A couple of years ago I read a paper on gendercide in India and China. It stuck with me ever since. When I recently watched the 2012 documentary “It’s a Girl“, I decided that I need to know more about it. I need to know where this leads and what it means.
Gendercide is a word commonly used to describe sex-selective abortion, based on and responsible for, a society’s gender inequality. For the purpose of this research I would like to expand the meaning of the word “gendercide” – when referring to it in this post or the next, it will be inclusive of the actions of sex-selective abortion, as well as the abandoning of a child (to orphanages e.g.) and the selling of a child (human trafficking).
Before I venture into the dreadful topic, let’s get a basic knowledge of general gender imbalance in countries and what factors play into it. A gender imbalance within a society namely, does not naturally imply the presence of gendercide.
The World Factbook of the CIA is a good source for getting a picture of the gender gap of most countries. It’s quite interesting to see how Western countries seem to have quite a well-balanced ratio, while Eastern European countries tend towards having more women, and countries such as the United Arab Emirates appear to have so many more men than women. Listing the gender ratio is unfortunately all the Factbook does. It does not give any clue about the development of gender imbalance, nor do the age categories give information about how many boys/girls were born back in their day.
Naturally, this raises a question – What factors have influence on gender imbalance and how does this all compare?
In terms of beliefs and culture, parents of Western countries simply have no incentives (social or economic ones) to prefer a boy over a girl or vice versa. Even if they were to prefer one gender over the other, sex-selective abortion is mostly prohibited by law. This leaves the West with a gender ratio based on Fisher’s Principle, where birth gives you a 50/50 chance of having a girl or a boy – and the gender ratio would be unlikely to ever exceed 1.07/female.
A short research answers the question on why Eastern European countries tend to have more women than men, and reveals an important factor to gender imbalance – mortality rate. Alas, men in countries such as Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus, have a much higher mortality rate than women of the same country or men of others. According to this BBC artice and France Meslè’s Paper on Mortality in Eastern Europe reasons can be traffic accidents, alcoholism, circulatory diseases and (work-related) accidents. In retrospect of the World Factbook, Latvia has a 1.05 male / female ratio at birth which creates a gender balance up until the point when the generation turns 30/35 and male mortality rate increases drastically, eventually leaving many women behind.
Note that mortality rate is not only favorable to a higher female rate. South Sudan has currently one of the highest maternal mortality rates which is another way of death greatly affecting the gender ratio of a country.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE …
Now, countries such as United Arab Emirates or Qatar form another interesting case of extreme male / female ratios. Seemingly having the highest relative gender imbalance, you might be biased to think that women there are culturally repressed – hence, a preference of men. However, many countries in the Middle East (specifically Islamic ones) outlawed abortion, so sex-selective abortion isn’t even an issue. What then is the reason for having more than twice as much men than women?
Migration. UAE and Qatar are infamous for being on the receiving end of international migration. Help is needed particularly in the construction sector. Currently hundreds of thousands of migrants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, are building the necessary stadiums and infrastructure for the controversial Qatar World Cup set in 2022. They do this because oftentimes this is the only way to sufficiently support their families back home. Had Qatar a greater manufacturing economy, the gender gap would be much smaller – see China’s or Bangladesh’s manufacturing economy and how the majority working there is time and again, female.
Now that we have determined the most influential factors of gender imbalance, the following has become clear – Neither nature’s selection according to Fisher’s Principle, nor Belarus’ high male mortality rate (or South Sudan’s high female mortality rate) or migration, directly promote gender inequality. Gendercide does – and in the worst possible way too.
Focussing on China, let’s see what the two key driving forces for sex-selective abortion are.
Before any other driving force the one-child policy has to be mentioned. It has left China with no much choice and has pushed most of its population into making decisions which, without the policy, would not have been necessary to make. The infamous one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and started the “spoilt generation”. In order to stop the population boom, the one-child policy prohibited families from giving birth to more than one child. Every additional birth would be heavily fined or in some cases abortions or even sterilizations would have been forced upon the ‘culprit’. However, there were exceptions, and in later years of the policy, gender inequality of China’s politics became the very foundation for liberalization of the policy – Rural Chinese were now allowed to have a second child if the first-born was a girl. Although this deemed to prevent gendercide, I’ll just leave the implications of this new liberalization open for discussion.
Gender inequality for socio-economic reasons
Gender roles, specifally in rural China, have been somewhat traditional – women take care of raising the child, while men provide food and shelter. Accordingly, it is not unreasonable to prefer having a boy child, considering your future is depending on what your child can provide you in later years, as the one-child policy has taken away any chance of having another child. It may be unethical, yes, but despair can drive humans to do the most outrageous things. Prefering a gender over the other is not the problem here, it is the action of abortion and it is the action of selling or abandoning your baby, primarily based on your preferences or personal gains.
Sex-selective abortion is illegal in China – yet gendercide is prevalent. It is mostly a result of harmful policies (including the lack of social welfare and pension package) that spark, but also are supported by, the rather conservative and detrimental attitudes towards the female gender (gender roles). It is apparent that it is not an issue that is easily tackled. Therefore, in the coming post I will write about the decision makers and influencers, as well as what the current expectations for the future are. Following that post I will continue researching the subject, while trying to stay true to the APF guidelines mentioned in my previous post.