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
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