Ciné-ONU Vienna screening of "The Daughter Tree"

November's Ciné-ONU Vienna screening shed light on a critical topic that is little discussed in our Western world: the gender distortion in India resulting from the abortion of baby girls due to a preference for sons. To open the conversation and to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Finland and this human world film festival screened the film "The Daughter Tree".

The film follows Neelam Bala, a midwife in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and introduces the audience to her advocacy work on giving girls the right to live. In India, girls are considered by some as a financial burden as it is the girls' parents who must pay for the dowry and they lose a helping hand when the girl leaves the family home after the wedding. Therefore, aborting baby girls became a common practice. The long-term implications of this practice have become evident in the Village of Men as no girl has been born there for decades. Since the men are bound by social norms to marry within their community, they are left to live a life without a family. According to the film, by 2020, it is predicted that there will be 32 million single men in India.

Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna opened the panel discussion with Desirée Schweitzer, President of the UN Women National Committee Austria, Laurie Richardson, Chairperson at the NGO Committee on the Status of Women (Vienna), Helena Gabriel, Managing Editor of the publication, FEMICIDE, and Secretary General of the United Nations Studies Association Vienna, and Reena George, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist (UNV) at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).   

"Gender equality and women's rights are important for all of the Sustainable Development Goals. If we have not achieved gender equality, we have not achieved any of the goals," said Ms. Richardson who strongly advocated for considering gender equality not as a stand-alone goal but as a requirement for tackling a multitude of challenges. So how can we empower women effectively? Ms. Schweitzer pointed out that even though there are many rules and regulations in place, aiming to give women equal rights, "there is still a gap between these rules and reality". Similarly, Ms. Gabriel mentioned that "gender equality is society's issue" and Ms. George agreed: "It was wonderful to see that Neelam was standing in front of a group of men challenging their norms and values. This whole attitude [about gender roles] must change."

We can see there is hope by looking at the example of what is happening in another Indian village of Dharhara. In this community, the family plants a mango tree for every girl that is born - the daughter tree. The income from selling those mangos on the market is then entirely used for paying for the daughter's education and her dowry. In Dharhara, baby girls are seen as a gift as emphasized by one proud father in Dharhara: "I am very happy that my daughter was born. A girl always brings good luck."