Beginning on Feb. 10, thousands of baby booties will hang in a room at the Fashion Industry Gallery next to the Dallas Museum of Art. Ninety percent of them were stitched by women in sewing cooperatives at 30 developing countries, places where they’re at risk of being killed, raped, or kidnapped.
Called 100+ Million Missing, the art exhibition was curated by Dallas artist Beverly Hill, who also enlisted the work of about 15 local artists including Karen Blessen, Jin-Ya Huang, Leticia Huckabee, and Vicki Meek. Area high school students also helped create some of the booties. Hill has spent the past six years on this project, an immersive installation meant to make attendees think about the worldwide threat of gendercide. That term was coined by American feminist author Mary Anne Warren in her 1985 book Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection, and it’s a global problem that has affected, as the title of the exhibition says, more than 100 million women. Each pair is meant to represent 10,000 women.
Hill is the founder of the Gendercide Awareness Project, which launched in 2011 as a way to align academics and art in the name of illuminating this issue. I sat down with her this week to discuss the moving exhibit, which is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 through Feb. 15.
D: What is the goal of the exhibition?
Hill: First, we strive to raise awareness of a global—and grossly under-appreciated—atrocity. Over 100 million females are missing—eliminated, erased, vanished—from our world as a result of an atrocity that remains under most people’s radars. Arguably, female gendercide is the largest atrocity the world has ever seen, but most of us are entirely unaware. That’s because it is a silent, ongoing, day-by-day attrition of women rather than a sudden eruption of violence that grabs headlines. Beyond that, the victims of gendercide are almost entirely voiceless; more than half are eliminated before reaching age five.
Second, we do our part to boost the status of women, which is critical to ending gendercide. Initially we provided fairly paid work for the women who made the baby booties. Now we raise funds to educate poor girls in developing countries.
D: What was the process for creating and assembling the booties?
Hill: We feature handmade works of art from 30 countries, works that were crafted carefully and meticulously to convey an unequivocal message from at-risk women all around the world. These are women with little education and very modest means who nevertheless seized the opportunity to communicate to the world the exquisite beauty of their local culture, their personal dignity, and their fierce allegiance to family and home. The variety and beauty of the art we display is stunning, independent of the powerful message it conveys. The baby booties are colorful, beautiful, playful, and whimsical; like the missing individuals they poignantly represent.
At the outset we asked local groups the Dallas KnitWits, the Dallas YarnBombers, and Knit Unto Others (which is affiliated with Wilshire Baptist Church) to help us. Those groups donated several hundred pairs. Students from D-FW high schools also contributed baby booties. While doing that, we reached out to nonprofits that work with at-risk women overseas. Many of them teach women to sew. We worked with 40 cooperatives in 30 developing countries and asked the women, whenever possible, to use materials and motifs traditional to their own cultures. We paid them fairly for their work, so the women lavished time and attention to make beautifully crafted baby booties.
Some of these cooperatives were formed to help women in the most extreme circumstances:
refugees from Iraq and Syria, formerly trafficked girls, women whose lives had been ravaged by AIDS, or untouchable (dalit) women. We have 11,000 pairs, each pair representing 10,000 missing women and girls.
D: Who do you think the audience is for this exhibition?
Hill: Our message always resonates with those interested in social justice, human rights, and women’s rights. Our message also resonates with men who respect and care for their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, and that can mean a somewhat more conservative slice of society; the business community, for example, or churches. Last but not least, advocates for children find this very compelling.
D: Do the programs benefit women around the world or women in the United States?
Hill: We work on behalf of women overseas. Our goal is to stop gendercide where it occurs, which is in a huge swath of the world running through East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, the Caucasus countries, Southeastern Europe, and all of Africa, both northern and sub-Saharan. Providing fairly paid work making baby booties was our first take-action project. Now that we don’t need any more baby booties, we are raising funds to educate poor girls in developing countries, where there is a marked gender gap for education. These are girls who could not otherwise go to school. We support five schools/scholarship programs in five countries around the world. We will add schools in yet more countries after a careful vetting process. Education is one of the best —perhaps the best—tool we have to end gendercide. When we educate a girl, she becomes an economic asset to her family and community, making the next generation far more likely to esteem the female half of the human race.