Bangladeshi author decries female 'gendercide' in the East

Rukhsana Hasib CNA World Catholic News 6 6 12 Rukhsana Hasib speaks with CNA on June 6, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

A new novel by a businesswoman and author from Bangladesh is highlighting the ongoing tragedy of female "gendercide" in many Eastern cultures.

Female infanticide and sex-selection abortion constitute "discrimination against women in its cruelest form," Rukhsana Hasib told CNA on June 6.

In her latest book, "Shadows in the Sun," Hasib deals with the serious problem of male preference, which is prominent in many parts of the world.

A first-generation American who works to promote human rights for women in the East, Hasib said she was shocked when she realized that female infanticide and sex-selection abortion are still happening regularly in Eastern cultures.

And the girls being killed are not just from poor and uneducated families, she noted, but they also come from people who have schooling and economic means.

Reports estimate that about 50,000 girls are aborted in India each month, and approximately one million girls in the country "disappear" every year.

Driven to take a stand, Hasib decided to write a novel based on the "truth of female infanticide."

She hopes to help readers realize that "such atrocities against women – who are the nucleus of the family – still exist" and that women are "willing participants" in acts of violence against their own gender.

Originally from Bangladesh, Hasib graduated from Holy Cross College before moving to America, where she earned her MBA and has spent her adult life.

Hasib pointed out that in many Eastern cultures "women are not valued." They often face violence and discrimination, and are treated as inferior in a male-dominated culture.

"Shadows in the Sun" tells the fictitious story of "one poor mother's stand" to give her daughter a chance at a better life, she explained.

The book begins in Bangladesh and then ties into India and the United States, highlighting the universal nature of the gendercide problem.

While male-preference practices are prominent in China as a result of the country's one-child-policy, they are also common in other areas that have no legal restrictions on childbearing.

Hasib observed that sex-selection abortion is not legally encouraged in India. In fact, it is illegal, she said. However, the laws are not always enforced and can easily be circumvented through bribery.

The fundamental problem is not the legal system, but the cultural fact that girls are not valued, Hasib stated.

In these cultures "the birth of a son is celebrated" because boys will help provide a living and carry on the family's future.  But the birth of a daughter, she explained, is "considered a burden," because the family must protect her virtue, find a husband for her and provide a dowry.

"Girls are a burden," Hasib said. "That is the beginning of this horrific crime."

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So if any real change is to take root, the author believes that it must be cultural as well as legal.

"Our attitude needs to change," she said, arguing that girls must be seen not as a "misfortune" but as being "as valuable as the sun itself." People must recognize the dignity of women and the value of their nurturing and life-giving role, as well as their many contributions to society, she added.

Hasib stressed that if the movement to value women is to gain momentum, then "the world needs to get involved," and if the world is watching, change will take place more quickly.

In particular, she believes that the United States, as the "most powerful country" in the world, needs to do more to fight the injustice of female gendercide.  Once the U.S. speaks up, the "collective conscience" of the world is raised, she said.

Hasib applauded recent efforts to raise awareness of the issue within the United States. She praised a bill introduced in the House of Representatives which attempted to prohibit sex-selection abortion in the U.S.

The bill came to a vote amid the release of several undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood clinics around the country cooperating in sex-selection abortions.

Although the legislation did not succeed, Hasib called it "fantastic" that people are "taking notice" and word of gendercide is beginning to spread.

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As a woman from an Eastern culture, the Bangladeshi author feels that she has a responsibility to speak up for the many women and girls who cannot.

"I am one of the fortunate ones," she said. "I have a voice."

She hopes that her book will help draw greater attention to the horror of gendercide in all of its manifestations throughout the world.

"We have to be aware of this," she insisted.