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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Evan Grae Davis, the founder of Shadowline Films. From the Aral Sea disaster in Eastern Europe to poverty in Africa to social transformation among tribal groups of South America, Evan has traveled the globe with camera in hand for 16 years. He has dedicated his career to advocating for social justice through writing and directing short documentaries and educational videos championing the cause of the poor and exploited. He draws from his experience and passion as he lends leadership to Shadowline Films, a team of filmmakers who share a common concern for the critical issues of our time. It’s a Girl is his first feature-length documentary.
FP: Evan Grae Davis, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about your new film, It’s a Girl.
Davis: Thanks Jamie.
In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide.” Girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members.
Shot on location in India and China, It’s a Girl reveals the issue. It 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 brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.
FP: Why is there a war against girls?
Davis: The war against girls is rooted in centuries-old tradition and sustained by deeply ingrained cultural mores that say women are less valuable than men. In nations like India and China, only sons can inherit wealth, carry on the family name, and perform last rites for their parents upon their death. Sons also care for their parents in old age. Daughters, once married, join their husband’s family and are no longer considered a member of their parents’ family. In addition, in India, the family of girls must pay an expensive dowry of property and money to the husband’s family upon marriage. These practices, in combination with government policies in China which restrict families to one or two children, accelerate the elimination of girls. Girls are often aborted, killed immediately after birth, or abandoned. Those women who do live past childhood, are often subjected to abuse and neglect.
FP: Why is so little being done?
Davis: This is a question I have often asked and one to which I do not have the answer. I can only speculate that, in India, the devaluation of women is so deeply engrained in the fabric of society that most are nearly blind to it. A recent UNICEF study in India discovered that 52% of women believe it is justified for men to beat their wives. Women in India and China grow up in a patriarchal, son-preferential culture. They are programmed to believe that “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden” (common sayings in both India and China). In China, women are subject to the same patriarchal culture, but in addition, they are victims of a brutal reproductive policy that restricts the number of children they can have and is enforced through coercive and often violent measures, including forced abortion and forced sterilization.
Why the world community allows wholesale violence against women to continue on such a scale is beyond me. I can only hope it is because the majority of the world population are unaware of the scope of this human rights crisis and, once educated by our film, will rise up and fuel a movement to end gender-based violence and killings, as well as resoundingly affirm the worth and dignity of girls and women in India, China and the rest of the world.
FP: What you brings you to this battle? Share with us how you came to this issue and to your activism on behalf of women’s rights.
Davis: I have spent the last 15 years producing promotional and fundraising videos for non-profit humanitarian organizations all over the world. I have seen so much need everywhere: poverty, hunger, conflict, children on the street. I wanted to know more about why there was so much injustice in the world, so in 2009 I set out on a journey to produce a documentary film exploring the cultural mindset underlying the devaluation of human life and the social injustices that result. War, corruption, genocide, exploitation of the innocent, violence against women– what are the root causes?
My documentary journey took me to Africa, where there is a myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, leading to the exploitation of young girls and the spread of HIV/AIDS to the most innocent among us. I and the Shadowline Films team went to Cambodia, the child sex trafficking capitol of the world and were shocked by the scale of sex tourism occurring there. We explored a story in Brazil, where indigenous tribal groups of the Amazon Basin ritualistically bury disabled infants and twins alive, to purge the tribe of curses. I had documented the Cambodian Killing Fields and the evil of genocide. It felt like I had seen the worst of humanity and what we are capable of when we allow our base instincts of survival and greed to rule us at any cost.
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