17 February 2013

Endangered Gender Symposium

I had commented on what was then an upcoming symposium at Regent University Law School here and here. The symposium has since come and by my judgment was a valuable contribution to understanding a world-wide problem that remains under-appreciated.

Three pieces of information stood out. First, the extent to which American and European population-control organizations in the 1960s and 1970s set female-focused abortion as a price of their involvement with developing nations. Not only would abortion of girls reduce population directly, so the thinking went, eliminating the "bottle-neck" of the womb would amplify population control twenty years down the road.

Second, it was helpful to learn how employment of sex-selective abortion does not correlate with lower income. It is the new middle classes and higher in countries like India which abort their girls more often than the poor. This phenomenon is only partially related to availability of the equipment and facilities to provide such a "service." Sex-selective abortions by the relatively well-to-do is strongly related to an increasingly commercialized understanding of the nature of children. In countries where dowry must be paid to marry off a daughter, daughter are perceived as liabilities and sons as assets.

And last: the commodification of children has not changed the sex-selective abortion calculus in places where the female-male birth ratio has plunged as low as 850:1000. Rather, the social meaning of (especially) girls as commodities means that they are increasingly trafficked. Both bride-less males and parents of marriageable females engage in the sale of girls to meet the market demand. Of course, fraud and force also play a significant role in garnering girls for men who are willing to pay.

I also appreciated that the symposium was not one-sidedly Western in orientation. Friday night's documentary primarily featured analysis from national Indian and Chinese researchers and activists while the presenters on Saturday included scholars and civil society organizers from America and India.

All in all, a fine program that I hope will soon be available via the Internet and in print.

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