During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the progress made in elevating women and decreasing gender inequalities. But even with many positive strides made, the fight against sex discrimination still suffers from the fundamental lack of value society places on the lives of women and girls and their unique contributions — an affliction that is getting worse. A “ruthless” preference for boys in many cultures discriminates against the very existence of females, resulting in an estimated 126 million missing women and girls around the world.
In 1990, economist Amartya Sen estimated that 100 million girls and women were missing worldwide due to inequalities in healthcare and nutrition, infanticide, or neglect, because biased cultural views deemed girls socially or economically undesirable. Today, that number has accelerated, and is estimated to hit 142 million by 2020, with the assistance of ultrasound and other technologies that determine a baby’s biological sex in the womb. In the modern world, gender-biased sex selection can happen before pregnancy is even established through destroying embryos, during pregnancy through feticide, or after birth through infanticide or child neglect.
The fact that the practice of sex-selective abortion around the world is so “ruthlessly routine” and “astonishingly commonplace” will make your blood run cold. In 1991, the New York Timesportrayed this blatant disregard for girls with a quote from a developing country where new technology now supported centuries-old cultural gender discrimination: “Ultrasound is really worthwhile, even though my wife had to go through four abortions to get a son.”
Today, in many countries, the lack of value placed on girl children is the same. For example, it can be commonplace for women in India to undergo multiple abortions before finally giving birth to a son. This is not only true in well-known sex-selection countries such as China and India, but is also a problem in certain communities even within the U.S.
The practice of sex-selective feticide is so common that modern-day economists, such as Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, warn it is changing population structures and “skewing” natural sex ratios “toward a biologically unnatural excess of males.” This imbalance has many societal consequences and has even been linked to increased sexual violence and human trafficking. But what really reaches the depths of the heart is the gaping loss of women and girls who never had the chance to give their own special contributions to the world, to experience success or failure, to be loved, or to give love.
What has the world missed? Would terminal cancer finally be cured? Would there be more dynamic women leaders in politics, science, art, and business? Would sexual exploitation and human trafficking be issues of the past?
As we fight for women’s empowerment, we must act also with the knowledge that we are working for more than decreased gender inequalities. Progress against sex discrimination must also include bipartisan support for sex-selective abortion bans and the understanding that women’s lives and contributions are valuable. We not only battle against sex trafficking or gender-based violence or female genital mutilation; we not only stand for the right of girls to be educated or women to participate in the economic and political realms of society. We are fundamentally fighting for the world to acknowledge the dignity and worth of women and girls, for an acknowledgment of the value of their very existence, created in the image of God.
–Shea Garrison: Garrison is vice president of international affairs for Concerned Women for America and a policy fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.