Dr Reeta Verma
On March 8, as the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, it is hardly a celebratory day for many women in the globe. According to the United Nations Population Fund (2007), abortion, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, and systematic killing of girls soon after they are born have resulted in at least 60 million girls missing from Asia, creating gender imbalances and other serious problems that experts say will have far reaching consequences for years to come.
The problem of gender discrimination and bias is not only the phenomena of Asian countries, the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in its report on ‘Pre-natal sex selection’ (16 September 2011: Rapporteur: Ms Doris Stump) reveals that abortions on the basis of sex-selection are growing in many of the countries in Europe creating imbalances in the male and female population.
Similar concerns were raised by Nobel Laureate Amretya Sen when he wrote in New York Review of Books (20 December 1990) that “More than 100 Million Women are Missing” in the world either by sex selective abortions, infanticide or inadequate nutrition during infancy”, the claim which was later confirmed by Monica Das Gupta in her Policy Research Working Paper (2009: The World Bank).
Most recently, award-winning documentary: “Pink Saris” by Kim Longinotto based on women’s empowerment initiative of ‘Gulabi Gang’ in India, captures a family’s treatment of women who produce female children. The documentary reveals how a woman is abandoned by her husband and in-laws because she produced a female child. Similarly, another woman in the documentary relates her experience of neglect by her family of her baby girl who later died because the family would not take the baby to the doctor for medical treatment.
Klasen and Wink’s (2003) study suggests over 40 million girls and women are 'missing' in China. The study shows that though the natural sex ratio at birth, resulting in equal numbers of men and women, is 105 males to 100 females, in Asia, that ratio has been slanted for a generation. The demographers calculate there are now over 163 million women ‘missing’ from the continent’s population and the most affected countries are China and India. It is estimated that by 2020, there could be more than 35 million ‘surplus young’ males in China and 25 million in India. While 2001 Census data in India reveals 927 girls for 1000 boys, 2011 data presents a greater imbalance in the male female ratio which is 918 girls to 1000 boys. The Centre for Social Research in India, New Delhi, presents an alarming sex ratio in male and female in Dhurala village which is as low as 600 women for every 1000 men.
In the last 20 years, it is estimated that over 10 million girls in India have been lost to female foeticide abortion or infanticide (Centre for Social Research 2010).
What are the consequences for a nation without women? Demographers assert that male and female imbalances in population will create increased cases of violence against women such as increased levels in sexual assaults and exploitation, trafficking of women, prostitution, sex-slavery and conflict within families and society.
Indian film, “Matrubhoomi - A Nation Without Women” (2003) has meaningfully depicted a future dystopia in society if male and female imbalances in population continue to grow either due to foeticide, infanticide or because of societal practices which favour males over females.
The statistics on missing women and girls of the globe, in the words of Amretya Sen “tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women.” It is a stark reminder that gender inequality is still undeniably one of the biggest barriers to woman progression in life. In many countries in the world, women’s lives are being cut short through pre-natal sex selection, malnutrition during infancy, violence during their adult years and neglect during their old age.
I believe that gender equality is a basic human right, therefore, better laws and strict implementation of the laws is necessary in order to improve women’s lives so that women can negotiate, transform and affirm their self-worth and self esteem. Women should have no reason to believe that their world is less valuable and their life is less privileged than their male counterparts.
Let’s make a pledge on the International Women’s Day that no woman ‘misses’ the world though she is entitled to be the ‘Miss World’.
Reeta Verma is a law lecturer at La Trobe University. She is a member of the Taskforce Against Domestic Violence in Indian Communities which is part of the Australia India Society Victoria. She is also involved with Relationship Australia, Victoria (RAV) working on projects relating to Indian communities.
She would like to acknowledge that most families love their daughters and cherish their women (sisters, mothers, mother-in-laws, grandmothers and elders). Ms Verma comes from a family of three sisters and a brother and she is the proud mother of two bright, intelligent and insightful daughters.