This is the cover article of this week’s The Economist, it was emotionally intense when I read it and I’ll share with you so you know how lucky we are to be women).
IMAGINE you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important in the preference for sons over daughters. Perhaps hard physical labour is still needed for the family to make its living. Perhaps only sons may inherit land. Perhaps a daughter is deemed to join another family on marriage and you want someone to care for you when you are old. Perhaps she needs a dowry.
Now imagine that you have had an ultrasound scan; it costs $12, but you can afford that. The scan says the unborn child is a girl. You yourself would prefer a boy; the rest of your family clamours for one. You would never dream of killing a baby daughter, as they do out in the villages. But an abortion seems different. What do you do?
For millions of couples, the answer is: abort the daughter, try for a son. In China and northern India more than 120 boys are being born for every 100 girls. Nature dictates that slightly more males are born than females to offset boys’ greater susceptibility to infant disease. But nothing on this scale.
It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions—aborted, killed, neglected to death.
Most people know China and northern India have unnaturally large numbers of boys. But few appreciate how bad the problem is, or that it is rising. In China the imbalance between the sexes was 108 boys to 100 girls for the generation born in the late 1980s; for the generation of the early 2000s, it was 124 to 100. In some Chinese provinces the ratio is an unprecedented 130 to 100.
In fact the destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus. In societies where four or six children were common, a boy would almost certainly come along eventually; son preference did not need to exist at the expense of daughters. But now couples want two children—or, as in China, are allowed only one—they will sacrifice unborn daughters to their pursuit of a son.
How to stop half the sky crashing down
Baby girls are thus victims of a malign combination of ancient prejudice and modern preferences for small families. Only one country has managed to change this pattern. In the 1990s South Korea had a sex ratio almost as skewed as China’s. Now, it is heading towards normality. It has achieved this not deliberately, but because the culture changed. Female education, anti-discrimination suits and equal-rights rulings made son preference seem old-fashioned and unnecessary. The forces of modernity first exacerbated prejudice—then overwhelmed it.
And all countries need to raise the value of girls. They should encourage female education; abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property; make examples of hospitals and clinics with impossible sex ratios; get women engaged in public life—using everything from television newsreaders to women traffic police. Mao Zedong said “women hold up half the sky.” The world needs to do more to prevent a gendercide that will have the sky crashing down.
Back to normal life. Yesterday I had oatbran for a change (I’ve been having bread bread bread almost every morning lately)
but I was reading about bread 😉 I met Jeff and Zoe in San Francisco Foodbuzz Event and when I wanted to make my own bread I immediately ordered the book.
morning setting was weird again, right? FT and cookbook. 😉
I spent the whole day at the school, back home I wanted a comfort and balancing meal. (I had lunch at school restaurant with a invited speaker and had salmon with mashed potato, so I needed veggie)
As I ate, images of farm girls/women in China came to me. I felt sorry for them but at the same time I was truly grateful to be alive, to be where I am and to be able to do what I do.
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5 responses to “A serious talk: Gendercide”
This is such a sad topic, but also one that deserves a lot of attention. Thanks for sharing this article.
In my opinion, the biggest struggle is to change cultural norms.
I read a similar article in one of our newspapers the other day and I was saddened though to be honest.. not so surprised either.We’re lucky enough to live in countries where women aren’t just a burden but there are other places in this world where poverty and tradition is very present. I believe that it takes a lot to make people realize that girls are just as good as boys. 😦
So sad to read about gendercide. I’m grateful to live in the USA, where women are making great strides and making their mark on the world.
What a powerful post, Coco. I knew that some areas still were only “allowed” one child per family and that a boy was preferred, but I didn’t realize that women were paying for ultrasounds, finding that the baby was a girl and aborting for that sole reason. Sure makes me grateful to live in such a free country!
Wow, Coco, that article is really eye-opening. I never thought that practices like that were still happening in today’s world. It makes me incredibly grateful to live in the US. Thanks for sharing this!