In this session on day 2 of The Media Rumble at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi, author and award-winning war reporter, who has spent long years of reportage in Africa and the Arab world, Dominique Sigaud was in conversation with anchor and journalist Faye D’Souza. Dominique spoke powerfully and heart-wrenchingly about her new book, The Curse of Being a Girl, which is a first-ever in-depth and global study of violence against girls under the age of 18. The book has excruciating minutiae of data and instances of the appalling array of violence – foeticide, infanticide, trafficking, rape, mutilation, incest and slavery, the list is endless and increasingly gruesome - that young girls, as foetuses, babies and little children, are subjected to across the world including in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, the Arab world, Sudan, Rwanda, and Latin America.
Dominique began by talking about a word – fabulatrice - which is used often in France, especially in the aftermath of #MeToo, when a man wants to describe a woman who (according to him) is a conjurer of lies – in an attempt to quash her accusations of misconduct against him, a word which mystifyingly has no masculine gender, perhaps to reinforce the idea that men do not lie! She recounted with a deep tremor in her voice of how her own father had once confessed to harbouring carnal feelings towards her only to deny it by using the same word to describe her many years later when she did finally confront him.
Perhaps it was her attempt to overcome a terrible personal demon that made her seek out the truth behind the global carnage of young girls in the manner that she has done, travelling across countries and talking with mothers who have carried their babies to term and then killed them with their own hands after they had been born as girls. This is a story, which according to Dominique, needs to be told, when the narrative of a girl is destroyed over and over again, even before she is born, when young boys are brought up in patriarchal families with male dominion as the only accepted idiom making them treat “girls as nothing” from the time they learn to think, when girls just born are mutilated in a tradition of violence, when even soldiers of the UN in shelter camps turn rapists and when rapes happen repeatedly without repercussion or opposition. Dominique spoke passionately about the continuing silence around violence against girls, whether in India or worldwide. She conveyed to the shocked and startled audience an undeniable truth: if, instead of girls, young boys were being sodomised night after night, there would have been sharp and shattering noise.
“It is always my job to throw out the silence and speak,” Dominique said at the end as the audience sat, moved and rattled by her revelations. She ended on a note of hope saying that there has been a change and shift in attitude since her visit to India 6 years ago; discussions which were taboo then were no longer that.
Faye brought the session to a close, leaving attendees to fittingly introspect on how years of patriarchal conditioning had made women believe that they “always came last”, after their families, children and husbands; even their sexual desires were subservient to their partners’ lust. Faye stressed on the need and importance of consent – when a girl is made to feel comfortable in her own skin and when she consents to her physical and emotional boundaries of her own accord, only then can the fertile ground for true empowerment be created.