Gendercide — the killing of female infants, often by mothers’ family members in societies where sons are valued more highly than daughters — is still common in some parts of the world. On Tuesday, Yale World Fellows Annemie Turtelboom and Rema Rajeshwari, both of whom have worked to combat gendercide in their professional lives, reflected on the causes and implications of the practice.

During the talk, presented as part of the “World Fellows Unplugged” series at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Turtelboom, a member of the Belgian Parliament, and Rajeshwari, a police officer in India, spoke about the extent to which gendercide affects modern society and the importance of uniting to solve the problem. Turtelboom has introduced legislation in Belgium related to gendercide, and Rajeshwari has worked to combat the practice as a police officer.

“Gendercide is many times seen as the hidden holocaust,” Turtelboom said Tuesday. “If there is knowledge that the unborn child is a girl, the child is aborted. If the child is born and she is a girl, then the infant is literally thrown away.”

She stressed that there is not a lot of awareness on the topic and that women who have been pressured to give up their children are often also pressured, sometimes by family members, not to speak about the subject. Turtelboom highlighted the guilt that the women feel and noted that the problem is most prevalent in India, China and some parts of Russia.

She explained that four major factors prompt gendercide: religion, culture, socioeconomics and politics. In some cultures in which women are not perceived to be as important as men, she said, families do not want to pay a dowry for their daughter. For many years, China’s one-child policy created a culture in which families wanted to have their a son as their one child, she added. She also noted that in some countries, perpetrators of gendercide often go unpunished, and, as a result, perpetrators undeterred.

Rajeshwari approached the issue from the law enforcement side.

“There is a gender imbalance within India,” she said. “In seven states, they do not have enough women for the men to get married to, and, as a result, they look for girls in other states and then capture them. The women are then bought and traded.”

She went on to describe how some societal norms in India contribute to the unbalanced power dynamics between men and women in the country. Girls’ families have to take care of the baby, and, for that reason, many feel that “the opportunity cost of having a girl is so high,” she explained.

Recounting some of her own experiences, she said that she knew someone that committed suicide because her baby was killed and that she, herself, had seen infants thrown away.

Lauren Wyman SOM ’19, a student at the Jackson Institute, appreciated the different perspectives that Turtelboom and Rajeshwari brought to the topic.

“I think it’s really interesting to have these intimate conversations with the world fellows, who have so much insight to share,” she said. “Today we heard the dialogue between a policymaker and practitioner, and that was pretty incredible. I also learned quite a bit about the topic, including some surprising aspects that I might not necessarily have thought of before.”

Isha Dalal |