‘It’s a Girl’, a disturbing but awareness-raising film, screened in Sydney last night. I was asked to say a few words. Here they are.
I’ve heard those words three times in my life.
Unlike the women we will hear about tonight, those words brought joy. It’s a girl. Three times for me – each child a cause for celebration.
It’s difficult, actually I would say impossible, for those of us in a country like ours, to imagine the dread that comes for other women in other worlds, when they hear these words. The words are not delivered with joy. They are more like a curse. It’s a girl. A terrible fate awaits her. She will suffer. She will eat last. She will need a dowry you can’t afford. If she doesn’t please her husband or her in-laws, she may be burned. If she has daughters also, she will be blamed, even though, biologically, sex is determined by the male.
She may be bought and sold, traded like a piece of meat, used in brothels, sold as a bride. There are so many opportunities for her but they all opportunities to be treated badly, as second class, essentially owned, a slave, for the rest of her life.
So a dreadful option presents itself. Perhaps this suffering can be avoided, perhaps another chance for a prized son will come, if this girl child is done away with. Female foeticide, female infanticide, amounting to femicide on a global scale. According to the UN, about 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’. India and China are believed to eliminate more baby girls than the number of girls born in the US each year.
Girls, disposable, their lives snuffed out because of a systemic, embedded, ingrained, cultural bias against them.
I’ve spent time in the countries where these unspeakable human rights violations take place.
Some of the most moving experiences of my life have taken place in South Asia, the focus of this film.
Hyderabad, India, a home for abandoned girls and women. There were three levels. On one, young single pregnant girls, (who names on a blackboard were listed under the heading ‘inmates’), among them girls who had left their villages and come to this city to work, taken advantage of by their male bosses, made pregnant, and came here). On another level, the abandoned baby girls, and on the third, the widows.
Each floor represented a despised group of women and girls…one baby girl blinded, another with limbs broken after being thrown onto a rubbish heap. I can still picture her. She lay naked in a wire crib. I didn’t think she would live very long.
I have sat with prostituted women in brothels in India, cared for abandoned Chinese baby girls, met female children rescued from the prostitution and pornography industries of Cambodia (all used, I might add, by Australian men), and girls used as slave labourers in Thailand, through my work with World Vision. (I hope to do the same in my role as a soon to be appointed ambassador for Compassion Australia).
The hatred of women is hard to believe. The systematic, orchestrated abuse against them by individuals, groups and society as a whole. The systematic erasure of lives by an unspoken cultural decree demanding female genocide.
But there is a growing tide against these anti-women and girl practices. New grassroots actions springing up around the world. Girls themselves rising up and demanding their right to be treated with equality and fairness, girls like Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. I want to go to school, she said. And got shot by the Taliban for it. But she lives and inspires other girls to recognise their dignity and worth and their right to live and move freely in the world and partake of all that is to offer.
This film can help. It can create awareness that will hopefully be turned into action.
As you watch it, think of the women and girls eradicated from our midst. Who knows what they might have done, what they might have achieved.
Think about how you can engage and make a difference in the lives of women? Can we give ourselves to this just cause and not retreat a single inch? Can we dare to think we really could make a difference?
I commend It’s a Girl to you.