Water laps against my ears, and I hear the sound of my breath and the gentle thump of my heart with rushing blood that keeps me alive. This sanctuary calms my troubled soul. Water is my comfort, and the bathtub is my hiding place where I go to close my eyes and rest. But for 1.7 million baby girls in China each year, water is where they close their eyes and die.
These little ones have no names, only a gender: female. They are born in societies where women are considered of less value.
In China, a basin of water sits on the table, warm water waiting for another Chinese soul. After the mother gives birth, a baby boy is washed clean in this basin and tears of joy stream down his proud parent’s cheeks. However, it is a regular practice to hold down a baby girl’s tiny form under the basin’s water, her breath swallowed whole by this baptism of death. Her life discarded and unwanted, all because she was born female. This routine killing of baby girls in China is called gendercide, and thirty-four million girls have been killed in the last thirty years.
Late one evening in 2013, I stumbled across a short interview with a professor who had adopted a Chinese daughter. His short talk formed part of a documentary titled It’s a Girl, a film that dives down deep in the reality of gendercide in India and China. As a gender equality activist, I confess I had never heard of gendercide, nor could my mind perceive the extent of its horrors. I sat upright in my chair and spent the next three hours researching gendercide in news articles, on Google books, and elsewhere. However, my mind grasped only these words: thirty-four million murdered girls. A fist of anxiety hit me right in my chest, and I pulled the computer cord out of the wall so I would not have to read anymore. With sweaty palms and a soul full of fear, I jumped into bed. But I could not sleep.
Over the next several days, I went about my normal schedule. I spoke to no one about gendercide, trying to process this atrocity. But the words I had read began to question me. Every one seemed to hang in my mind, asking me, “What are you going to do about it?” I knew my faith was pulling me toward action, simply because justice is congruent with the God I know from the Bible, but I had no idea what a South African could do about gendercide from so far away.
I eventually found the courage to restart my computer after a week of absence, and with a silent prayer I reached out to the director of It’s a Girl. I hardly expected a response from Evan Davis, but I persisted in sending a number of emails until he replied. A few days later we connected via a telephone call, and through his warmth and openness he shared his heart for women and how he had come to understand culture through a different lens.
I was amazed that a man would stand up so strongly for women; it was just not something I was used to. During our conversation, he mentioned an organization fighting gendercide in China called All Girls Allowed. I wrote to them and corresponded with some amazing people passionately fighting against gendercide. I became immersed in the research on the topic. Compassion and deep sorrow filled my heart as I realized that many Chinese women are forced against their will to abort their daughters through sex-selective tests. If they desire to protect the life of their daughter, they are often abandoned by their husbands and family members and forced to fend for themselves. Parents are taxed heavily for giving birth to more than one child, but the reality that struck me most was the prejudiced viewpoint of women in countries like India and China.
Both the Chinese and Indian cultures favor boys above girls. Daughters are seen as liabilities who cannot provide for their parents in their older years, whereas boys are seen as assets, able to provide for families already living in poverty-stricken areas. Daughters leave fathers expected to provide lavish dowries that strip wealth from their biological families. While this injustice continues, over one hundred million baby girls have been routinely aborted or killed at birth in India and China during the last thirty years. Because of the decrease of females and the increase of males in these societies, other injustices such as human trafficking, forced prostitution, child marriages, and dowry killings rise.
As a writer and a speaker, I set out to do what I could. I organized the first gendercide conference in my city, focused on creating awareness and educating people about gendercide. A year later I collaborated with twelve global women in writing a book about our redemption stories. The proceeds were donated to fighting gendercide in China. What made the book special for me was having a Chinese woman who had considered aborting her baby girl share her story in the pages of our book. Through her eyes, I saw the struggle of China and her journey as a single Chinese woman whose boyfriend did not want a daughter. Ultimately, through a church she happened to visit one morning, she found people willing to help her find a loving, adoptive home for her daughter, and her life went in a different direction.
My heart has been touched by the immense loss and pain China holds in its very soil, where millions of little babies lie buried. My faith calls me to speak, to do something. One of the writers of the Bible says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed,” while another writes, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.” Justice is what God wants me to stand up for, until all my unborn sisters are finally free. Until they can be washed in a clean bowl of water and emerge to be celebrated, without the prejudice of gender.