It is poignant to note as I originally wrote this post on International Women’s Day that South Asian women face incredible challenges. As noted in The Himalayan Times, South Asia “is at the bottom of a global ranking of gender inequality using the five indicators of maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, parliamentary representation, education and labor force participation.” Millions of girls are estimated to have been killed in infancy, in childhood, or aborted after ultrasounds that revealed the gender of the fetus, leading to a not insignificant population imbalance. In India, for example, it is estimated that there are eight girls for every ten boys due to these practices.
This video report provides some cultural context for the reasons for sex-selective abortions in India, showing some heart-rending interviews from unwanted girls and women who were pressured into aborting their female fetuses. It is a human tragedy that these social and economic systems render the lives of women as less valuable than the lives of men, thus providing families with tangible incentives to make certain that there will be enough boys in the family to support them, as girls are usually married off and cannot be relied upon to help aging parents.
Laws in India – and now in the UK – are meant to prevent sex-selective abortions, but the cultural conditioning runs so deep that laws may not help prevent these practices. Instead, it seems that an educational campaign to highlight the worth of women as human beings (as blisteringly obvious as it sounds when typed out) combined with economic reforms to ensure that women are able to work and support themselves might help more.
I had the opportunity to witness some of these efforts while visiting Manipur, a state in north-east India. I had a friend take photos of signs lining the main road in Imphal, the capital city. Here they are:
(The PDNT Act referenced in the second picture stands for the Pre-natal Diagnostics and Technique Act, which prohibits determining the sex of a fetus if that action might lead to an abortion. As far as I can gather, abortion is illegal in India under most circumstances, unless to save the life of the mother. I think outlawing all abortion is probably too restrictive, especially since sex education in India ranges from nonexistent to appallingly limited, but that’s a rant for another time.)
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.