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bigotry towards girls has a long cultural history in India, and stats like this bring home the serious human cost of outdated misogyny.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.

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Beware of filmed “confessions” from a scared, intimidated woman

December 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Sakineh Ashtiani

Celebrities are getting involved with the case of Sakineh Ashtiani (see my post on November 3rd) who is still languishing in prison in Iran facing death by stoning for the alleged crime of adultery.

To say this case is confusing is an understatement. Sakineh’s alleged crimes include adultery (after her husband’s death) and then the renewed charge became the murder of her husband. Her children have led the campaign worldwide after the case was conducted in a language she didn’t speak with allegations that the 43-year-old was tortured in prison. She was first accused in 2006 and sentenced to 99 lashes, which were carried out in front of her 17-year-old son. Various reports that she will now be sentenced to hang rather than face stoning have been confused with reports of more torture and the Iranian judicial services “losing” the notes on her case – and despite a man having already been convicted for the murder of her husband.

Basically, it’s a shambles, and it’s hard to know even where to start with the human rights abuses in this case.

Videos of her “confessing” being shown on state TV have done little to change international opinion (watch the video here) that the Iranian system is barbaric and unfair towards women and that Sakineh should be released – or at least in the immediacy, that the death penalty towards her should be revoked. The confession of a woman under duress, facing death and torture, should not be allowed to stand up in court. Even a corrupt court.

What this case urgently needs is more high-profile media attention to shame Iran into revoking this inhumane sentence. And so the likes of Colin Firth, Sting, Robert Redford, Damian Hirst and Robert de Niro have joined more than 80 actors, politicians, writers and artists to raise awareness of her case and call for her immediate release. This is a brilliant example of how celebrities can use their status to bring about change. After all, she has been in prison for more than three years. It’s time the world stood up to Iran and keep the focus on her case until she is free and safe.

Lack of coverage on “honour killings” shames us all

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having the word “honour” associated with any type of crime is a contradition in terms, and honour killings have to be one of the least spoken about crimes against women, in my opinon.

A report from the UN finds today that Afghan women are still at massive risk of violence and “honour” crimes. The government is simply not doing enough to protect women – probably because they are not really adressing issues like education or financial independence, which have the power to place women in a much stronger position than simply bringing in a new law – which they have done. Laws are easy to bring in, but not to enforce, particularly in a difficult scenario like this which delves into the heart of private communities.

Women in Afganistan

The other day I was on the Stop Honour Killings site, and with less than five minutes on it you can see examples of recent honour crimes in Iraq, the UK, India, Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda  – and it really hammers home that this is a worldwide  issue. This site has a gallery of victims on its homepage of honour killings, and it makes chilling viewing to see so many women assualted or killed in the most gruesome of circumstances, in cases that never made it into the papers.

Perhaps because it goes on typically within smaller or more private communities, or perhaps because they frequently take place in Islamic communities where the press is wary to probe, these crimes just don’t seem to get the press coverage you’d think they would.

Our real shame in these crimes is that we just don’t hear enough about them – shocking when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more. So, as many potentially as 20,000 women and girls are directly affected – and many reports suggest that incidents are increasing in the last 20 years. The victim’s family members – male and female, guilty or innocent – are affected. Their communities are affected, by implication their economies are affected, and the country is affected.  

How many more people have to be affected before this stops being a “women’s issue?”

Indian women banned from using mobile phones…

November 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

…..for their “own protection”, of course. I’m not sure who broke this story first, but it seems to have exploded everywhere now. A friend even emailed me today from halfway across the world to say he’d read it in the Egyptian Gazette. It’s a good example of how the media can take a story and really raise awarenes of an important issue we wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.

Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/Corbis: Indian Woman uses her mobile phone

In the small village of Lank, in northern India, single women have been banned from using their mobile phones. It subjects them to the temptation of elopement, apparantly – reinforcing the idea that women cannot be trusted to make their own mature sexual and romantic choices.

Unmarried boys can of course still have phones, but are only supposed to actively use them under parental supervision. Good luck effectively enforcing that one. 

Does it apply to emails? Will letters be monitored? Are landline telephones forbidden? What about social networking sites? There are so many anomolies and problems with this as a tactic that it becomes ridiculous – it smacks more of an excuse to rid women of their independence as much as target any particular cultural concerns.Although this story is as much one of race prejudice (the village was reacting to more than 30 recent inter-caste marriages which went against the parents’ wishes) as sexual discrimination, it is a spot on example of how women are punished more than men. Of the ways that in times of cultural change and controversy, it is the women who are cracked down on, suppressed, seen as the irrational and irresponsible ones. Case in point: this article outlines so-called honour killings where three women were beheaded for eloping with a boy from a different clan.

There is no justification and no logic in this outdated, racist, sexist and frankly ridiculous measure.

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