Why Is This A ‘Female Genocide’ And Not Gendercide or Femicide?
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?
ABOUT THE ARTIST/DESIGNER OF POSTER
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.