Global War on Women

By Naomi Zacharias

A few years ago I had the privilege of being a guest on the Lorna Dueck show, aired on Canada’s public network in Toronto. As both host and producer, Dueck continues to invite guests from varied backgrounds and perspectives to dialogue about current cultural issues.

She began our conversation with this question: what does the issue of sex-selective abortion say about humanity?

A tragic issue that has significantly impacted several countries in East Asia and continues to grow in North America, sex-selective abortion is typically chosen by parents with a preference for a son who choose to abort their baby when a sonogram reveals the mother is carrying a daughter.

In 1990, respected Indian economist, Amartya Sen, estimated the number of eliminated women globally to be 100 million. That was over thirty years ago.

The Economist released an issue in March 2010 with a photo of tiny pair of pink shoes. The headline was The War Against Baby Girls: Gendercide. The cover story served to point a spotlight on the sobering reality of sex-selective abortion, reporting that nearly every continent was affected.

The Economist. "Gendercide."

“Gendercide,” The Economist. March 4, 2010.

It is not about poverty, as some might think. Even then, the publication reported their research actually shows no correlation between poverty and sex-selective abortion. In fact, the rates are as high and higher in wealthy economies and affluent communities. It is not about education, either. The rates are higher in communities with levels of higher education. And China’s one child policy cannot bear the brunt of the blame as the mindset and now issue extends far beyond its borders. The Economist attributed it to the combination of three things: an age-old preference for males, a growing preference for a smaller family, and the technology that makes it possible to predict gender in utero.

It has since been estimated that India has 20-30 million “missing women,” a direct result of the intentional choice to abort a baby because she is a girl. For this same reason, one study predicted that by the year 2020 China will have 40 million unmarried men, a number equal to the entire population of young men in America. The Economist reported that in a particular province of China, the only female babies born over a specific period of time were those that had been wrongly predicted by sonograms to be a male.

Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, and even female suicide rates have risen across regions of study, attributed to the resulting shortage in the female population.

As we hold forums and write books to discuss the need, formula, and dollar figure to eliminate poverty and increase development in underdeveloped countries, economic growth continues to fall where the number of females continues to decline.

There has been much talk in American politics of the “war on women.” Yet what of this war on women?

If members of any ethnic group or any special interest group were being targeted and eliminated in this way, it would be considered mass genocide. In 2001, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) released The Responsibility to Protect report, adopting an a concept of shared responsibility for humanity. Governments and international leaders, civil society organizations, and the United Nations General Assembly Member States embraced the commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

Yet the millions of female lives affected by sex-selective abortion do not fall into a recognized category of genocide, war crime, or crime against humanity; tragically they fall into the pronounced crack of an intense ethical and social rights conflict. And one can readily see the challenge in enforcing a protective law, for it would be difficult to prove intent. But our reality certainly reveals two things for us.

First, the undertaking to protect the rights of women is far from over and has instead become quite entangled within itself.

Secondly, as long as individual worth is based on subjective definitions of value and contribution, the battle of what it means to be human- and of basic human rights itself- will rage on;  opinion and circumstance will labor to birth recognized essence and significance.  When we see every individual as made in the image of God, there is an intrinsic value inherent to their being, an ultimate right that cannot be debated or stripped from them. The time of delivery into the larger world is not a gifting of essence, for that was bestowed by a higher being – a Creator and Designer who calls us priceless regardless of our current state of strength.

The new problem in the abortion debate is that in sex-selective abortion, a woman’s right to choose is exercised to commit an act of violence against women. This renders a discussion of women’s rights vs. women’s rights- a woman’s rights to a kind of life vs. a woman’s right to any kind of life at all.

Lorna Dueck’s question, “what does the issue of sex-selective abortion say about humanity?” is certainly thought-provoking.  The fact that it still awaits our response speaks to a radically different if not fragile future, not only for millions of women and the female gender, but for all of humanity.


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