Documentary on gendercide hits hard

Students discuss after the showing of the documentary. (Catherine Dubois)

On Wednesday, April 3rd, It’s a Girl was screened in the Elephant Room on the 3rd Floor of the Knowles-Douglas Building. Shot in India and China, the documentary focused on the systemic killing of individuals of a specific sex, or “gendercide,” through the stories of men and women whose lives were drastically impacted by local cultural practices and political systems adhering to patriarchal agenda.

In countries around the world, women at every stage of life are devalued. In countries like India and China, women fall victim to “gendercide”, dowry death, and sex-selective abortion, all of which are encouraged and enforced through deeply ingrained cultural traditions and government policies. Although this may sound like an issue best discussed among feminist circles and women’s rights groups, it is much more.

In Indian society, family status, wealth and lineage are passed down through generations via sons, while daughters are viewed as burdens for their inability to do so. Local villagers in the film, including one woman who had killed more than five of her own children because of their gender, expressed anxiety over raising female children, citing struggles with managing and protecting their household and securing income, especially when it comes to marriage dowries. At marriage, men inherit a generous marriage dowry from the bride’s family, sometimes forcing the bride’s family to sell land and other possessions to provide a lavish enough sum. However, some men who have been dissatisfied with their dowry have killed their wives out of anger, resulting in a rising number of all-female “dowry deaths” throughout the country. Unfortunately, most dowry deaths are frequently ignored in Indian court, and perpetrators are released with very minimal jail time and still receive custody of their children.

With greed at the core of the “social machinery” that professes ideologies of son-preference and discriminates against girls and women, areas with similar practices face potentially disastrous population distortions.

In China, the male to female ratio is immensely skewed due to the implementation of the one-child policy. With children essentially becoming a couple’s retirement plan, plus a son’s ability to carry on family tradition and the family name, daughters are less than desirable offspring. Some unwanted newborn girls are even deserted in boxes alongside riverbanks. Subsequently, there are 37 million more males than females in the country, effectively and severely unbalancing the ratio for marriage. This gives rise to the abduction and trafficking of nearly 70,000 children per year, with families kidnapping young girls to ensure a wife for their sons.

To add to the extremely gender-biased atmosphere, female children are being killed prior to birth through sex-selective abortions. By way of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act adopted by India in 1994, parents can legally abort their child if their gender displeases them. In China, the Chinese National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) was responsible (until it was disbanded in March 2013) for ensuring the one-child limit was not breeched, utilizing their authority to apprehend couples suspected of violating the law and execute abortions without the mother’s consent.

Pressured by family to obey the law, or feeling otherwise incapable of caring for a daughter, some women freely choose to have their unborn babies aborted.

“It’s heartbreaking to learn about groups of people who have dehumanized females so drastically that they can easily kill their own children because the child is deemed a burden for being a girl,” said BU nursing student Cindy Didych, who attended the documentary screening.  “Actions [like sex-selective abortion] make me wonder how, and at what point, our moral conscience is pushed to the side to justify our own ‘value’ of human life.”

Thought-provoking and frightening, It’s a Girl provides a glimpse into a culture quite dissimilar to our own.  It instills a fresh sense of respect and appreciation for life in all forms, and inspires one to take action to ensure that the right to life, and respect throughout all stages of life, remain uncontested. Unpacking gendercide, the film revealed issues commonly blanketed under umbrellas of feminism and controversial pro-life groups to be worth discussion within every nook and cranny of society as a whole. “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” remarked American politician Hillary Clinton about the United Nation’s 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session, and she couldn’t have been more right.

For more information on the It’s a Girl, visit the official website.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 28,  April 9, 2013.