According to a recently released report from the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime, 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, worldwide. About 50,000 women were killed by intimate partners or family members, and a third — about 30,000 women — were killed by a current or former partner. Approximately 137 women are killed by a family member every day.
It is possible that these high statistics are not the result of increased violence, but of decades of feminist work aimed at highlighting violence against women and pressuring the government to monitor it. That, in itself, is a victory for the women’s movement worldwide, which fought for governments and international organizations to count women in national data. These numbers paint a ghastly picture of the situation faced by women and girls around the world. That disturbing reality is compounded when we factor in sex-selective abortion, wherein female fetuses are aborted on account of being deemed “less valuable” than male fetuses. Worldwide, this practice is on the rise and spreading.
With sex-selective abortion comes a drastic restructuring of societies that leads to even more violence against women and girls, a dynamic documented by feminist geographer Joni Seager, in her recently published book, Women’s Atlas. Seager argues that, based on research done on sex-selective abortion, in 1995, male births significantly outnumbered female births in countries like China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Korea. In 2018, over 20 countries have documented sex imbalances. A report published by the United Nations Population Fund in 2012, titled, “Sex Imbalances at Birth,” says that the masculinization of demographic trends “has serious social and economic implications” and that it is “not a natural phenomenon but is achieved through a deliberate elimination of girls.” In 1988, in an effort to discourage sex-selective abortion, South Korea enacted a law making it illegal for a doctor to reveal the sex of the fetus to prospective parents. As a result of this legislation, along with campaigns to educate the public (one campaign mounted by the South Korean government used the slogan, “One daughter raised well is equal to 10 sons”) and rapid urbanization, South Korea is the only country that has managed to overturn the disparity in the past 30 years.
The rise of sex-selective abortion is alarming in itself, but this form of discrimination foments wide-reaching problems worldwide, particularly because a “deficit” in women who are available to men for sex or marriage must be met by other women who are trafficked or kidnapped to supply the demand created.
“It is now causing widespread social disruption as entire societies are masculinized. Among other consequences, a shortage of women seems to be contributing to local and regional increases in trafficking and kidnapping of women. Son preference reflects the combined forces of economics, culture, and religion. As smaller families become the norm, the pressure to have sons accelerates. Girls are widely considered to have a lower economic value than boys — a view that is often strengthened by marriage, dowry, and inheritance practices.”
In countries like Moldova, Chechnya, Armenia, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Kazakhstan, the practice of “bride kidnapping” is widespread. ln Kyrgyzstan, nearly 12,000 young women and girls — or one in four females — are abducted every year to be married off to strangers.
There is an economic incentive to kidnapping unwilling women and girls as well: buying women for marriage is expensive. David Gullette, an anthropologist and the author of The Genealogical Construction of the Kyrgyz Republic: Kinship, State and Tribalism told The Irish Times:
“There is the economic argument: ‘I can’t afford to pay for a bride or a wedding.’ You are expected to pay a bride price and host the family. You kill sheep, kill a horse — a horse can cost $2,000. With subsistence agriculture, that’s way more than you can afford. Then men will also say ‘She wanted to be taken — she likes me.’ Just any misogynistic view that they’ve got.”
Many of the girls and women kidnapped are young, which likely contributes to high maternal mortality rates in regions like Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, for example, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the region). Many of the kidnapped women commit suicide.
The fallout from the dearth of females and the misogynist customs connected to this demographic trend also impacts the birth weights and health outcomes of the children born to kidnapped women and girls. A study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that ethnic babies in Kyrgyzstan were smaller than average, and linked this to to a higher risk of those children suffering from disease. Economics professor Charles Becker, co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Demography, hypothesized that this was likely due to the psychological trauma suffered by the mother from being in a forced marriage.
In The Irish Times, John Fleming speaks with a woman named Gulmira, from Kyrgyzstan, who was tricked and abducted by acquaintances. She explains:
“I ran into a post office screaming. I hid in a press. But they found me. ‘It’s your destiny. He loves you,’ they said. They put the scarf on my head. I said I would stay and used tiredness to fend him off.” She managed to run away again at 6 a.m., just as wedding preparations were beginning. “I hid in a cemetery — maybe the dead could help me. I saw them looking for me on horses.”
Gulmira managed to escape and return to her family, but looking back at her life, she says:
“Are we animals to be kidnapped and raped? It made me strong. I have a good career. People have to be educated, girls told they have the same rights. Cases like mine have to be published.”
At QG Feminista, Brazilian journalist Andreia Nobre argues that we are in for some dark times, now that women are a political and statistical minority, worldwide. She writes:
“The most populated countries in the world are India and China, which now have 37 and 34 million more men than women, respectively. A study by the UN showed that the number of human females has been waning significantly since the 60s. What has led to the biggest discrepancy of the number of males and females around the world? The investigations conducted by international organizations such as the UN, point to the public policies within each country as responsible.
Where there is real opportunity for women to be financially independent, the ratio between the sexes tends to be balanced — normally with a small increase of the female population. In theory, sex-selective abortion and infanticide could happen equally to both sexes, depending on the preferences within the countries. But we live in a misogynist world, where women still do not have enough political rights to subsist on our own.”
Sex-selective abortion is also on the rise in the UK, where private clinics are selling blood tests that can reveal the sex of the fetus for about £150 to £200. Jeena International, a charity for women from ethnic communities in the UK, said women who become pregnant with girls are sometimes forced to terminate their pregnancies. Founder of Jeena International, Rani Bilkhu tells The Independent, “No wonder they’re resorting to sex-selection abortion because they’ve got no choice. They don’t want to be homeless, they don’t want their marriage to fail — all because they couldn’t give birth to a boy.”
In Australia, a study by researchers at La Trobe University suggests that sex-selective abortion could be on the rise in Victoria. Naturally, there should be about 100 girls for every 105 boys, but researchers say the findings indicate that, in some communities, “systematic discrimination against females starts in the womb.” Analyzing almost 1.2 million births between 1999 and 2015, the research shows about 100 girls are being born for every 122-125 boys.
There is something sinister about the way that patriarchy is manifesting itself today. Feminism appears to be everywhere; from magazine covers celebrating the increase of women in the US congress, to big and bold lights during Beyoncé performances; to wide coverage of Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement; to glossy features promoting feminism in both women’s and men’s magazines. Feminism appears to be mainstream. But has it become so sanitized that it’s power has failed to trickle down? Have we bought our own hype and tricked ourselves into believing we are making progress, when in fact we are not?
Not only are sex-selective abortions on the rise, but the very real and persistent sex-based oppression that affects women and girls is under threat of becoming invisibilized by changes in policies and laws that erase sex and abolish women as a political class.
There are 10,000 girls and women residing in Finland who have undergone female genital mutilation, and another 650 to 3,000 are at risk of it. In England and Wales, it is believed that 8,200 women could have survived fatal heart attacks if they had been given the same quality of treatment as men. Last month, a woman and her two daughters were burned alive in the eastern Indian state of Bihar because the woman had “failed” to produce a son. In the same town, police recently found a female baby who was buried alive, a seven-month-old girl who had been thrown off a roof, a six-day-old thrown into a latrine, and a woman who had poisoned herself and her three young daughters. Each of these cases represent the devaluation of women — from birth and throughout their lives — in society.
At the same time that these barbaric and fatal manifestations of misogyny are taking place, we are seeing academics paid millions of dollars to research “gender diversity” and to ponder if sex should even be recorded in official government documents. Recording sex is fundamental to the monitoring of sex-based oppression, yet “gender identity” scholars like Sally Hines at the University of Leeds and Davina Cooper at King’s College London have been assigned to conduct research to answer the question, “Should gender remain a legal status assigned at birth; and what would be the implications of reforming this?” In this case, the word “gender” replaces the word “sex.” The aim of both projects is to influence legislation and policy with regard to documenting sex (or “gender”). The King’s College project, “Reforming Legal Gender Identity: A Socio-Legal Evaluation,” aims to “produce a draft reform Bill to focus further policy and wider public discussion on the legal regulation and recognition of gender identity in England and Wales.”
Like several other countries, the Tasmanian parliament is currently discussing a bill (which made it through the lower house last month) that would make listing a newborn’s sex on a birth certificate optional. Roen Meijers, spokesperson for the Labour party, heralded the bill as a move towards “greater equity, dignity, and hope for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex Tasmanians.” At the moment, New Zealand is also debating a similar bill which would allow people to mark “X” on birth certificates instead of “male” or “female.” In the UK, where yet another set of reforms to the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 are currently being discussed, pandora’s box has been opened, leading to a public debate around gender and identity.
While thinking about these concepts is important, for the overwhelming majority of women and girls, the material reality of their oppression is not merely semantic or ideological. It has been proven time and time again that sex matters a great deal in patriarchy, regardless of one’s identification with or rejection of gender roles. Apparently, though, no amount of female feticides and femicides are enough to sway a small but powerful minority of activists who ignore facts, reality, and science in order to worship at the altar of gender identity dogma.
Recently, during a parliamentary debate on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act which would allow people to self-identify as the sex of their choice, British parliamentarian, Layla Moran, a liberal democrat from Oxford, stated:
“I just do not see the issue. There are many forms of the human body. I see someone in their soul and as a person. I do not really care whether they have a male body.”
Policy-makers may claim not to care about an individual’s sex, but it turns out that patriarchy does care very much about the female bodies of women and girls. We have found ourselves in a time when the left is turning not caring about the lives of women and girls into a virtue. Instead of urging caution and paying closer attention to the disturbing rise of sex-selective abortion worldwide, with the myriad of complications it brings, mainly for women and girls but also for entire societies, countries are being pressured into adopting policies that would render the monitoring of sex-based discrimination and inequality impossible.
Nobre says females “are being exterminated.” Women and girls are not only being rendered invisible but also gagged by policies that prevent us from speaking about our sex-based oppression. I don’t know how to confront the latest patriarchal reversal, but I do want to know why so many are playing along with our own erasure.