The much-awaited screening of the It’s a Girl documentary was held this Tuesday 19th February at the World Youth Alliance Europe apartment in Brussels. Having attended the screening hosted by Gay Mitchell MEP at European Parliament back in November 2012, the WYA Europe team was inspired to bring this documentary to an audience of young people and guests, and allow for lively discussion following the film.
According to the United Nations, there are 200 million girls are “missing” due to gendercide in the world today. This gender-based killing takes many forms including selective abortion, infanticide, severe malnutrition, medical neglect, abandonment and dowry-related murders. The film focuses on India and China and shows stories of girl children abandoned; violence towards women; dowry death; and the increased trafficking of girls in China due to the shortage of girl brides. The problem of gendercide also occurs in other regions but the documentary focused on China and India due to the sheer size of their populations.
Fiona Pitt, intern at WYA Europe, and Juan Ignacio Fernandez Torres, Director of Advocacy at WYA Europe, led the discussion. Participants debated whether or not gendercide is a type of genocide, and the implications of China’s One Child Policy.
The documentary explains how the low worth of women in societies is the root cause of this gendercide. Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s Rights without Frontiers, suggests that this devaluing of females could be visible in the high levels of female suicide in China: “Could this epidemic of female suicide in China be related to forced abortion, force sterilization, and female infanticide? How does a woman feel about herself as a woman if she has killed her own daughter just because she’s a girl?”
One Indian woman in the documentary told of how she killed eight of her baby girls. It is, seemingly, the extraordinarily calm manner in which she told her story that made it so shocking to many of the young people present. “I would kill the baby and bury it. Women have the power to give life and the power to take it away.” Others in the film casually told of how they used acid to suffocate, or killed by strangulation.
The question was raised whether the concept of human rights is in itself “Western”. Some members of the audience had concerns that when people advocate for human rights and dignity, many communities in developing countries may react that the human rights language does not affect them, for it is predominately a “Western” notion. Yet, as Juan Ignacio Fernandez Torres explained to members and friends present, human rights is founded on the concept that dignity is intrinsic to all people, and is universal, no matter what culture or tradition to which they belong.
Human rights, we must state, have always existed, and exist worldwide; it is only in recent years that such rights have been formally recognized; yet these rights, nevertheless, are something intrinsic to mankind. We see in the case of India and China, this basic right to life is violated by the mothers themselves – this does not mean that human rights don’t exist in the same way in India and China, but rather that these rights are violated (just as they continue to be violated in the West). Members noted that this gendercide seemed to occur not because the concept of human dignity or rights is different in these communities, but rather it is so accepted that females are worthless in comparison to their male counterparts.
A person’s tendency to respect or violate human rights is determined to a large extent by the cultural and social norms – the societies – in which they live. We must ensure, therefore, that our societies promote and uphold a social and cultural background, as well as a legal framework, that allows for the protection of human rights.
The concern of gendercide therefore, as portrayed in It’s a Girl, is first and foremost, that such an abuse of human rights is so much accepted the norm in many communities throughout the world. As Rita Banjeri, founder of the The 50 Million Missing Campaign, concluded, “You do not get to this scale without everyone being involved in some way. Either it’s happening in the families in terms of feticide, dowry violence, or they’re involved in the police or courts, or they’re turning a blind eye when it happens in their neighbour’s house or in their neighbourhood. Everyone is involved, perpetuating a system, turning a blind eye, aligning it to continue. So it is when you say, save the girl child, no one is listening. Who are you talking to?”