceptance for what is ultimately deemed to be a mass murder? Looking at India, many generations are acclimated to a centuries-old tradition of a dowry — the price a bride’s family pays to marry her off (Wikipedia). This is a form of payment from the bride’s family to her husband to ensure she is well taken care of in their marriage. It is a social process that allows for the woman to have her inheritance before the death of her parents, but under the law in India, women are not given the right to their inheritance. Femicide occurs in families that cannot afford to pay future dowries. So, families in poorer castes aim to have a son in order to gain that financial status once the child is ready for marriage.
Culturally, this tradition affects society’s views of women — they’re treated more as property rather than an equal who is committing to a partnership with her husband. Family dynamics of the new marriage are also affected because now the husband has expectations to meet, and one of them is his wife giving birth to a son. This can cause hardships, abuse and, in extreme cases, a wife’s death in a sad practice called dowry death. If a family decides a wife is unfit for the husband, rather than returning and her dowry to her family, the in-laws will kill the woman instead. With a slow court system and lack of proper evidence, many of these deaths are unresolved and ignored.
In China, femicide is more of a result of national law, backed with a cultural preference for boys. An estimated one out of every six girls is eliminated through sex-selective abortion, abandonment, or infanticide, which equals an astonishing 1.1 million female deaths every year (AllGirlsAllowed.org). The law is the government’s one-child policy, a population control policy implemented in the 1970s as a solution to China’s many environmental, social, and economical problems. Government agencies such as the Population and Family Planning Commission enforce this law by making families register and making violators pay heavy fines, creating an anxiousness in Chinese society to abide by this policy (Wikipedia).
The one-child policy, although approved of by 76 percent of China’s population according to a 2008 survey (Pew Global), has high costs for China’s society, even thought its purpose was to decrease the costs of the government. The policy has led to increased negative social consequences, and it is controversial both within and out of China. In some families, daughters are kidnapped and become victims of bride trafficking, in which girls are raised or brought into marriages, employment and sexual exploitation in direct response to the gender imbalance in China. Over the past 20 years, the rates of kidnappings, trafficking in women, and sexual violence have doubled.
On a personal note, with the imminent birth of my very own daughter and after watching the documentary “It’s a Girl,” I began to really wonder about what the thought process was for women who had to suffer the knowledge of giving life to a female child. I wonder how they are capable of killing the children themselves, how it feels to be forced to have abortions, and what emotions were triggered when they decided to stand up against the law, their culture and their families. By viewing this documentary, I had the opportunity to learn more about a subject that I only vaguely knew about, and I now have a whole new perspective, considering the fact that I am bringing my own daughter into the world. What kind of world will she be brought into? Luckily for us, it is one in which we will not be directly impacted by such traditions and laws. Yet it is also a world where the day that she is born, across the globe will be someone who is not so lucky, with a daughter who will not be given the chance to live a life. With the problem of gendercide still existing, it is harder to walk along blindly with the knowledge that women have to suffer from this practice. But what can someone on the other side of the world like myself do?
Some solutions can be found by joining an organization like the Gender Awareness Project or All Girls Allowedand helping them by showing support and speaking out for those who might not be able to. Gendercide is a problem that is worldwide, yet it is not recognized or seen as taboo to speak of. If the stigma of having daughters is released, and if we support changes in tradition and laws, a new world can be created where females are not seen as property, nor will they be discredited in their society solely for being a girl.
Emma Banuelos is a member of the Nerdy Girls Society-STL. She is a writer and a feminist who enjoys to cook and travel, and she is becoming quite the knitter. She is embarking on a new journey into parenthood and enjoying exploring her new hometown of Saint Louis. Follow her on Twitter @emmabanuelos and see as she develops her writing skills on her blog http://emmabanuelos.wordpress.com
Author: Carolyn Noe
Carolyn is the Founder & Executive Director of Super Heroines, Etc. She is a recent transplant to Cincinnati and lives with her husband and her dog. She regularly nerds out about Parks & Rec, Firefly, and Pride & Prejudice.