Home » What is gendercide?

What is gendercide?

Gendercide is the systematic killing of members of a specific gender. It is often a component of a wider genocide. When it comes to male gendercide, there are many examples throughout history where a genocide has been committed by first killing off the males – especially able-bodied males of battle-age.

Gendercide can also occur outside the scope of genocide, and the killings of infant girls in parts of India (to avoid raising daughters) is for instance commonly described as a form of gendercide.

One of the first known uses of the term gendercide is found in Mary Anne Warren´s 1985 book “Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection”, a book that helped popularize the term.

gendercide bookIn her book, Warren wrote:

By analogy [with genocide], 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. Nevertheless, “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.” (Source: Mary Anne Warren, “Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection”, 1985)

Female gendercide

Gender-selective systematic killings of females (both girls and adult women) have occurred many times in history and in many different parts of the world.

One version of female gendercide is the one tied sexual violence as a part of a wider genocide, where (male) forces belonging to another ethnicity conduct mass-rapes of females belonging to the targeted ethnicity, and then either execute them or leave them with injuries severe enough to prove lethal. One example of such an event is the one that took place in Bangladesh in 1971.

In other situations, the female gendercide is not carried out by outsiders. An example mentioned above is the killing of infant girls in parts of contemporary India, in order to avoid bringing up daughters. This type of gendercide is not the mass-executions we associate with genocides; it is instead individual families who kill their newborn daughters. The problem is rooted in widespread cultural believes and traditions within the communities, which combined make families reluctant to raise daughters. For more information, see our article about Female infanticide in India and China.

Another example of gender-selective mass killing targeting females are the ones carried out by a single perpetrator who is not acting is part of a group. There is for instance the 1989 Montreal Massacre, where a lone gunman deliberately targeted female students at Quebec´s École Polytechnique. During part of his attack, he banished the men before lining up the women against the wall and fire at them. During the massacre, 14 women were killed. Ten other women and four men were injured.

Male gendercide

Sex-selective mass-killings targeting males are a common practise in both war and other violent conflicts along ethnic, religious and political lines. Typically, able-bodied men and older adolescent boys (“males of battle-age”) are targeted first. Once they are gone, it is much more difficult to the remaining population to defend themselves.

There are many examples of non-combatant males being murdered in this fashion, e.g. through mass-executions. If you want to read more about gender-selective mass killings of men outside the realm of traditional battlefield warfare, you can for instance take a look at the Indonesian genocide of 1965-1966, the 1984 Dehli Massacre, the 1988 Anfal Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan, the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre during the Yugoslav wars, and the 1999 gendercide within the East Timor Conflict. World War II also contain examples of gendercides. Parts of the Jewish holocaust had gender-selective components that targeted males, and there is also the death of 2.8 million male Soviet prisoners-of-war in the hands of Nazi authorities that took place in 1941-1942.

De facto gendercide

The term de facto gendercide is typically used when practises have gendercidal results, even though this was not the intention. One example is when mandatory military conscription applies only to men and not to women, and it puts men at a much higher risk of dying, either in battle or from related causes such as starvation, exposure and epidemic illnesses in military situations. Here, the government behind the conscription do not wish death upon its own soldiers, but the result of the conscription rules is an increased risk of death for battle-age men. (This situation should not be confused with situations where the government deliberately uses conscription into the army to rid themselves of an unwanted population group. There are examples of this in history, e.g. when Armenian men of battle-age were first sent to the military by the Turkish government and then deliberately worked to death there.)