itsagirlIt’s a Girl (Shadowline Films, directed by Evan Grae Davis, 60 minutes, $24.95)

It’s a Girl, a feature-length documentary directed by Evan Grae Davis, exposes the problem of gendercide in India and China. Filmed on location, the film is informative, well-paced, and visually stimulating in its mix of background information, animations, personal stories, and expert commentary. The key message is that while government policy perpetuates gendercide, the root of the problem is a culture that puts a higher value on sons than daughters.

In India, viewers meet one woman who strangled the eight daughters to whom she had given birth. “Women have the power to give life and take it away,” she said. Others take great risks to keep their children. Dr. Mitu Khurana, who is now an anti-gendercide activist, reported how her husband and mother-in-law forced her to have an illegal sex-determination test showing twin girls. After returning home, she was pushed down the stairs by her husband and locked in a room in hopes she would miscarry. Khurana, though, was able to escape and give birth. She is still attempting to prosecute her husband and the doctor, despite threats to her life and the life of her daughters.

It is estimated that almost 50 million women are missing in India. Gendercide takes the form of sex-selective abortions (estimated to total one million per year), female infanticide, neglect, spousal abuse, and maternal mortality. One in four girls do not live past puberty. Because of cultural practices, having a daughter means losing a member of the family when she gets married while having to provide a large amount of wealth for her dowry. Although dowries are outlawed, they continue to be widely practiced. Having a son, though, means that the family line continues, property stays within the family, and the parents and siblings have someone to care for them.

China has a similar cultural preference for sons, but the problem of gendercide was intensified by the one-child policy introduced in 1979. Although rural families are now allowed to have a second child if their first one was a daughter, the policy remains rigorously enforced in most of the country, the punishment including forced abortion, sterilization, and the denial of income. One couple in a rural village had to go into hiding to give birth to their third daughter. They were forced to flee their home to a distant region and leave their three daughters with relatives.

Over 400 million Chinese children are missing because of the one-child policy and there are more than 13 million abortions per year. With 37 million more males than females, some families are turning to trafficking in kidnapped children as a way to ensure that their sons have wives.

Abortion has changed the scale to which gendercide has been able to occur. Dr. Puneet Bedi, an obstetrician-gynaecologist in Delhi, India, said that historically, four per cent of baby girls would be killed by infanticide at most. “But now in modern societies like India and China, 20, 25, 30 per cent of girls are being killed before birth,” he said.

The documentary has received positive coverage from the Toronto Star and the Washington Times, and was screened for the European Parliament as well as last year’s Toronto Amnesty Reel Awareness film festival. A piece in The Atlantic insists that the film is neither pro-life nor pro-abortion: “The root of the problem is clearly not abortion per se, but widespread sexism and sexual violence – which puts pro-lifers, with their often explicitly anti-feminist rhetoric, in an awkward position.”

The documentary has been extensively screened and promoted by pro-life groups, including the Defend Girls campaign in Canada, held to support Mark Warawa’s private member’s motion condemning the practice of gendercide. In March, a parliamentary committee deemed Warawa’s motion non-votable.

It’s a Girl can be ordered through LifeCycle books at or 1-866-880-5860.

 Pauline Kosalka writes for The Interim.