I recently watched It’s a Girl, a documentary about gendercide in India and China. It opened my eyes to how issues of gender inequality – domestic violence, rape, gendercide, sex trafficking, and income inequality – all bleed into each other. Evan Grae Davis, the director of It’s a Girl, kindly agreed to an interview with Hope for the Sold.
If you could use 5 words to describe the experience of making of It’s a Girl, what would they be?
Shocking. Life-changing. Challenging. Humbling. Inspirational.
What are some things you learned that surprised or shocked you?
As the Shadowline Films team traveled in India, we experienced many instances where we were surprised or shocked by discoveries we made about gendercide. For instance, we had understood that it was primarily poor families who were ridding themselves of girls because they could not afford dowry, so we were taken aback when we discovered that it is often just as common, and in some communities, more common among the wealthier class. The story of Dr. Mitu Khurana, who comes from a well-educated family of doctors and married into the same, but yet was tortured and harassed to have a sex-determination test and to abort her twin girls, was a real eye-opener.
The scale of devaluation and neglect of girls and women, from birth to old age, dismayed us. We were horrified to hear that dowry violence and bride burning was so common still today.
And the medical ethics issue, which was addressed by Dr. Puneet Bedi and Dr. Sabu George, surprised us. They spoke of the profit motive of doctors and purveyors of ultrasound technology to exploit the son preference culture in India for personal gain.
How does gendercide in China and India affect sex trafficking?
In both China and India, as a result of sex selection, there are far more men living today than women. In China, there are currently 37 million more men than women and over one million more boys are born than girls each year. In India, there are entire villages in some regions where there has not been a single female birth in a generation.
These severely skewed sex ratios have resulted in an epidemic of sex trafficking. In China, 70,000 girls are stolen from their families every year to be sold to other families who would otherwise have no hope of finding brides for their sons.
On a personal level, what was the most difficult interview for you to conduct and why?
Finding myself standing at the edge of a field in Southern India listening to a woman sharing how she had personally strangled eight of her own newborn daughters in her quest for a son was by far the most difficult interview. She shared so matter-of-factly, often smiling or laughing, as she talked about how she couldn’t afford to raise daughters and made statements like, “Women have the power to give life and the power to take it away.”
Later in the interview, she shared a song about her plight as a woman and the pain of being given in an arranged marriage at a young age. She told us how when she was 15, she was excelling in school and had high hopes for her future, when it was decided that she was to be given as a second wife to her sister’s husband because her sister was unable to have children. Her purpose in life was to bear her husband a son.
This was when gendercide took on a whole new meaning for me, because I realized she was simply a product of the environment in which she lives.
You mentioned that our post on compassion fatigue resonated with you. What was it like to hear such heartbreaking stories, day in day out, and how do you take care of yourself?
After nearly two decades of traveling the world capturing stories of human need for humanitarian and development non-profits and NGOs, I have learned the dangers of compassion fatigue. I have had to learn the balance between not allowing oneself to become numb or uncaring while at the same time protecting your heart from overloading on the seeming hopelessness and overwhelming scope of the need in the world.
But I have to admit, this project challenged me on a whole new level. Besides the multiple trips filming, editing 80 hours of footage into a one hour film over a year and a half sent me right to the edge. I have learned I have to keep reminding myself that I am doing what I can and making a difference and it isn’t up to me to single-handedly solve all the world’s problems (as much as I would like to).
How can we inspire men to be part of the movement? Clearly men feel they have much to lose by empowering women, but what do you think they could gain by doing so?
I have often been asked at film screenings by audiences of 99.9% women why so few men are involved in the movement to end violence against women. I can’t speak for other men, but my journey to becoming an VAW activist began when filming for It’s a Girl in India. I felt intense anger towards the men perpetrating this violence on women. At the same time, I imagined my own wife and daughter (who was 11 at the time) suffering the same fate and felt anger at the thought of good men who might be in a position to defend them, but chose to stand passively by.
But I also think it must be acknowledged that many men may not become involved because the women’s empowerment movement can often feel like a hostile place for men. Sometimes, the most vocal and aggressive women in the feminist movement can make statements implicating all of mankind. The message this sends to the majority of good men who honor and respect women is that we really can’t win in this, we are going to be lumped in with the bad men anyway, so why try. The men who we want involved are the men who are practicing values of honoring women in their own lives , and often don’t even think about it because they grew up in a home that taught them those values, like mine.
Previous to my life-changing experience filming It’s a Girl, I believed that loving and honoring the women in my own life was enough. But I no longer believe that. More men need to take action and add their voices to the movement. I challenge men every chance I get to not remain silent.
You’ve probably had a variety of responses from the film so far. Are there any that stand out to you?
We have been honored and humbled by the amazing response to It’s a Girl! In the few short months since It’s a Girl hit the world stage, over 400,000 people have joined the cause, with thousands more adding to that number every week! Nearly 1 million actions have been taken, ranging from signing petitions to donating to our partners working to combat gendercide in India and China on the front lines.
But above all, we are most proud of the many of you who have responded to the call to action and become culture changers and activists in your own spheres of influence as a result of seeing It’s a Girl. Besides the ongoing dedication of organizations like Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and Invisible Girl Project, there have been some who have stepped up and taken action representing the kind of response we could only dream of.
People like Deesh Sekhon, a wife and mother from Abbotsford, BC who, after seeing the trailer, launched GirlKind Foundation, which is advocating and educating for change in cultural beliefs and taking a stand against Gendercide in India. People like former UN diplomat Michael Platzer and his team, who, after seeing It’s a Girl, organized a one-day symposium at the UN in Vienna on fighting femicide (gendercide), where ambassadors, social scientists, NGO representatives, statisticians, lawyers and feminist activists had the opportunity to speak about gendercide, explain its meaning and causes, and present examples of best practice in fighting gendercide.
I wish I could mention all of the champions who have stepped up after seeing the film and made it all worth while! We look forward to 2013 being a year that history will look back upon as a turning point in the battle to restore value and equality to the women of India and China.
There is significant work occurring on many fronts in the battle to end gendercide. As the issue gains more exposure through the stories coming out of India and China, and as more people become aware, we are seeing champions and heroes of the cause emerging practically every day! But the son preference culture that underlies gendercide is the result of centuries-old traditions and beliefs and will not change overnight.
But there are many who are innovating new ways to bring change. For instance, Will Muir is an Indian businessman who has started an organization called Equal Community Foundation, and is working to change the fundamental attitudes men have towards women and engage men and boys as a positive force in the fight for the rights of women and girls. He has recruited innovators and creative thinkers throughout Asia to help determine new ideas for mobilizing men to understand and defend the value and dignity of women in India.
Will is just one example of a movement growing throughout the world today. My hope is that It’s a Girl will educate and mobilize many more to join this movement and, one day, we will see gendercide become a distant memory of the past.
To watch the film, look for an It’s a Girl screening near you (or host a screening!) and take action through the It’s a Girl website. Let’s each take a step toward ending gender inequality, starting today.