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When Women Kill Women. Feminicide in Asia

2 April 2013

A young Indian woman has just given birth to her child, but her eyes are dull and show no happiness: her baby is a little girl, unfortunately. She will have to kill her soon.

The opening scene of La malediction de naître fille (literally: the curse of being born as a woman) is only the tip of the iceberg of feminicide in Asia. We attended the screening of this documentary by Manon Loizeau last week, during the Festival de Films de Femmes in Geneva, to know more about this plight in China, India and Pakistan. WILPF has two active Sections in India and Pakistan.

The curse of being born as a woman
Feminicide in Asia
UN Photo/Mark Garten

Never was a title more appropriate, for little girls in Asia are often considered a burden and, as such, they are often poisoned, burned or abandoned at birth. According to the film, 100 million women are currently missing in Asia.

The documentary denounces the fact that raising a girl in India is often considered as “watering your neighbours’ garden”. Why would you want to invest time, money and effort in someone who is soon going to leave the nest to join her future husband’s family? Is it economically viable to raise a child that will inflict the family a financial loss with her dowry? Having a little girl is considered to be no good news for both poor and wealthy Indian families, which need a male successor to inherit the patrimony.

But the plague of feminicide is not an Indian prerogative. The film reveals it is widespread also in Pakistan, where it is mostly practiced by poor families that cannot afford to feed a hungry (female) stomach and in China, as the result of a fatal mix of 20 years of the single-child policy and patriarchal society.

Refusing is simply not admitted

The film stresses the fact that feminicide is linked not only to economic, socio-cultural and religious factors, but also to gender-based psychological and physical violence. Most of the women interviewed in La malediction de naître fille confess that they did not want to kill their babies. They did it under pressure from their family, neighbours and community. Refusing to do so often means being excluded from the village and abandoned, beaten or even killed by their husbands.

Many villagers seem not to realise that feminicide is wrong from a legal perspective (they believe a mother can do whatever she wants with her own child), nor from an ethical one (if a baby is killed by her own mum, it’s no sin).

Women: criminals or victims?

In some Indian communities, traditional customs put a double pressure on women delivering a newborn girl: they have to put an end to the life they themselves generated and bear the shame of being considered “useless” because “they were not good enough to have a male child.” No wonder why the woman in the opening scene of La malediction de naître fille was in such deep sorrow…

During the film screening, it was simply impossible not to feel at disease. The testimony of those women describing themselves as “torn from inside out” was just too intense not to make a strong impression on the audience. We could read in their eyes the ancestral sorrow of mothers killing daughters from generation to generation. Are they criminals or victims? It shouldn’t be so hard to tell.

The carrot and stick strategy is not working

Governments of affected countries seem to realise the social, demographical, political and economic risks that feminicide entails. They include the rise of unhealthy habits, violence, sexual abuses and crime in so-called “bachelor’s villages”. Their solution to the unbalanced sex ratio and feminicide is a mix of repressive and preventive measures. But, is that working?

The film is quite realistic in stating that although NGOs have done a tremendous job, governments’ efforts have not always been equally effective. Legal banning of dowry offering and feminicide is no panacea for a mostly secret practice carried out in remote rural Indian communities. And launching campaigns aimed at “loving girls” in China whist protecting the single-child policy sounds quite a paradox and a propaganda strategy. Not the best approach, indeed.

Women as factors of change

Focusing on the symptoms may be easier that tacking the root causes, but it is not always a successful strategy. Banning ultrasounds to prevent parents from knowing the sex of the fetus, as some people suggest, only shifts the problem from female foeticide to infanticide, but does nothing to solve the core issue of gender inequality.

La malediction de naître fille ends with an encouraging call. What if mothers-in-law accompanying their daughters-in-law to the doctor used their influence to persuade the soon-to-be mother to keep and love their female daughters, instead of killing them?

It may seem a small step forward in changing mentalities, but it may be a compelling reminder of the power of women to give voice to other women.

In those places where women kill women, women can find the strength to save other women. If you come from a country where feminicide is a daily practice, please share your experience with us and help us raise awareness about this serious issue among other women worldwide.

Written by Francesca

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations. She holds a PhD in Social Work and currently works at the University of Texas as the Director of Human Trafficking Research at one of the university’s think tanks. Of Mexican descent, born on the US and Mexican border, and raised between the two countries, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. She is also involved with the American Red Cross as a volunteer, trainer, and researcher focused on post-disaster aid distribution and work with undocumented Latinxs. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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