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Why Is This A ‘Female Genocide’ And Not Gendercide or Femicide?

July 31, 2010

Poster designed by Abro. All Rights Reserved. This poster is at The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

This is a post for The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Q & A forum on India’s female genocide.  To see other questions that will be answered in this forum by the campaign founder, Rita Banerji, or to put your own questions down, click here.  To cite, please follow our copyright guidelines.


A man left a message on one of my flickr postings on female genocide in India.  He said, “The word ‘genocide’ doesn’t apply here; it only cheapens the word.”

I swallowed my fury and thought, “At least he has the guts to express his opinions.” So I asked him to explain.

He said, “This situation does not fit the legal definition of genocide [as in] the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).”

The U.N. Article defines genocide as:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

I counter argued. “Actually this a genocide based on that very legal definition of genocide.” Females are being killed in India at every stage of life only because they are female. Nobody wants girls – not before birth and not after!  This is a TARGETED elimination of a specific group.

More than 50 million women have been killed in India in 3 generations.  More than a million female fetuses are selectively aborted every year.  Thousands of new born girls are strangled, drowned or buried.  Girls under 5 years of age have a 40% higher mortality rate than boys that age, because their parents don’t want to spend on their food or medicines.  A girl is not worth it; it’s better to let her die.  More than 25000 young women are gang-lynched by their husbands and in-laws in dowry related murders every year, while their parents look away.  Thousands more, who don’t succumb to the attempts to burn, hang or poison them, live with physical and emotional trauma. Every 5 minutes, 1 pregnant woman dies, often because women are forced to undergo repeated abortions to rid potential daughters.

Females genocide in India is the result of an extremely virulent misogyny just as the Jewish genocide was the result of an extremely virulent anti-Semitism. Then why should this dehumanization and mass extermination of women not be recognized as ‘genocide’?

My flickr visitor had a very simple answer.  He said because the U.N. definition applies only to the case of “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”  But there is no mention of gender!

At this point I felt the need to point out to him that he must be insane!  What an argument!  Still I elaborated.  This law was written in 1948.  The men (certainly there were no women in that group) who sat around a table in 1948 and wrote up the U.N. Genocide article, were thinking in a time zone when women were not even considered a social human group.  Countries in Europe, like Switzerland,  at that time, did not even give women voting rights.  The U.S., which had a history of black slavery, gave the right to vote to black men before women in general got the right to vote.

However, about a decade later, in 1959, Peter Drost (The Crime of State, Volume 2, Leiden, 1959, p. 125) said, Genocide is the deliberate destruction of physical life of individual human beings by reason of their membership of any human collectivity as such.” And in 1994, Israel Charny affirmed, “Genocide in the generic sense means the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, under conditions of the essential defencelessness of the victim.” (Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions ed. George Andreopoulos, 1997)”

So I told my flickr visitor,  “Genocide is the mass killing of a group of humans. It does not matter what group of humans!”  And just to state the obvious — women are a human group!

Sometimes a conversation like this gets surreal.  Here I am an Indian woman, arguing that the elimination of millions of Indian women (women like me) should be recognized as genocide when this man offers a sage piece of advice, “Your cause is good and the situation of killing or aborting girls on the basis of gender is horrible. I am just saying that you are tending towards hyperbole and inaccurate terminology, and that is off-putting to people who want to deal with this disturbing problem in a precise and serious manner.”

He further recommends that we just use the word “Gendercide [because] it specifies the nature of the problem better than ‘genocide’, and it doesn’t diminish the problem one bit.”

Gendercide! Femicide! Why this resistance to calling the mass extermination of women a genocide? We did not think that the mass extermination of Jews was Semiticide or that of Tutsis was Tutsicide.

Regicide does not have to mean the mass and targetted killing of kings.  It can even be the killing of one king. The same for matricide, patricide, infanticide.

When do we prefix a group’s name to –cide to make references to its mass and targeted killing?  The only examples I can think of are fungicide, bactericide, insecticide etc.   When we refer to the mass killing of women and girls as femicide  – we are putting women in the same living category as fungus, bacteria and insects – the non-human category! To be treated with the same casual indifference.As the man in conversation here has summed it up so fittingly:

The term ‘female genocide’ he says “cheapens the word [genocide].” It is a “hyperbole and inaccurate terminology, that is off-putting to people.”

Ah! The obscenity of being a woman!

The more important question here is – is the resistance of governments and international bodies, including the U.N. to affirming the female genocide in India a deeply misogynistic tendency that refuses to recognize women as a human group?  Indeed, it one of the two largest human groups! Or is it just a clever strategy to avoid the kind of international human rights action that all genocides warrant?


Abro is an eminent artist and global human rights activist. He is a member of The 50 Million Missing Photographers’ Group which is supported by more than 2300 photographers/ artists from around the world.  To see more of  his worksclick here.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2010 5:56 pm

    I strongly support this way of understanding genocide. I have written a comparable argument in “The Hunger Holocaust.” Genocide Prevention Now. No. 2, April 30, 2010.

    Aloha, George

  2. Robert Meyer permalink
    July 31, 2010 6:31 pm

    I wonder what the man in the artcle would think if the situation was reversed:

    “More than 50 million men have been killed in India in 3 generations. More than a million male fetuses are selectively aborted every year. Thousands of new born boys are strangled, drowned or buried. Boys under 5 years of age have a 40% higher mortality rate than girls that age, because their parents don’t want to spend on their food or medicines. A boy is not worth it; it’s better to let him die. More than 25000 young men are gang-lynched by their wives and in-laws in dowry related murders every year, while their parents look away.”

    Would that be ‘genocide’?

  3. August 1, 2010 10:51 am

    If we could make sure that a child would be conceived as one gender or the other, this could eliminate many nations of the world. Any people with a deep mysogynist streak in their culture could be wiped out in a few generations, with the full cooperation of the people targeted for elimination. Just give them the technology to conceive only boys. Then they will have all boys. Most of those boys will never have the chance to marry. In the next generation there will be no women, which leads to no mommies, which leads to no babies (of either gender), which ultimately leads to no people of any age when the elderly die off.
    Life haters hate women, the givers and nurturers of life.
    The attacks on Indian women are a slow genocide against the Indian people, performed by their own in many cases.

  4. Sunil permalink
    August 1, 2010 5:22 pm

    We in India are scared of calling a spade a spade. You do recall I had supported (on Wikigender) the use of the word ‘genocide’ based on the UN definition!

  5. Neil Pharr permalink
    August 4, 2010 1:38 am

    I was born in the USA in 1948, a time when the United Nations was defining genocide. I remember as a youth of thinking that India was so advanced on the spiritual level. I believed India would give the moral leadership the world needed to end the Cold War and help humanity learn to build a human civilization worthy of the name. Now as an old man I understand that India will never know anything of spirituality or morality as long as it permits the murder and genocide of women. I am so disappointed with India – it seemed that there were lessons to be learned for the Vedas – I was mistaken.

      August 6, 2010 11:22 am

      @ Neil. Very True! Spirituality in India has got reduced to mindless rituals and obscure, in the sky — theories! But it has forgotten that ultimately it is about the human condition. How human beings in a society treat each other.

  6. August 4, 2010 8:28 am

    stop violence to woman!

  7. nat permalink
    September 8, 2010 7:21 am

    Every time I stumble upon a really good post I usually do a few things:1.Show it to my close contacts.2.Bookmark it in all my common bookmarking websites.3.Be sure to come back to the same blog where I first read the article.After reading this post I am really thinking of doing all 3…

  8. Jenni permalink
    September 8, 2010 11:44 am

    Aaaaargh!!! “female genocide…cheapens the word [genocide]” WHAT??? That statement implies the WORD has value. Excuse me, sir, but I believe it is PEOPLE, including women, that have inherent value, not some word!

  9. John448 permalink
    October 30, 2010 6:20 pm

    Very nice site!

  10. Paday permalink
    November 1, 2010 9:08 am

    Could you write another post about this topic due to the fact that this post was a bit hard to fully grasp?

  11. Ellens permalink
    November 1, 2010 12:45 pm

    Great informative post, Do you have any other articles on this particular subject?

  12. Ezra Howden permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:40 am

    Mooie post.

  13. cafew permalink
    November 10, 2010 5:20 am

    Straightforward and well written, thank you for the info

  14. November 10, 2010 6:53 am

    Thanks for letting us know. We’ve tried to fix it. You might need to subscribe to the RSS feed again. If the problem persists do let us know.

  15. Philip Negrete permalink
    November 13, 2010 7:26 pm

    Most of the occasions I go to a blog and see that the design is poor and also the writing is poor. On the contrary, I have to say that you have done a good job here.

  16. Lajuana permalink
    December 12, 2010 5:41 pm

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  17. Keith Gallier permalink
    December 22, 2010 8:03 pm

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  18. March 30, 2011 6:25 am

    This is absolutely heart stopping, utterly despicable, evil & unacceptable on every level, and in every way, shape or form! I say this not only as a woman, as a Christian, as a Lay Pastor, etc. But I say this as a human being sharing this earth & living in this wicked world with people so arrogant, so self-absorbed, so left-brained, so egotistical, and so high & mighty that it makes me nauseous to even write these words!

    I am a married white-American female who loves all people, of all races, all cultures, all genders, and all backgrounds! But even so… I have a major problem with many!! My husband who is a MAN of another race… would never in a million years or EVER, say what that male individual said! I am no feminist either, and in fact, I detest it! But I am fully aware of the degradation that women have suffered for 1000’s of years & still suffer to this day!!

    For any person, especially a man… to even contact you, Rita, and say that he has a problem with you calling this horrific, evil, vile, spirit stripping nightmare these precious women are forced to endure…. and that it does not fall under the “legalistic” definition of genocide… (especially bringing up the U.N full of woman haters) tells me all I need to know about that male person!

    Whether he wanted to, or not! He has come off as an ignorant, ego-driven, pretentious, discriminating, narrow-minded “ICONOCLAST” to the plight of women! Not only these women, but “ALL WOMEN” from the garden of Eden to the very one who sits here typing these words!

    Rita… I know why you brought yourself DOWN to his level & argued your extremely correct & legitimate point… But I want you to know that you don’t have to do it! I also want you to know that GOD caused me to “accidentally” come across the site & this page! I was doing something else that had absolutely nothing to do with any of this! BUT, I am so glad I am here! And now that I am here… I have a very urgent message for you!

    GOD loves you IMMENSELY… and HE loves what you are doing! GOD loves women & cherishes them far more than any of us can ever comprehend! HIS heart aches at the evils of men… especially evils against children & women!!

    The LORD GOD shall bless you beyond your ability to even comprehend! Cry out to HIM Rita… HE is waiting for you!! And know that I will pray for your cause with every fiber of my being and every inch of my soul! I will also pray for that man & call on the LORD to take the blinders from his eyes!

    And I want to personally thank you & symbolically shake your hand, give you a hug & tell you… “JOB WELL DONE!!” You are doing a great & mighty thing for these women!! Your work, your tears, your sleepless nights, your days of utter sadness & depression have not gone unnoticed by HEAVEN… nor by millions of people!!

    And I give you my word… I am adding the plight of these women to my project in which millions more people will know what is going on & they WILL take notice… and you will have the prayers & support of MANY extremely loving people… like you!!

    Love…. In The Name OF JESUS CHRIST….
    Pastor Lisa

    Ps… If you need any thing from me & I can help… I will be honored!! Contact me!!

  19. March 30, 2011 10:50 am

    Good blogging site, keep me personally through searching it, I will be seriously interested to know more about it.

  20. emery permalink
    December 24, 2011 12:35 am

    a lot of the justifacation for these crimes is population control. the truth is that eliminating just girls will not do this. allready men with money are trafficking women across India to be sold to the highest bider. soon they will go beoynd India to every other poor country there is to get more victems. countries like Thailand, Vietnam, the Phillippens, and Ukraine will probably be the traffickers top targets. once that happens there will be no population control.

  21. Frans Groenendijk permalink
    August 26, 2013 2:26 pm

    I think there is also a good reason to use the word femicide instead of genocide: femicide is at least as evil as genocide, but it is even a level higher on the scale of total insanity.

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