What if I was Maria?

confident with mom rita.banerji
As founder of The 50 Million Missing, a campaign on female gendercide in India, I am often asked by individuals if there is anything they can do to make a difference.

And my response is, “Yes, you can! Just be responsible for what YOU say, and what YOU do.”

Let me explain with Maria’s story.

old friends

Maria del Nevo who recently passed away in June 2012, was a British woman who in the 90’s had lived and worked in Pakistan.  Her account of her experiences there are included in a selection of letters from various women, published under the title ‘Letters from the Edge.’  However, this is not a story about a westerner encountering a facet of the South Asian culture.  Maria’s story is applicable to anyone who sees themselves as standing on the edge of the female gendercide. Not participating in it, but witnessing the cultural dynamics that propel it, and feeling helpless.  Maria’s story therefore applies equally to Indians (or Pakistanis) who would never demand a dowry or support female infanticide or feticide.   But they would still respond the same way that Maria did if they visited the house Maria did in this story!

While living in Pakistan, Maria was invited for a few days as a house-guest to a friend’s home.  It was a joint family, and Rani, the daughter-in-law, was expecting her first child.  Maria explains that  Rani was very anxious about the sex of her unborn child.  She says, “[Rani] is always frightened her husband won’t come back to her one day. She thinks if she gives him all boys, he is tied to her and she will  gain more respect from him and his family.”

Eventually Rani’s worst fears were realized and she gave birth to a girl.  However, the baby did not survive and the labor took a toll on Rani’s health.  For the next two days, she lay in the hospital bleeding.  Rani’s husband and in-laws however did not visit her for the birth of the child, or upon receiving news of her death and Rani’s critical condition.  Instead the entire family stayed home, and tried to entertain their house-guest Maria by renting Hollywood videos to watch, which they presumed she would enjoy.

Maria however, could hardly watch the videos, and felt extremely uncomfortable with the whole situation.  Even later, when Rani returned home, the family isolated her in a room.  No one talked to her or tried to comfort her, and they also warned Maria to stay away since they believed Rani carried ‘bad luck.’ Maria complied with their wishes, and explains it like this: “Although I thought this strange, I didn’t feel my questioning would be appreciated…I was the family’s guest and I didn’t wish to offend them by blatantly acting against their wishes.”

What Maria felt and did is what most in her situation would do, whether they are visiting westerners, or whether they are Indians, visiting friends and relatives, who perhaps themselves wouldn’t do what Rani’s family did to her.

A majority of people, like Maria, will stay quiet, won’t object, and will do nothing – because they don’t want to offend.

But ask this: Who do they not wish to offend? Rani’s family that is abusive towards her? Or Rani, the victimized woman?

Ask this: Why are we more concerned about hurting the feelings of the more powerful and oppressive party? Why are we not worried about hurting the feelings of the weaker and oppressed party – women like Rani?

Maria struggled with her conscience and realized the hypocrisy of her own reasoning.  She says, “The family’s behavior and superstition made me angry. Rani had no comfort, no love, no husband by her side….”  Rani did not even receive Maria’s comfort and support. Not a hug. Not a kind word. Not even a smile.

So why didn’t Maria make that little gesture towards Rani?  And so what if she did offend Rani’s family by doing that?  The worst thing that could have happened is they would be offended.  They would withdraw their friendship and hospitality.  Is that that a big sacrifice to make?

Maria’s small gesture of compassion may not have changed the course of Rani’s life, but in that moment of darkness, wouldn’t there be just a little respite for her?  Something she would cherish for long?  Isn’t that something that we would each want for ourselves if we were in Rani’s place and everything seemed hopeless?

Maria finally comes to term with her choice.  In her words, in the darkness that was Rani’s life “I had stayed on the side of the majority.”

Please sign the It’s a Girl and 50 Million Missing joint petition on Causes.com for a Global Mandate for Official Action to Stop Female Gendercide in India. 


Rita Banerji an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies,‘ is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Rebellions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

The views expressed by guest contributors to the “It’s a Girl” blog represent the opinion of the individual author who contributes the content and should not be interpreted as being endorsed or approved by Shadowline Films. We feature these contributions to foster dialogue and exchange on gendercide and invite our readership to join the discussion.

It’s a Girl Launches International Screening Tour With Special Screening at the University of Arizona

New Documentary Film Calls for Action Worldwide Against Gendercide University of Arizona and Shadowline Films Co-Host Screening Q&A with Director Evan Grae Davis

TUCSON, ARIZ. – September 13, 2012 – The Department of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona and Shadowline Films will co-host a special screening of It’s a Girl on September 21, 2012 at 6:00pm PST at Gallagher Theater. A powerful and thought-provoking documentary film, It’s a Girl brings attention to the gendercide happening every day in India, as well as China and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The United Nations estimates that there are as many as 200 million girls missing around the world today because of gendercide. This war against girls is told through the stories of the victims, families, global experts and grassroots activists. Shot on location in India and China, It’s a Girl asks why this is happening and why so little is being done to save girls and women.

It’s a Girl director and Tucson resident, Evan Grae Davis, will introduce the film and host a Q&A after the screening.

“We are excited to kick off the international screening tour from right here in Tucson, where so many have worked to make this film possible,” said Davis. “As we launch our action campaign to end gendercide, we want to start here in our own community and then see it spread globally. I believe that the stories of It’s a Girl will capture hearts around the world and will compel us all to rise up and fuel this movement to end gender-based violence and killings.”

The Tucson screening marks the official launch of the film’s international screening tour. In partnership with Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, Women’s Rights in China, the Invisible Girl Project and other organizations working on behalf of women and girls worldwide, the tour’s ultimate goal is to raise awareness for gendercide worldwide and provide audiences with actionable steps to end it.

As part of the international screening tour, It’s a Girl is slated to screen later this fall at European Parliament in Brussels, British Parliament in London, and in Berne, Switzerland in affiliation with the UN Women National Committee Switzerland and Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Anyone can help bring awareness to gendercide and obtain a license to show the film by visiting www.itsagirlmovie.com.
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About Shadowline Films
Shadowline Films is a team of filmmakers who share a common concern for the critical issues of our time; capturing the human story and presenting those who engage in its films the opportunity to become a part of telling how the story ends. It’s a Girl is Shadowline Films’ first feature-length documentary film exploring the issue of gendercide in India and China. It’s a Girl is set to release in September 2012. Learn more at www.itsagirlmovie.com.

About the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona
The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) at the University of Arizona stands at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research and teaching. Located 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and the export-processing zone across the border, and surrounded by Native American reservations, Tucson and the University provide a particularly appropriate site for the feminist study of transnational, cultural, economic, and social processes. GWS was founded in 1975 and gained full departmental status in 1997, currently offering B.A., M.A./J.D., and Ph.D. degree programs. GWS’s renowned faculty—composed of 13 core faculty members and over 60 affiliates from across the University—work in a wide range of areas, including critical race studies, sexuality and the body, feminist technoscience studies, gender and health, social movements, reproductive politics, feminist pedagogy, human rights and development, migration studies, and feminist/queer/post-structural theories. GWS’s member-based community organization, WOSAC, sponsors the celebrated Women’s Plaza of Honor.


Media Contact:
Megan Ashley MacLeod

The Root Causes of Gendercide

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 authoractivist 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.




Originally posted on Evan Grae Davis’ personal blog at  http://evangraedavis.com/

From the Aral Sea disaster in Eastern Europe to poverty in Africa to social transformation among tribal groups of South America, “It’s a Girl” director Evan Grae Davis has traveled the globe with camera in hand for 16 years. Evan has dedicated his career to advocating for social justice through writing and directing short documentaries and educational videos championing the cause of the poor and exploited. Evan draws from his experience and passion as he lends leadership to Shadowline Films, a team of filmmakers who share a common concern for the critical issues of our time. It’s a Girl is his first feature-length documentary.