Throughout my journey directing It’s a Girl, and particularly now that the film is complete, I am frequently asked– and have often asked myself– what are the root causes of gendercide? I have thought a lot about it and continue to explore deeper, searching for the roots underlying son-preference culture and the devaluation of women around the world.
Although this is an extremely complicated matter, and, as an outsider my perspective is limited, here are some thoughts about one possible cause coming out of human nature.
As I look around me every day, it seems the fundamental questions that drive each of us are, do I matter? do I fit in? do I belong? do I have worth? does my life have meaning? am I valued by those around me?
They seem to be the eternal questions of life: why am I here and how can I find meaning in this world?
In an ideal world, every child that is born, whether boy or girl, is taught from the first day of their life that they are wanted. Valued. That they were born into the family they were meant to, and that they belong– regardless of gender or performance.
Because the family so often fails to instill this sense of value and belonging, our social fabric has been slowly woven over centuries by insecure people desperate to prove their worth by creating class distinctions and lines that separate based on status, wealth, ethnicity, religion, gender, education, pedigree– even geography.
Although there are healthy expressions of enterprise and desire for success, and not all motives to succeed are rooted in insecurity and need for worth, human nature is inclined towards one-upmanship.
Here in the U.S. you see the signs of this eternal struggle in the business world, sports and the entertainment industry. The malls are full of products designed to appeal to our need to be accepted and acquire status. The fashion industry sets standards for young women, determining what they must look like to be considered beautiful. Music and pop culture is steeped with subliminal messages to our young people that their value and social status is being measured by complex standards of appearance and behavior.
Every nation and culture have their distinctions.
For instance, the caste system in India is designed to endow value (or lack thereof) within the context of the larger community. To be born into an upper caste automatically assigns a level of value and belonging with which one can identify. The tragedy of the system is that in order for upper caste members to be assigned value, there must be lower castes to whom less value is assigned. Which means to be born into a lower caste automatically dooms one to be a nobody for the rest of one’s life, regardless of how hard they work, how intelligent they are, or what they accomplish in life.
Women have historically been the losers in this centuries-old battle for worth. For centuries women have been subjugated by patriarchal cultures and social structures that place their destiny and identity in the hands of their fathers, brothers and husbands– even clergy, employers and governmental officials who make laws that determine whether women can vote, own land, or live as independent persons.
Women in India are subject to additional standards of value. A son is born an automatic asset to his family. A daughter is born as a burden to her family– a deficit doomed to carry off a large part of her family’s wealth as dowry when she marries. She spends her childhood doing her best to offset the losses to her family by working very hard: cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, working in the fields. And even a girl born to a wealthy family who receives a good education is still subject to the rules of marriage.
Once married, an Indian women’s value to her new family is directly determined by how much dowry she brings and whether she bears her husband a son. What kind of identity message does a woman receive when she is married off in an arranged marriage, about which she has no choice, into a family of strangers who may abuse her and neglect her based on how satisfied they are with her dowry or whether she bears them a son? And throughout her life, the forces that determine her destiny are completely outside of her control. She has no influence over the value of her dowry. And it is a biological fact the the man contributes the chromosomes that determine whether she will bear a son or a daughter. Yet she is held responsible– often with her life, for matters completely outside her control.
The injustice of gendercide is the culmination of gender oppression dating back practically to the beginning of time and it is no wonder that women are saying no more. The clarion call of the feminist movement is that women have inherent value that transcends what is assigned them by the men in their lives! This call is echoing around the world and beginning to resonate among many women in India. Yet for the new generations of girls to become culture-changers, they need the support of the international community. Those brave enough to resist the system and demand equality put themselves at great risk.
Rita Banerji is one of the few Indian women risking making her voice heard. As an author, activist and one of the experts featured in It’s a Girl, Miss Banerji holds nothing back when exposing the roots of gendercide in India. She said, ” …the misogyny that promotes the objectification of women, treating them like usable and disposable objects, has such deeply pervasive cultural and historical roots, that it sometimes seems impossible to surmount. It permeates every corner of society.”
Miss Banerji has created a petiton demanding that the Government of India, The OHCHR, The UNICEF, The UNIFEM, The UNFPA, CEDAW, The EU and The G8 take immediate and effective action to halt gendercide in India. If you are as angry as I am at this ongoing and growing, systematic devaluation and violence against women in India, you can join me and Rita in signing this petition here.