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What is Gendercide?

In 1985, Mary Anne Warren coined the term “gendercide.” She defines it as the “deliberate extermination of persons of a particular sex (or gender).” It does not refer specifically to either sex. Because of gender inequality, girls and women are more often victims of gendercide than men. The World Bank describes violence against girls and women as a “global pandemic.” The numbers are sobering: 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. In research released in 2019, 38% of murdered women were killed by an intimate partner. The majority of sex trafficking victims are female. Within this scope of violence, gendercide is a serious issue. What is it exactly? How can it be stopped?

Take a free course on Confronting Gender-Based Violence by Johns Hopkins University

Gendercide: a definition

Gendercide is the killing of a specific gender group. Through most of history, girls and women have been the most common victims. Gendercide has three forms: feticide, infanticide, and gender-based violence. Feticide is the term for sex-selective abortion. In places where gender inequality exists in extremes, it’s not unusual for abortions to be based on the baby’s gender. Girls are not valued as much as boys.

Infanticide occurs after birth. Without the potential to provide for their families as well as a boy would, girls are seen as a burden. Families might also feel that it is better for the child to be dead rather than live in a world with rampant inequalities.

Gendercide continues as gender-based violence against women. In most places around the world, women are more likely to be assaulted and killed just because of their sex. There are also few legal protections or the protections aren’t enforced. Perpetrators are more likely to walk free or receive mild punishments.

Example #1: China

Through its history, gendercide has been an issue in China. This is in part due to the patriarchal structure of its society. For thousands of years, men were given a higher value than women. The severity of gender inequality fluctuated through time, but in the modern era, gendercide has been a problem. Many experts point to the One-Child Policy as a key reason. It was established to address overpopulation, but because boys were valued over girls, it led to a concerning number of feticides and infanticides. Experts aren’t sure about exact numbers as there were likely many female births that just went unreported. Many were abandoned and adopted rather than killed.

The One-Child Policy and gendercide have had serious consequences for the country. According to research, men outnumber women by more than 30 million. This has led to concerns about declining birth rates, so in some ways, women are becoming more valued. The One-Child Policy was abolished in 2015, but it will take time to shift the cultural view and equalize the sexes.

Example #2: India

India is another large country where gendercide has been a problem. Like China, it’s a traditionally-patriarchal society, so gender inequality is high. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Report, India ranked 132 out of 148 countries on the 2013 Gender Inequality Index. Over the years, the number of girls born has gone down. Feticide is one of the reasons for this since boys have a higher status and more income-earning potential. For poor communities, this is often the deciding factor. Thanks to modern technology like ultrasounds, sex-selective abortions are easier.

For the female babies that are born, they face more danger than boys. There are reports of “dowry deaths.” While dowries are illegal in India, many families still follow the tradition. If the groom’s family doesn’t approve of the dowry, it can be fatal for the bride. According to a 2018 Gobal Citizen article, 20 dowry deaths are reported in the country daily. However, only 34.7 cases result in a conviction. If a woman’s life means so little, gendercide in all its forms will continue.

How can the world end gendercide?

If the world ever hopes to end gendercide, we need to understand why it occurs in the first place. Patriarchal beliefs, which are not limited to China and India by any means, are a big contributor. The negative consequences of valuing men over women are exacerbated by poverty. When having a boy or girl child impacts their financial future and ability to survive, families are forced to make a choice.

Ending gendercide and establishing gender equality go hand-in-hand. This means dismantling patriarchal systems, reducing poverty, and working to change cultural mindsets about gender. This can be done by giving girls and boys equal education, equal job opportunities, and by protecting children’s rights and women’s rights. Establishing and enforcing laws that punish gender-based violence are also essential. This encourages valuing men and women equally. No parent should feel forced to kill or abandon their child and no woman should lose her life simply because of her sex or gender.

Take a free course on Confronting Gender-Based Violence by Johns Hopkins University

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.