How Fighting Gendercide Fights Trafficking
In a rural village in India, a mother gives birth to a daughter, and resigns herself to keeping it. This was not her first child, but it was the first one to live through infancy. This woman had given birth to eleven daughters before that, and, finally convinced that she would never have a son, she settled on keeping her twelfth daughter.
This was the story that sparked the beginnings of Invisible Girl Project, a non-profit that works to end gendercide in India. Jill McElya, the Founder of IGP, and her husband Brad had been working with a human rights organization in India in 2008 when they learned about the reality of gendercide. And what is gendercide? It’s “the genocide of a specific gender group–that is, the mass killing of girls and women” (InvisibleGirlProject.org). It can take many forms–sometimes a girl-child is killed, whether by force or by choice, in the womb (feticide); sometimes a girl-child is killed or abandoned in infancy (infanticide). Twenty-five percent of girls in India don’t live past puberty. And if she does, she’s at greater risk of being sold as a child bride or a sex slave. And incidentally, it is the discrimination against girls at birth that has skewed the gender ratio in India so badly as to make the sex industry thrive. The gender gap is huge, and with girls being seen as useful only for marriage and procreation, they are increasingly used as pawns for men’s economic or sexual fulfillment.
McElya, who started IGP in 2010, has worked closely with human trafficking and has worked to pursue legal justice for those who have been rescued from trafficking. And while she fully supports that work and recognizes it’s value, her experience in India revealed the complexity of the issue. Trafficking does not begin with a poor family or a poor woman needing money and selling one of the few things left. Trafficking does not begin with a skewed gender ratio. Trafficking begins when the powerful dehumanizes the weak for their own advantage. And in many cases, in India and throughout the world, this means the dehumanizing of women and girls.
The uniqueness of IGP reveals the complexity of the issue–it’s not uncommon for women and girls who have experienced trafficking or abuse or any other kind of perpetuated violence to be convinced that in some way it is acceptable or deserved. Even those who recognize that it’s wrong will often be resigned to the fact that it’s too widely accepted to change. Invisible Girl Project recognizes how deeply these issues run and how intertwined with culture they are; the mothers themselves accept it as a necessity, and consider sons more valuable than daughters. They pursue justice by empowering the mothers themselves; convincing them of the value of a girl in her own right, and therefore the mother’s own value. A girl–mother or daughter–need not be valued based off of her relationship to any other man. IGP has partners that work in villages alongside women’s self-help groups, counseling them and encouraging them. They create village banking systems and put women in charge, thereby shifting the perspectives of the villages and the women themselves that women can have sustainable, independent lives and be in positions of power rather than dependent on the power of others.
Currently, Invisible Girl Project is pursuing justice on the legal side of the issue; the American State Department is not active on the issue of gendercide, and IGP is trying to utilize the resources of the American justice system to help bridge the cultural gap and activate change.