The missing daughters of India

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here in the UK we have just finished filling out our census forms. Nothing too shocking is likely to come out of it, except a more accurate representation of the ethnic diversity of Britain and perhaps some interesting figures on the number of couples living outside of marriage.

In India, the country’s recent census reveals a far more noteworthy statistic. It has just recorded the lowest gender ratio  since India’s Independence in 1947. The gender ration says that there are 914 girls to every 1000 boys.

These gender imbalances don’t just “happen” by a quirk of nature. What it means is for every 1000 boys, there are at least 86 girls under the age of six who were killed before or at birth. And what this means is that there is an endemic culture of destroying daughters and protecting sons.

According to campaigning groups, girls are often dying as part of a campaign of neglect. If a daughter is ill, she is not always bought medicine. If there isn’t enough food, she is often the one who goes hungry.  The site Gender Bytes calls this “negligent homicide”,  supported by the fact that girls under five in India have got a 40% higher mortality rate than boys the same age.

An increase in ultrasound technology and the ready availability of tests to determine a baby’s sex has also lead to millions of female foetuses being aborted, according to the medical journal The Lancet.

And those that are born that are unwanted can face hideous circumstances – read some of them here – where mothers won’t feed their babies, or poison them, or abandon them. One shocking part of this report reads: “For despite the risk of execution by hanging and about 16 months of a much-ballyhooed government scheme to assist families with daughters, in some hamlets of Tamil Nadu, murdering girls is still sometimes believed to be a wiser course than raising them”

Social bigotry towards girls has a long cultural history in India, and stats like this bring home the serious human cost of outdated misogyny. The gradual increase of standards of living for women in India, better financial independence and more social mobility across the country will help to challenge these old stereotypes that having a girl is a financial and cultural burden.

Because there is no alternative – the country can’t carry on in this trend, with fewer and fewer women each census. The women who are brought up as second class citizens then raise their daughters as second class citizens – this census should prove a wake up call that it’s time to change the system before any more precious female lives are wasted, and all their life’s potential lost with them.

After all as woman one put it, after killing her second daughter: “ “Instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her.”

This census cost the Indian state 22bn rupees.  I hope the cost can prove to be an investment with desperately needed rewards for women.

Egypt bans sex education – and women are the losers

November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

As criticism pours on the news that sex education has been banned from Egyptian schools, Egyptian women in particular, face a double impact of the fallout from this bad news.

Ordering schools to stop teaching male and female anatomy, STDs and reproductive biological facts will leave severe gaps in the younger generations knowledge.

Women will suffer as being less equipped with reliable, factual knowledge to protect themselves. Information about pregnancy will be less widely available, as will teaching the skills to prevent STDs or to know when something is wrong with your health. It pushes these subjects firmly back into the taboo world of rumour and shame.

Secondly, men will also be far more poorly educated in these matters and more likely to spread disease, make poor sexual choices and even commit sex crimes. And this inevitably has yet another negative impact on the country’s women. Egypt already has a big problem with sexual discrimination and harassment. One young woman told the BBC in a report on the country last year ; “We are almost not living. If you are always at risk of being sexually harassed everywhere, what kind of a life is this?”

Banning sex education is a massive leap backwards for men and women to form healthy, safe, equal relationships. The ludicrous new curriculum has even removed teaching on pollination and fertilisation and anatomical illustrations of the male and female reproductive systems, and will affect students aged between 12 and 17. In a country where a growing majority of Egypt’s population is scraping by on less than $100 a month, information about population growth is important.

It’s the most populous country in the Arab world – but it’s poor. There are few laws to protect the equal rights of women – women are barred as serving as judges, for example, even those who are fully qualified. Only three women serve in the 27-seat cabinet.

“Definitely there will be social and health consequences,” says Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, an outspoken advocate of reproductive health rights. “There will be more misconceptions about sex, marital disharmony and sexual harassment… and the prevalence of STDs will increase.”

A public awareness study of HIV/AIDS conducted in 2008 revealed that less than 2% of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and about 16% among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease.

These figures are terrifying. And it fits worryingly well into the context of Arab countries where only five have included reproductive health in the public school curriculum. And that doesn’t even mean its being actively taught.

With a rich wealth of internet at their fingertips, young men and women will certainly find plenty of other sources ready to inflict information about sex – namely their peers, religious extremists, forums, pornography. Wouldn’t it be better, safer and more productive just to teach them some facts?

Nepalese women learn to look after each other as state fails them

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

A very beautiful slideshow here highlights the struggle with domestic violence women face in NEPAL.

Pushpa Shreevastava has set up a local women’s group in her home, offering support to women who have been victims of domestic violence. This group is incredible, and a fantastic example of how many problems are caused by the lack of education of women. In Nepal, 95% of women have experienced domestic violence first-hand. It is also a country where women have a lack of education, no financial independence, and the state is poorly policed.

This is no co-incidence., and a shaming failure for the country’s successive unstable governments, which have deemed women’s empowerment as a low priority. Reading any history of the country  is to rifle through a shaming list of selfish and small-minded men in a series of unstable governments, who have been too busy fighting among themselves to tackle the crisis women were, and are still, facing in their own homes.

In a simple and elegant way, the bullied become the empowered; in finding the strength to meet together and talk, to start educating their daughters, to learn to survive without the men who make their lives a misery.

 These images are quite simply beautiful and moving. One is below, click here to see the rest.

A Nepalese girl studying

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