Two recent incidents — the shooting of young Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan and the rape of a student in India — have provoked outrage around the world. Rightly so. Sadly, these are just the most visible examples of global violence against women.
In much of the world, the fabric of life conceals a more pernicious, far-reaching form of violence. This is “gendercide” — the elimination of females, both young and old, through sex-selective abortion, infanticide, gross neglect and, in the case of older women (particularly widows), lack of access to food and shelter.
The United Nations Population Fund, which tracks this problem, has estimated that 117 million women are “missing” in the world because of these practices. Of course, these women aren’t missing — they’re dead. That’s more deaths than World War I and World War II combined. It is no exaggeration to say that gendercide is an atrocity as colossal as any the world has seen.
Why are we so unaware? Gendercide passes under our radar because it does not occur as a single, visible act of violence. Instead, gendercide is a silent and ongoing attrition. It occurs in the privacy of the family against a completely voiceless victim.
The U.N. reports that China has the greatest sex imbalance in the world, with 10 percent of its female population eliminated. India and Afghanistan follow, with 7 percent of their female populations eliminated.
These sex imbalances lead to a host of social problems. Contrary to popular belief, the status of women does not improve when females are in short supply. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Sex trafficking increases, as does the buying and selling of brides. Aging bachelors, unable to find women of appropriate age, marry ever younger girls. These child brides leave school and begin bearing children. Maternal death rates soar as girls in their early teens attempt tasks their bodies cannot manage.
Evidence reveals strong correlations between sex imbalance and crime. A study conducted in 2000 showed that sex ratios are the best predictors of murder rates in India — better predictors than poverty, illiteracy or urbanization. In China, crime has spiked in the regions where sex-selective technology first became available.
The scale of gendercide is overwhelming, and the problem is getting worse. How easy it would be to throw up our hands and walk away. Luckily, there are rays of hope in this bleak situation.
First is the homegrown activism developing in at least a few of the affected countries. Second is the work of grass-roots organizations, both indigenous and international, in offering education, microloans and health care for women.
Here, at home, a first step is enhanced awareness. The Gendercide Awareness Project (gendap.org), based in Dallas, is one of a handful of American organizations tackling the problem. Among a range of activities, Gendap is preparing an art installation to demonstrate the sheer scale of gendercide. The installation features a long corridor lined with 11,700 pairs of baby booties, each pair representing 10,000 missing women. When it opens in 2015, the exhibit will urge support for education, paid work and women’s health care to bring about change.
Gendercide proceeds from the belief that female life is disposable. Gendercide devastates the hopes of women everywhere. It is unworthy of us as human beings. It is time to end this silent slaughter.
Dallas resident Beverly Hill is founder and president of the Gendercide Awareness Project and may be contacted at Beverly@gendap.org.