Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn have written a book entitled Half the Sky. It has the subtitle: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. In the introduction they introduce the term "gendercide" which, I have to admit, I had not seen used before. Given the data they provide, I am surprised, and a little ashamed, that I had not encountered it previously. The authors proceed to make a very strong statement.
"The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century."I wish the authors had been more explicit in quoting numbers. Depending on how one counts, twentieth century deaths from genocide could vary from ten million to close to a hundred million. In any event the "gendercide" deaths are frighteningly large.

Where do these deaths come from? There are of course the mass murders and current day genocides that are especially deadly for women. Then there are the even more disturbing forms of gender discrimination.
"In India a ‘bride burning’—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place about once every two hours....In the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, five thousand women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws—or, perhaps worse, been seared with acid—for perceived disobedience in just the last nine years."And then there are many thousands of girls who are kidnapped or sold into the various forms of slavery. But to get to the multimillions of female deaths you have to depend on a more prosaic form of abuse. The authors refer to the fact that countries where women are held in especially low regard have male to female ratios in their populations greater than one. In India, for example, the ratio of males to females is 1.08. In our country the ratio in the 2000 census was 0.963. There is a section of India where women’s rights have been emphasized. It is stated that in that region there is an excess of females similar to that in our country. This is what one would expect. When treated equally, women live longer. If one considers this deficit of females in India to be ascribed to their treatment by society, then, with a population of one billion, you have to have a mechanism whereby about sixty million women are rendered "not alive."

The tools one has available to make sixty million women disappear are abortion, murder and negligence. Murder is not efficient enough. Abortion would be rampant in India given modern technologies, but in India it has become forbidden for a doctor or a technician to tell a woman the sex of her fetus. It appears that good-old-fashioned neglect is the culprit. The authors quote a study that indicates that for every 100 abortions of female fetuses that are prohibited, 15 little girls will die from neglect. That is not a very good bargain to have to make. Even more disturbing is the data indicating that
"All told, girls in India from one to five years in age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys the same age."Why buy medicine for a daughter or a wife when you may need it for a son?

Kristof has been writing about these subjects and championing just treatment for women for many years. He and his wife are committed to making change happen.
"In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world."I have thus far read only the Introduction. I look forward to the rest of the book, and I anticipate there will be many interesting things to talk about.

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