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Academic’s appeal to Leicestershire leaders over harrowing ‘infanticide’ film

A Loughborough University academic has appealed to Leicestershire politicians and community leaders to attend a screening of a harrowing documentary which investigates why millions of baby girls are killed every year.

Dr David Roberts is showing an American film called ‘It’s A Girl’, which documents the practice of killing unwanted baby girls in South Asia, in the university’s Stewart Mason Building (SMB017) on June 11 (6.30).

He wants to raise awareness of the problem of ‘infanticide’, which the United Nations says has led to 200 million girls going ‘missing’, and hopes some of Leicestershire’s leaders will take part in a filmed discussion after the screening.

Dr Roberts, Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics, History and International Relations, is concerned this might be a sensitive subject for some in Leicester’s Asian community.

But he feels it is important that the practice common in China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and which happened in Europe and elsewhere in other eras, is publicly debated in an attempt to find a solution.

The problem is so big that India and China are said to eliminate more female infants than the number of girls born in America each year simply because they, unlike boys, are considered a burden by poor families.

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. The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son.

The film shows an Indian woman confessing to killing eight infant daughters. It also tells the story of a Delhi doctor who fought to save her twin daughters from being selectively aborted, despite torture and violence at the hands of her husband and in-laws.

Dr Roberts says the authorities are often complicit in the killings because they ‘understand the cost of raising a girl child is disproportionate to the value of raising a boy child’. They turn a blind eye.

A nurse, he says, may drop a female child on its head after birth and record its death as accidental. Men and women know the economic burden of raising a girl instead of a boy. It’s a death sentence in many poor families.

“The issue is infanticide, which is connected more broadly to femicide, and that is the global, wholesale slaughter of females,” said Dr Roberts, who says this subject is typical of the material on the International Relations degree, which addresses major global social issues.

“This documentary focuses specifically on infanticide, in utero or postnatal. It looks at many reasons why girl children are killed in their millions.”

Dr Roberts said he hoped members of Leicester’s Asian community would attend so any discussion is inclusive, but some might see it as critical or meddling.

For this reason, he says, people must be clear that this is a global phenomenon related to economics and patriarchy, and not to specific people or places. It happens, or has happened, in many places and is only one point on a wider continuum of violence against females.

He said: “From birth, girls are programmed to be married off and a dowry will be involved to compensate the husband’s family. So, from birth she is perceived as a cost, as opposed to a boy, who will be seen as a potential financial asset because he will be allowed to work and generate an income, and has an education to enable this.”

Dr Roberts says he has personal experience of the abuse women suffer, why it is justified and how it is hidden.

“Many people deny the level of abuse and misogyny in places like Pakistan and India,” said Dr Roberts, who wrote a book called Human Insecurity: Global Structures of Violence, which included a chapter on infanticide.

“But such violence is normal in Europe and North America. For instance, the production and normalization of pornography that teaches women to perform as whores and dehumanizes women and men as well. It sends clear messages about what we value women for.

“It is primarily a question of control. Patriarchal systems project social rules that males and females learn to obey. It isn’t genetic. Religion and the media are only two vessels through which we are taught the roles applied to girls and boys, men and women.

“Failing to conform to these rules leads to things like honour and dowry killings and the broader exclusion of females from equal participation and respect in all societies – which lead back to the womb and infanticide.

“Discrimination and violence against females happens everywhere. It is a global pandemic involving direct and indirect violence against women who ‘break the rules’ handed down through patriarchal systems, aggravated by modern representations of women as sex objects. It just takes differing forms in different places.”

Dr Roberts says change is possible and fairer world trade, which is currently ‘biased against Africa and Asia’, would allow the poorer countries to become wealthier.

But he said attitudes had to change too. “If we stopped objectifying females, stopped stereotyping what women can do, stropped believing our own propaganda about the limits of women, perhaps that would be the beginning of change.”

The documentary will be followed by a discussion with a panel of experts. This will be filmed and put on the university website and also used for educational purposes.

Anyone interested taking part should email Dr Roberts at D. Roberts@lboro.ac.uk

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Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 13/70

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

It is a member of the 1994 Group of 11 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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