Urgent Evoke

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with the face of a young girl from India, China, or Pakistan. Only one word is beneath her picture. Missing. No name. No contact details. No plea for help. She wasn't wanted in the first place.

Now add 99,999,999 milk cartons to the row. A girl looks out from each. Nameless. Missing and presumed dead. A hundred million of them.

Okay, estimates are estimates. Nobody has counted, but based on the work of Economics Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, and others, the numbers of girls who are missing from the populations of countries from Egypt to China is stunning.

The easy explanation - gender preference for boys in a number of countries leads to infanticide, abortion, or death through neglect among girls. Of course, it is more complicated than that. Other non-cultural factors may effect disparate survival rates between the sexes and should be investigated, but even granting these effects, the cultural war on girls is breathtaking - deaths during World War Two totaled 50-78 million.

What should we do? Sure, I would love to wag my finger at all these cultures and tell them how unenlightened they are, after all, living in this part of the world, it was a constant refrain "Now that you've had two daughters, you must be really glad to have a son." The ten fingers, ten toes answer didn't seem to satisfy many.

However, if you look at the problem, it is closely linked to poverty. Societies that have had a demonstrated bias towards boys historically have diminished the preference as incomes rose. Sure there may be cultural hold outs and I am happy to wag my finger at them, but in the meantime, lets kill two birds with one stone - reducing poverty will reduce the number of faces that go on the milk cartons.

Views: 29

Comment by Iron Helix on April 8, 2010 at 1:34am
In China, the historical preference for boys was supposedly based off the idea that males would support the parents in their later years, whereas females would be married off to join another family and thus unable to support the parents. I guess it is somewhat similar in other countries, and certainly religion plays a large part in others... So creating a solution largely means addressing those aspects as well.
Comment by Dr Pete on April 8, 2010 at 1:45am
True enough! The most "in your face" element of this are the ultrasound & abortion clinics (not, I'd imagine, for the most destitute), but it is widespread, and the primary solution may require a generation or more-- bringing more perceived "value" to a woman's life through expanded opportunity and education, along with the inevitable scarcity of women that these policies are likely to produce down the road.
Comment by Michele Baron on April 8, 2010 at 6:39am
Solutions also involve educating and empowering the mothers--they are mothers of girls, boys, children. Generations of becoming innurred to the tragedies facing children, girls, and, yes, boys, the world over scar women/mothers as terribly as battles and PTSD do men/warriors. Solutions are desperately needed, attention, elevation, support. (I will be adding my voice/own blogs soon.) Thank you for the post.
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on April 8, 2010 at 7:18am
I think this is right on target, Mark. Right or wrong, women are valued according to their material contribution to the family. One striking thing to me in an anthropology course I had was the degree to which the prestige of women within a culture was linked to the amount of food production they did. Nowadays that translates into the amount of money they can bring in. If we raise women's earning potential we also increase their value within the family. And studies have shown that when women have greater control over the finances they will 'invest' that money in education for their children and improving their family's health.

As for the care of the elderly that Iron Helix brings up, when I was on Taiwan in the 80's the country was still in transition. Already, though, the middle-class had pretty much abandoned the idea that having sons was essential. One of my students explained that families were discovering that with more income it was actually the daughters who were more likely to care for their parents in their old age. Daughters-in-law, the traditional caregivers, once they had careers of their own, were no longer willing to look after their husband's parents.
Comment by Omri or something on April 8, 2010 at 8:24am
I agree with every word.
however, I think there is something to be said about the way they get out of poverty. Having done no proper study I have to rely on no proper studies, but as far as I know, when a country gets rich quick (from oil for instance) they tend not to drop those cultural biases or even strengthen them.
The example I managed to come up with were: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libia (or on the funny side: Texas)
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on April 8, 2010 at 3:54pm
+1 KS. The issue of lineage which is culturally VERY significant in Africa's context should also be considered. Who will keep the family name alive?
Comment by Mark Mulkerin on April 8, 2010 at 4:17pm
I appreciate that the cultural challenges are deeply rooted, but the case of South Korea gives me some cause for hope. Statistically it has gone from looking a lot like China and other countries on sex disparity among children until its economy really began to take off in the 90s. Challenges remain. Having attended funeral rites with my Korean inlaws, I know that under traditional Confucianism responsibility for honoring the ancestors falls to the eldest male heir. Of course, many families lack a male heir and under the traditions the ancestors cannot be properly respected - and at least among my inlaws, they understand this and expect that their valued traditions can and will evolve to fit new circ**stance.

If we focus only on issues like sons are needed in Hindu families to carry out rituals necessary for his parents karmic success (if I misunderstand, forgive), we won't ever convince some of the value of women. I know if my soul depended on a son, I'd be highly motivated. But if we can create opportunities for women in other ways, I have faith that religious and cultural leaders will create new rituals and traditions and claim that it was the true understanding all along. At least, that is my hope.
Comment by nomadHAR on April 13, 2010 at 9:50pm
reducing poverty is a very, very complex issue with a number of factors and a collection of contrasting philosophies to deal with it. none of these would deal with the fact that women (and men) continue to face opposition to gender equality due to cultural and religious factors.

i am sorry, but i have little faith in the currently entrenched leaders of the most misogynist religions to do anything in the realm of gender equality. change there must be from the activists within and from the activists without, working in harmony. also, i think that modern Christianity has done as much or more harm to gender equality as any religion.

yeah, South Korea hasn't had laws on gender of children, but there was a long period where people would just stop having children after having a boy or two. this slowly caused the numbers to tilt to where now there are just slightly more men than women (there are more women in the world than men as a wh***). the younger generation seems to be balancing this out.

btw, it is much much harder for a man than a woman to emigrate to South Korea. i wonder if this is one of the reasons?
Comment by Kevin DiVico on April 17, 2010 at 7:23am
Mark - good post - you point out something that has gone on for centuries.... the subjugation and killing of women and girls - only by empowering through both knowledge and the ability to defend oneself will headway be made in this war...

here is an a link to an interesting researched article on how Women where treated in Sparta...


Not a perfect society but some lessons to be learned eh
Comment by Michele Baron on April 17, 2010 at 2:03pm
very interesting link, Kevin... lots to learn. thank you for the comment @ Mark M. thank you for the post--and congratulations on onesunfarm page...


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