Gender Imbalance: The Perils In China And India

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A web of seamless relationships is being woven across national borders with untold economic impact worldwide. As a result, this unimpeded spread of knowledge, capital, and trade is exercising a strong influence on developmental trends, economic and human, in those countries that benefit most from this expansion.

For example, in China and India, technology is contributing enormously to an economic development widely applauded and envied globally, yet at the same time, this rapid growth has engendered a potentially disastrous change in the makeup of its human population. The ratio of female-to-male births has become increasingly lopsided, a harbinger of an acute social problem caused by gender imbalance and its attendant ills.

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Gender Imbalance: The Perils In China And India

  1. 1. Munindra Khaund GENDER IMBALANCE: THE PERILS IN CHINA AND INDIA A web of seamless relationships is being woven across national borders with untold economic impact worldwide. As a result, this unimpeded spread of knowledge, capital, and trade is exercising a strong influence on developmental trends, economic and human, in those countries that benefit most from this expansion. For example, in China and India, technology is contributing enormously to an economic development widely applauded and envied globally, yet at the same time, this rapid growth has engendered a potentially disastrous change in the makeup of its human population. The ratio of female-to-male births has become increasingly lopsided, a harbinger of an acute social problem caused by gender imbalance and its attendant ills. A condition of gender imbalance becomes manifest when deliberate sex- selection among babies takes place eliminating female fetuses, resulting in a preponderance of male births. The World Health Organization norm is 950 girls per 1,000 boys. The ratios for both China and India are larger. Gender imbalance is increasing in China due to the one-child policy, the legacy of a society that legitimizes the death of a girl-child in the hope of obtaining later a male. Nicholas Eberstad, in his study "Power and Population in Asia", has concluded that a regional bride shortage in China is in process of becoming a national problem. More than a decade ago, Beijing University's chief demographer stated "the loss of female births will affect the true sex ratio at birth and at young ages, creating an unbalanced population sex structure in the future and resulting in potentially serious social problems". 1
  2. 2. The relative ease of foreign adoption of female babies adds to the problem. In the People's Daily, a Chinese vice-minister of the State Population and Family Planning Commission acknowledged, "99 percent of Chinese children adopted by foreigners are girls, and boys under the age of 10 number millions more than girls of the same age". In "China's Quiet Export: Children", the author cites data derived from U.S. Department of State documents: "U.S. parents adopt around 120,000 children a year, of whom one in six originates from foreign countries. The largest source, China, accounted for over 6,800". According to the United Nations, there are 32 million fewer women than men in India. Sex determination tests are illegal under the Indian Prohibition of Sex Selection Act of 1994. Nonetheless, in an effort to avoid wedding and dowry costs, parents often continue to practice "son preference". Within India, in the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the extent of gender imbalance has become alarming. The World Development Report 2006 indicates that as early as 1993, there were "84 females for every 100 males" and that "child mortality rates are higher among girls than boys". The report reveals "several cases of infant girls who were allowed to wither away and die in circumstances that would undoubtedly have prompted energetic action in the case of a male child". Prabhat Jha and his colleagues, in a recent study estimate 10 million female fetuses may have been lost in the last 20 years. Ashish Bose and Mira Shiva's study, "Darkness at Noon", shows that "demographic fundamentalism" is on the rise in India. Amartya Sen argues that this selection process also aids in confirming the low status of women in India. He coined the term "missing women" while referring to the female "deficit" in countries like China and India. India also has an increasing disparity of female-to-males fostered by a culture that ignores, or at least tolerates, female infanticide. Much of the anti-female bias is a relic of long-held cultural beliefs and social norms. In the Mahabharata, an ancient religious epic of India, the husband has the freedom to terminate a marriage if 'a wife... acts as 2
  3. 3. she pleases, who is sterile or gives birth only to daughters or whose children die young.' The belief that daughters are in some sense "inferior" to sons pervades Hindu scriptures. Amartya Sen indicates that, "when anti-female bias is in action, it reflects the hold of traditional masculine values from which mothers themselves may not be immune... what is needed is not just freedom of action but also freedom of thought - in a woman's ability and willingness to question received values. Informed and critical action is important in combating inequality of every kind. Gender inequality, including its many faces, is no exception." In their book "Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population", Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer cited two rebellions in Manchu Dynasty China wherein female infanticide was prevalent thus leading to a disproportionately male society. The authors point to instances in history, biology, and sociology to demonstrate that "surplus males" will contribute to social disorder and higher crime rates. Daniel Little's book "Understanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science" mentions that 19th-century Chinese rebellions were also concentrated in areas that were disproportionately male. Their analysis indicates that low-status young adult men with little chance of forming families of their own are "much more prone to attempt to improve their situation through violent and criminal behavior in a strategy of coalitional aggression." In his book "Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City", David T. Courtwright examines the historical pattern of American violence and disorder. Historically, America has had an abundance of young men, which was beneficial from an economic standpoint. From a social standpoint, however, "young men who worked hard also lived and played hard, often to the point of causing serious violence and disorder. Endocrine research, bolstered by historical, criminological, and cross-cultural studies, suggest that this tendency is universal". 3
  4. 4. Another perilous consequence of gender imbalance is its effects on the treatment of women. Martin Walker, in his article "The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration", has noted that sexual frustration is "adding a potent ingredient to an increasingly volatile regional cocktail of problems that include surging economic growth, urbanization, drug abuse, and environmental degradation". Acute gender imbalance in China and India contributes to grave social ills - increasing prostitution, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, and violence and in the kidnapping and sale of women. A recent Radio Free Europe commentary states that, "political and social stability in both countries could suffer. It is feared that the millions of restless young men could begin to vent their frustration through violence, crime, and political extremism." Recent studies suggest that between "one in three and one in five women globally have been physically and sexually assaulted by intimate partners in their lifetime". An UPI article on Monsters & Critics reports - "Gurpreet, a 32-year-old woman in Punjab's Mansa district, said she had married the eldest of three brothers, but after she had a son, her husband forced her into a sexual relationship with his younger brothers, including one who was only 16." World Health Organization report warns, "Violence against women severely affects the spread of HIV/ AIDS". Women who are victims of domestic assault are twice as likely to suffer poor health. In addition, the abuse they suffer is responsible for the spread of HIV amongst women, given they are not in a position to demand safe sex. Currently 39% of HIV-positive Indians are women. Without proper state intervention, India risks an epidemic that could cost millions of lives. In a recent BBC report entitled, "India sex doctor jailed", a doctor was taped telling a patient that she was carrying "female foetus and it would be taken care of". Another report entitled, "India's 'bride buying' country", states that, "Since there aren't enough local women to marry, Haryana's men pay touts to bring women for them to marry and to work 4
  5. 5. on their farms." The report further highlights that "most of these women end up being used as sex slaves and then resold to other men in what looks like a flourishing market in trafficking of women". Navdip Dhariwal, BBC Correspondent comments in her report entitled, "The 'curse' of having a girl" -- "In my parents' native Punjab, girls are often killed at birth. It has skewed the ratio of girls to boys so much that some villages have not seen the birth of a female in years. Thousands of men in rural areas now have trouble finding a wife." From an economic perspective, gender imbalance means more power for Indian women to find a suitable husband. In this view, a woman is a commodity, low in supply but high in demand, and hence has high value and a better opportunity to gain a husband from among the large supply of males. However, social and cultural factors may dominate these economic factors. China and India have a long history of gender bias. It is a practice rooted in a thorny mix of economic, social, and cultural factors, especially dowry. In China and India, increasing imbalance could mean a greater dominance of men over women, and fewer women to fight for their rights. The seemingly positive future will not prove so promising for China and Indian unless measures are implemented to address gender imbalance. Males in China and India face a future wherein 15% of them will not find wives. Gender imbalance is one consequence of the web of cultural, social, and economic relationships affecting life not merely in China and India but also in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. This complex social situation provides China and India the opportunity to transform attitudes toward women and toward the problem of gender imbalance. They must not ignore the perils resulting from this distortion of sex ratios, just as other nations need to watch their development with concern. 5

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