Gendercide dissected


by Rumbold
9th March, 2010 at 8:22 pm    

The Economist this week carries an excellent and in-depth look at gendercide, the term coined to describe the impact that the deliberate attempt to favour male babies over female ones has had on the male-female sex ratio throughout the world. It looks at the statistics, and what has caused such a skewing to occur, and what its impacts are and may be.

There is a natural imbalance between boys and girls, with nature ensuring roughly 5% more boys are born than girls in order to compensate for boys being more susceptible to diseases as infants. Yet in many parts of the developing world, there is too much of a numerical gap between the sexes for it to be a natural phenomenon.

The increasingly availability of ultrasound and abortion has played a big part in the skewing of the sex ratio, as it is easier to abort a female foetus then to kill a female baby, especially if you know the sex of the foetus. Indian doctors once advertised the ‘benefits’ of ultrasound technology with the slogan:

“Pay 5,000 rupees today and save 50,000 rupees tomorrow” (the saving was on the cost of a daughter’s dowry).”

Yet easier access to ultrasound and abortion isn’t the only thing with affects the ratio. Dr. Monica Das Gupta argues that what also affects it is the desire for smaller families in better-off households. As real incomes rise there is less need to have large numbers of children, as the household doesn’t require a large workforce. This means though that the pressure to have a boy becomes more acute, as if you plan to have six children a few girls don’t matter, but if you plan for one or two children you ‘can’t afford’ to have a girl, as you might not want to raise another child. China’s ‘one child policy’ has helped to reinforce this, with the country facing a severe shortage of females.

And what of the effects?

India and China now have tens of millions of young men without partners/wives. As historians point out:

Young men have been responsible for the vast preponderance of crime and violence—especially single men in countries where status and social acceptance depend on being married and having children, as it does in China and India. A rising population of frustrated single men spells trouble.

Nor is this idle speculation:

The crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios, with stories abounding of bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape and prostitution. A study into whether these things were connected concluded that they were, and that higher sex ratios accounted for about one-seventh of the rise in crime. In India, too, there is a correlation between provincial crime rates and sex ratios. In “Bare Branches”, Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer gave warning that the social problems of biased sex ratios would lead to more authoritarian policing.

Countries close to China have also seen raids into villages, with smugglers and gangsters carrying off girls from native countries.

Yet in some ways the skewed ratio has begun to benefit surviving females. Girls in China are being seen as a more attractive prospect for parents because of the costs of raising a boy, and in India dowries paid by a girl’s family are decreasing, while money paid by a groom’s family to the bride’s one is increasingly.

Will the situation improve over time? It is impossible to say, but the Economist points to the example of South Korea, which once had the world’s highest recorded discrepancy between male and female:

Between 1985 and 2003, the share of South Korean women who told national health surveyors that they felt “they must have a son” fell by almost two-thirds, from 48% to 17%. After a lag of a decade, the sex ratio began to fall in the mid-1990s and is now 110 to 100. Ms Das Gupta argues that though it takes a long time for social norms favouring sons to alter, and though the transition can be delayed by the introduction of ultrasound scans, eventually change will come. Modernisation not only makes it easier for parents to control the sex of their children, it also changes people’s values and undermines those norms which set a higher store on sons. At some point, one trend becomes more important than the other.

Let’s hope that other countries see the same trends. People like Dr. Mitu Khurana are fighting against the tide, but the more who do it the easier it will become.


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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,China,Sex equality,South Asia






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  1. Yakoub Islam

    RT @pickledpolitics Pickled Politics » Gendercide dissected http://bit.ly/9DXesC


  2. Peter M Dingle

    Pickled Politics » Gendercide dissected http://bit.ly/aBcbbE




  1. Shatterface — on 9th March, 2010 at 9:01 pm  

    I’d like to think that a shortage of women would increase their power as they get more choice in picking partners but I suspect it will just makes them a more valuable ‘property’.

  2. Laban — on 9th March, 2010 at 9:11 pm  

    I see. Sex-neutral abortion is fine, a womans right to kill and all that.

    But the minute women make the “wrong” choice, its what the BBC call ‘female foeticide’ and is a great evil.

    “it is easier to abort a female foetus then to kill a female baby”

    It’s certainly easier from a legal perspective. But in either case the baby is “impacted negatively”.

  3. Shatterface — on 9th March, 2010 at 9:23 pm  

    ‘I see. Sex-neutral abortion is fine, a womans right to kill and all that’

    Women don’t have the right to ‘kill’, they have the right not to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

  4. sonia — on 9th March, 2010 at 9:39 pm  

    The situation will only change when the ambivalence towards women changes. And women themselves learn they have agency through themselves/daughters and that power doesn’t have to come through their sons.

    I was reading some interesting stuff about a guy called Ashis Nandy who was talking about India having this really weird contradiction about they view the female and femininity. one the one hand (as Amrit has cleverly pointed out too) there’s all this talk of Mother India and (as Nandy points out ) the mother-son relationship is the “power nexus” and on the other, there is this ‘disgust’ towards women which the matriarchs themselves internalise.

    very complex stuff. It makes me think about the desires of my mother, who has 5 daughters and really wanted a son, and that in her context, she would have expected to realise her ambition and power through a son. My Dad ironically got over not having sons much more quickly than my mother – as a man, he did not have to rely on another person to realise his ambitions.

  5. MiriamBinder — on 10th March, 2010 at 7:31 am  

    Sonia, I think you have the whole issue of it in a nutshell there. As long as the individual will continue to see their personal validation in procreation then we have a problem. I say we as it is primarily a mankind as a whole issue. We have different manifestations of the problem in different areas across the globe; gender selection is one, the young school drop-out with 2/3+ by different fathers is another and there are plenty of others in between the two.

    Labans’ comment, based as it is in the ‘pro-life’ camp for instance, is yet another. The value of life is in the life an individual lives not in the life they create; that is merely the icing on the cake ;)

  6. Sarah AB — on 10th March, 2010 at 8:22 am  

    @Laban – actually I do take your point. But I don’t think the emphasis of the article was to agonise about how horrific or sinful aborting female foetuses is – it was much more about what the phenomenon says about the position of women in a society which favours male children so much – and about the future prospects for society as a whole if the sex ratio becomes very skewed.

  7. Katy Newton — on 10th March, 2010 at 8:25 am  

    @6: agreed – in any event, it is well known that before abortion became widely available female babies were frequently killed shortly after they were born.

  8. cjcjc — on 10th March, 2010 at 8:45 am  

    I’ve had to refresh this page a few times to check I’m on the correct site.

    Is PP criticising a non-western cultural practice?

    I am optimistic that these attitudes, as in Korea, will change.

  9. BenSix — on 10th March, 2010 at 11:46 am  

    Shatterface -

    Women don’t have the right to ‘kill’, they have the right not to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

    In practice, of course, there isn’t a difference. The right to terminate a pregnancy entails the right to end a life, and ergo…

    cjcjc -

    Is PP criticising a non-western cultural practice?

    *Cough*. Oh, and *splutter*.

  10. Katy Newton — on 10th March, 2010 at 11:49 am  

    To be honest, I’ve never really been that bothered about the language that people use to describe abortion. Whether you describe it as a woman’s right to kill a baby before it’s born or a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, that’s what it is – her right and her business, at least until they find a way to gestate a foetus that doesn’t involve a woman being physically ill for 9 months. The way I see it is, when you can safely remove a foetus from a woman and either put it in some sort of box for nine months or implant it in a man or another person, it might be time to revisit the question of abortion – if, of course, we can afford to accommodate every single fertilised egg all the way into adulthood…

    I often think people drastically underestimate the difficulty and discomfort of pregnancy, not to mention the fact that it makes you vulnerable to all sorts of life-threatening illnesses and conditions that you wouldn’t be at risk of if you weren’t pregnant, from partial paralysis to massive infection.

  11. MiriamBinder — on 10th March, 2010 at 2:21 pm  

    How come this thread which concerned itself with the issue of gendercide has suddenly turned into a discussion about abortion?

  12. Bill Corr — on 10th March, 2010 at 2:37 pm  

    If there is a shortage of females, sooner or later someone will come up with the very old idea of two or more blokes being married to one woman.

    Who went in for this? Only Tibetans and Lepchas and spacey New Age hippies?

    Anyone else?

  13. BenSix — on 10th March, 2010 at 2:49 pm  

    Miriam -

    How come this thread which concerned itself with the issue of gendercide has suddenly turned into a discussion about abortion?

    Well…

    The increasingly availability of ultrasound and abortion has played a big part in the skewing of the sex ratio, as it is easier to abort a female foetus then to kill a female baby, especially if you know the sex of the foetus.

  14. MiriamBinder — on 10th March, 2010 at 3:01 pm  

    @ Bill Corr # 12 – Is this a serious question because you could have fooled me ;)

    Bensix, I realise that abortion has a part to play in gendercide as does ultrasound as do physicians and any number of other individuals …

    Abortion however is but one step in the process and as such has very little to do with the cultural perceptions that gave rise to the gender differential in application; or the consequences of large scale practise of gendercide for that matter.

  15. Shatterface — on 10th March, 2010 at 3:29 pm  

    ‘Abortion however is but one step in the process and as such has very little to do with the cultural perceptions that gave rise to the gender differential in application; or the consequences of large scale practise of gendercide for that matter.’

    Abortion is the means by which this gender imbalance occurs, unless it’s something to do with loose boxer shorts, drinking mint tea and making love doggy-style during a full moon.

  16. douglas clark — on 10th March, 2010 at 3:55 pm  

    I think economics might sort this out, as Rumbold says.

    and making love doggy-style during a full moon..

    Shatterface, correct me if I am wrong, isn’t that werewolves?
    :-)

  17. MiriamBinder — on 10th March, 2010 at 4:16 pm  

    @ Shatterface # 15 – I appreciate the fact that abortion is a single step in the process. In much the same sense that the petrol station has given rise to car accidents (after all, if you cannot fill your car with petrol, you are hardly likely to occasion a hit and run ;) ) Yet when discussing road safety, I don’t think many would chose to focus on the prevalence of petrol stations.

  18. earwicga — on 10th March, 2010 at 5:12 pm  

    I agree Rumbold, it is an interesting article. I had previously read a more concise article on the same website, which in it’s simplicity is perhaps more disturbing: http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=15606229 and explains the reasons for femicide as such:

    ‘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’

    Of course Gendercide is a term which is non-sex specific and I prefer to use the term femicide when talking about femicide. I’m not sure either that the article is an in-depth look at femicide as it mainly discusses prenatal femicide in depth and the effects thereof on society in terms of savings accounts and a seventh of the fifty percent crime increase being attributed to skewed sex ratios.

    The longer article touches on a rise in female suicide rates and attributes this to women selectively choosing which embryos to carry to term but does not show any evidence to connect these two things. In fact this point in the article seems extremely flippant in the absence of discussion of male/female inequality. Self-immolation by women in Afghanistan stands currently at an unprecedented rate and this cannot be seen to be due to prenatal femicide.

    The longer article also touches on the abuse of girl children who make it to birth. This is to me is where the article could have gone further if it were to live up to the ‘in-depth’ label it is given in the OP. An actual in-depth discussion of femicide would also cover subjects such as the deliberate lack of female health care available to women, including maternal and reproductive care and rights which are conspicuously absent from the Economist article. As are violence against women and economic and power inequalities.

    I have never read anywhere of any positive effects coming from prenatal femicide and am extremely skeptical of this comment from the longer Economist article:

    ‘Modernisation not only makes it easier for parents to control the sex of their children, it also changes people’s values and undermines those norms which set a higher store on sons. At some point, one trend becomes more important than the other.’

    It is logical, but that doesn’t mean it is true.

    NB – If you haven’t read any of Xinran’s work then I would recommend it. ‘The Good Women of China’ is probably one of the most painful books I have ever read, but also one of the best.

  19. Rumbold — on 10th March, 2010 at 8:34 pm  

    Thank you BenSix.

    Cjcjc- how many other poltiical sites post on issues like forced marriages and HBV?

    Earwiga:

    That is an interesting point about ‘gendercide’ verses ‘femicide’. I suppose the rationale is that ‘gendercide’ sounds closer to ‘genocide’, which is meant to shock.

  20. persephone — on 10th March, 2010 at 9:23 pm  

    ” It is logical, but that doesn’t mean it is true.”

    I read the shorter article and it gave the example of South Korea where modernity did just that – by empowering women through education and the like it became to be seen as old fashioned to discriminate against women – the newer norm/culture to be modern outgrew the outdated norm of seeing women as ‘lower’ worth.

    I hope that shift follows in the other countries where this attitude is rife

  21. douglas clark — on 11th March, 2010 at 7:44 am  

    cjcjc @ 8,

    You haven’t a clue about where or what this site is about, do you?

    It is just a spot for you to cry.

    On the contrary, it is actually about people trying to come together. Wait around for a while and you’d maybe see the point….

    Rumbold almost always speaks from a human rights perspective. I’ve always admired him for that. And this site seems to have no difficulty in letting him……

    You are some confused idiot.

  22. platinum786 — on 11th March, 2010 at 11:13 am  

    People aren’t savages, they’re just put in a set of circumstances where girls are seen to be a burden and it’s deemed to be acceptable to kill them. It’s sick, but mankind is capable of doing some very sick things and justifying it.

    Islam has taught for 1400+ years to view daughters in a positive light, yet even today, even in Britain I know Muslims who look at daughters as burdens.In a country were the state will even go as far as feed, clothe and educate your children if you cannot afford to, these people still see daughters as a burden.

    Do you think it’s fair to say they are still as sick as those who participate in female featocide in poor countries?

  23. MiriamBinder — on 11th March, 2010 at 12:27 pm  

    There certainly is something fundamentally wrong where individuals are valued based not on their personal talents and contributions (actual or potential) but rather on their gender/ethnicity/faith or any other attribute that is not under their personal control. Individuals on the whole do not elect to be born male or female nor do they have any control over their parentage, the place of their birth or the time of their birth.

    So yes, I would have to say that it is very fair to say that they are as sick as those who participate in female foeticide or any other form of preferential or non-preferential treatment.

  24. sonia — on 11th March, 2010 at 4:48 pm  

    “Abortion is the means by which this gender imbalance occurs”

    what rubbish. gender imbalance has existed in societies where women have been forced to give birth (i.e. no recourse to abortion)

    yeah how has this become about abortion>?

    and the thing about what Shatterface says about the shortage of women in comment no. 1, the point is that it is the alpha-males who then get the women, so its really a problem for the not-so-alpha males. the women won’t really have much choice so its hardly as if they are in a ‘free’ situation when again, its the fact that their economic position in society is tied so closely to procreation, is the real source of gender imbalance.

    as miriambinder says in 5

  25. sonia — on 11th March, 2010 at 4:49 pm  

    the wider point is about social attitudes towards gender roles and the freedom of an individual to shape the gender role constraints upon them. this is of course global and ongoing, we negotiate these all the time.

  26. Bill Corr — on 11th March, 2010 at 7:14 pm  

    The dowry system is an intolerable burden, hence femicide.

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