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What Is Gendercide?

[n.b. A number of the case-studies referred to here are currently under construction; our aim is to have the full complement in place in the first half of 2001.]

Gendercide is gender-selective mass killing. The term was first used by Mary Anne Warren in her 1985 book, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection. Warren drew "an analogy between the concept of genocide" and what she called "gendercide." Citing the Oxford English Dictionary definition of genocide as "the deliberate extermination of a race of people," Warren wrote:

By analogy, gendercide would be the deliberate extermination of persons of a particular sex (or gender). Other terms, such as "gynocide" and "femicide," have been used to refer to the wrongful killing of girls and women. But "gendercide" is a sex-neutral term, in that the victims may be either male or female. There is a need for such a sex-neutral term, since sexually discriminatory killing is just as wrong when the victims happen to be male. The term also calls attention to the fact that gender roles have often had lethal consequences, and that these are in important respects analogous to the lethal consequences of racial, religious, and class prejudice.

Warren explores the deliberate extermination of women through analysis of such subjects as female infanticide, maternal mortality, witch-hunts in early modern Europe, and other atrocities and abuses against women. Gendercide Watch includes all three of these as case-studies of gendercide. In addition, we include cases of mass rape of women followed by murder, as has occurred on a large scale in recent decades (see the case-studies of gendercide against both women and men in Nanjing in 1937-38 and Bangladesh in 1971). We also feature a case-study of the Montreal Massacre (1989), a gender-selective mass execution of young women that is indelibly imprinted in the memories of millions of Canadians, and which shocked many others worldwide.

The difficulty with Warren's framing of gendercide, though -- and this is true for the feminist analysis of gender-selective human-rights abuses as a whole -- is that the inclusive definition is not matched by an inclusive analysis of the mass killing of non-combatant men. Gendercide Watch was founded to encourage just such an inclusive approach. We believe that state-directed gender-selective mass killings have overwhelmingly targeted men through history, and that this phenomenon is pervasive in the modern world as well. Despite this prevalence of gendercide against males -- especially younger, "battle-age" men -- the subject has received almost no attention across a wide range of policy areas, humanitarian initiatives, and academic disciplines. We at Gendercide Watch feel it is one of the great taboos of the contemporary age, and must be ignored no longer.

We offer case-study treatments of gendercide against men in political, military, and ethnic conflicts over the last century-and-a-quarter. If the case-studies numerically outweigh those of mass killings of women in wars and other conflicts, this reflects our conviction that men are, indeed, generally the victims of the most severe gender-selective atrocities in such situations.

Case-studies range from The Paraguayan War of 1864-70 to the gendercides in Kosovo and East Timor in 1999. Other cases of gendercide against men include the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kashmir/Punjab/The Delhi Massacre, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Colombia, and the Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan (1988). We analyze little-known gendercides such as the Nazi murder of 2.8 million Soviet prisoners-of-war in just eight months of 1941-42 -- possibly the most concentrated mass killing of any kind in human history. The ambiguous case of Stalin's Purges in the USSR receives case-study treatment because of the sheer scale of the gender-specific killing (tens of millions of men). It is harder to say whether Stalin's mass murders were intentionally gender-selective, in the manner of the Serbs in Kosovo or the Nazis in Occupied Russia. Should they truly be considered acts of "gendercide"? Where such difficulties and ambiguities arise, we will do our best to acknowledge them and open them for discussion.

As feminists have sought to move beyond traditional political-military framings of conflict and violence, we seek also to understand institutions rooted deep in human history that have consistently been "gendercidal" in their impact on men. Four of these institutions have been discussed alongside "non-traditional" institutions that overwhelmingly or exclusively target women. For men, the case-study institutions are: corvée (forced) labour, military conscription, incarceration/the death penalty, vigilante killings, and violence against gay men.

Part of our educational brief is to encourage a re-examination of certain "classic" cases of genocide through a gender-inclusive lens. Our case-study of the Jewish holocaust, for example, points to little-appreciated but strongly-gendered "phases" leading up to the eventual root-and-branch extermination of European Jews. Similar trends are found in the Armenian genocide of 1915-17 and the genocide against Rwandan Tutsis in 1994. In none of these cases do we claim that the gendering of the atrocities was all (or even primarily) one-way. Nor do we suggest that the gender dimension of the Jewish holocaust, or the Armenian or Rwandan genocides, is the dominant or most important dimension of these horrific events, which swept up all sectors of the targeted populations. But policymakers, humanitarian workers, and scholars of genocide have worked to identify reliable indicators of the onset of genocide, as a means of intervening promptly and effectively to suppress it. We feel the inclusive analysis of gender throws fresh and important light on these global crises and issues. Our goal is a world that is safer for women, men, and their children.

Note: Gendercide Watch executive director Adam Jones has published a comparative and global-historical treatment of the gendercide theme, entitled "Gendercide and Genocide", in the Journal of Genocide Research. Interested visitors are invited to link to it on this site.

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Further Reading


(NOTE: Click on the book cover or title for information on ordering the book through Amazon. Click on the Chapters logo for information about ordering it through Chapters.)

Order The History and Sociology of Genocide from AMAZON
Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn,
The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies
(Yale University Press, 1990).

Perhaps the best single anthology of readings about genocide, with added commentary from two of the field's leading scholars.

Order The History and
Sociology of Genocide from CHAPTERS

The History & Sociology of Genocide

Order Encyclopedia of Genocide from AMAZON
Israel W. Charny, ed.,
Encyclopedia of Genocide
(ABC-CLIO, 1999).

An indispensable two-volume compendium of key themes, events, and theories pertaining to genocide.

Order Encyclopedia of Genocide from CHAPTERS

Encyclopedia of Genocide

Order Blood Rites from AMAZON
Barbara Ehrenreich,
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
(Henry Holt, 1997).

A provocative and highly readable account of the place of war in human society.

Order Blood Rites from

Blood Rites

Order How to Prevent Genocide from AMAZON
John G. Heidenrich,
How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policymakers, Scholars, and the Concerned Citizen
(Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001).

"Heidenrich's book is distinguished both by its sense of moral urgency and by the realism of its evaluation of what can be done to prevent genocide." - Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University

Order How to Prevent Genocide from

How to Prevent Genocide

Order Genocide: Its Political Use from AMAZON
Leo Kuper,
Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century
(Yale University Press, 1983).

The "field-defining" book in genocide studies, still required reading. See also Kuper's follow-up, The Prevention of Genocide.

Order Genocide: Its
Political Use from CHAPTERS

Genocide:Its Political Use

Order Gender & Catastrophe from AMAZON
Ronit Lentin, ed.,
Gender & Catastrophe
(Zed Books/St. Martin's Press, 1998).

A diverse, women-focused exploration of the gendered impact of genocide and other catastrophic events.

Order Gender & Catastrophe from CHAPTERS

Gender & Catastrophe

Order The Laws of War from AMAZON
W. Michael Reisman and Chris T. Antoniou, eds.,
The Laws of War: A Comprehensive Collection of Primary Documents on International Laws Governing Armed Conflict
(Vintage Books, 1994).

A fine reference book on international law, with most of the major genocide and war-crimes legislation included.

Order The Laws of War

The Laws of War

Order Protection Against Genocide from AMAZON
Neal Riemer, ed.,
Protection Against Genocide: Mission Impossible?
(Praeger Publishers, 2000).

"Riemer and his contributors argue for a global human rights regime capable of preventing, combatting, and punishing the crime of genocide." (Book Description)

Order Protection Against Genocide from CHAPTERS

Protection Against Genocide

Order Is the Holocaust Unique? from AMAZON
Alan S. Rosenbaum, ed.,
Is the Holocaust Unique? Perspectives on Comparative Genocide
(Westview Press, 1997).

A wide-ranging collection of essays arguing for and against the proposition that the Jewish holocaust occupies a unique place in the history of genocide.

Order Is the Holocaust
Unique? from CHAPTERS

Is the Holocaust Unique?

Order Death By Government from AMAZON
R.J. Rummel,
Death By Government
(Transaction Publishers, 1997).

A thought-provoking and very informative study of "democide" ("murder by government"), with attention to some generally-forgotten victims of gendercide, like prisoners-of-war and corvée labourers.

Order Death By
Government from CHAPTERS

Death by Government

Order The Roots of Evil from AMAZON
Ervin Staub,
The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence
(Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Staub, a social psychologist, examines the origins of violence and mass killing, the role of bystanders, and the possibilities for altruism.

Order The Roots of Evil from CHAPTERS

The Roots of Evil

Order Century of Genocide from AMAZON
Samuel Totten et al., eds.,
Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views
(Garland Reference Library, 1997).

Another first-rate collection, combining overviews of twentieth-century cases of mass killings with extensive survivor's testimony.

Order Century of
Genocide from CHAPTERS

Century of Genocide

Order Gendercide from AMAZON
Mary Anne Warren,
Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection
(Rowman and Allanheld, 1985).

The book that coined the term: Warren provides a thought-provoking, though one-sided, treatment of gender-selective mass killing through history.

Order Gendercide from


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