“I felt we could only keep it if it was a male, and kill it if it was a female child. I just strangled it soon after it was born.” A slightly built Indian woman says this through nervous laughter in a trailer for the documentary film It’s a Girl! It is a chilling and unbearable scene to watch. It’s a Girl! documents the killing of girl children, particularly in India and China, in a gender-selective process that many refer to as female infanticide, or femicide. To put it bluntly, babies are aborted or killed for one reason: because they are girls.
However femicide is not an isolated issue within India and China, but rather a symptom of a larger global issue at hand: the under-valuing of the girl child. I read in horror last month about a man in Afghanistan who strangled his wife to death because she gave birth to a baby girl. The United Nations estimates that as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of “gendercide” or female infanticide.
So what is it about our global society that tells us to prefer boys over girls? Why is this happening? The main reason is one of the same that keeps families from putting their girls in school: the fact that sons are often seen as breadwinners and daughters as financial burdens. Deeply entrenched cultural practices, such as dowry payments by a bride’s family, also affect a family’s preference for giving birth to boys. Although with less violent impact, a recent poll shows that even in the United States, boy children are still preferred to girls. The preference has remained the same since 1941.
My first reaction is to say ‘this is tragic.’ But after further consideration, this preference for boy children is not only tragic but also misguided. More girls are receiving an education and finally receiving opportunities to make an impact in their communities. The statistics are there: when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40% for a man. It is also true that when women have the same amount of land as men, there is over a 10% increase in crop yields. When women are educated, a country’s GDP increases about 3%. Yet still, when international development funds are allocated, less than two cents of every dollar is directed specifically to girls.
By investing in girls’ education and encouraging families to put their daughters in school, we are placing value on the girl child.
We must educate communities on the ‘girl effect‘, the power that one girl can have in her community and in the world. By saying ‘yes’ to supporting girls’ education, we are also saying ‘yes’ to the importance of investing in girls—saying ‘yes’ to letting girls live.