May Indian girls Korean men 2

World without women

Indians and Chinese have fewer and fewer children. And they only want Isabelle Attané to have male descendants

The 30-year-old Chinese doesn't understand the question: “What type of woman do I like? It doesn't matter at all! I want someone, that's all. "1 In some Asian countries it is not that easy to find a wife. It is estimated that from 2010 onwards, one million Chinese people wishing to marry will be without a partner every year. In some villages in Punjab, northern India, the men have already extended their search to the neighboring states of Rajasthan and Orissa.

India and China, where over a third of the world's population lives today, have something in common that is rather atypical: a women's deficit. But this demographic violation of the rule still receives too little attention. No one reacted when the Indian Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen stated more than 15 years ago: "There are over 100 million women missing today"2 , especially in China and India.

When men and women are equal in a society and no more women emigrate than men, women are usually in the majority. If Asia followed this general rule, there would be around 90 million more women than men.

As recently as 30 years ago, China presented itself as a staunch advocate of equality between men and women. Today it is one of the countries where women are most demographically disadvantaged. The downside of the country's economic and social liberalization is that the traditional balance of power has been re-established to the detriment of women. India also discriminates against its women. The same is true for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia. Almost half of the world's 6.5 billion people live in these states. The women’s deficit arises because abortions are selective and girls are treated worse than boys. And because of the inadequate health care for the disadvantaged, the mortality rate for girls and women is excessively high.

The gender structure of a population depends on two factors: the proportion of the sexes at birth and the age-specific death rates of men and women. On average worldwide, women usually live seven years longer than men. While z. For example, if Japan reaches this mean, the difference is three years in China, and one year or a few months in India and Bangladesh. In Pakistan, men live an average of five months longer than women.

Normally there are 105 boy-100 girl births, a deficit that is later compensated for by the higher mortality rate among men.3 The observed fluctuations in the biological norm are quite small worldwide. At the lower end - 101 boys per 100 girls - is Rwanda, at the upper end Surinam with 108 boys.

But in many Asian countries, social practices mean that fewer women are born than should be born and too many women die. Biological, genetic and environmental factors may also play a role, but that alone does not explain the dramatic development over the past 25 years. In the early 1980s, the proportion of boys among newborns in China, India, South Korea and Taiwan was normal. However, as the birth rate has fallen since then, the traditional preference for male offspring also increased, which destroyed the natural balance.

Daughters are not wanted

Technological progress makes it possible to influence the gender of one's own offspring. If the mother-to-be, who lives in a country like China, learns that she will give birth to a boy, she can go home calmly and patiently wait for the happy event. But if it is a girl, the parents face a dilemma: Should they hope to have a boy next time and keep the girl? And if you decide to let the daughter live, will the financial resources be sufficient to cover the rising cost of living with the second child who has to become a boy? In many cases, the parents choose not to have the unwanted daughter and have an abortion. For example, the surplus of boys among newborns in China is now 12 percent above the norm, in India by 6 percent. In South Korea, at the height of development in the mid-1990s, there were 115 boys for 100 girls. Since then, however, the situation has normalized (2004: 108 boys).

Recently, the girl deficit phenomenon has spread to other parts of the continent. 110 boys for every 100 girls are currently born in every second Vietnamese province. In the Caucasus countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, the surplus of boys has risen rapidly since the mid-1990s and is currently reaching similar levels as in some regions of China and India. In the neighboring countries of Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Turkey, the ratio between boys and girls is still balanced.

In Indonesia, the number of male one-year-old children rose to 106.3 per 100 girls in 2000. In addition to the mass migration of women, particularly towards Saudi Arabia, the cause was also the gender imbalance at birth.4

A complex web of factors results in men being favored in one way or another and women being abused in different ways. Asian societies with a deficit of female newborns are characterized by a strong preference for sons. As a result of authoritarian birth control policies, the number of children per woman in China has fallen from more than five in the early 1970s to less than two now. In India a woman will soon have fewer than three children, compared to just under five 20 years ago. In South Korea and Taiwan, women now have an average of only 1.2 children, one of the lowest birth rates in the world. So what to do if you only want or can have very few children (as in China) and if you definitely want a son? The only option is to prevent the birth of a girl as far as possible and, if necessary, to do everything possible so that the unwanted child does not block the chance of a son.

In India, the government has been promoting the nuclear family model since the 1960s. The ideal norm, recognized almost everywhere in the world, is the sibling pair of a boy and a girl - the Chinese say: “It takes a boy and a girl for the couple to be complete.” Quite often, married couples want one or more boys, or at most a girl.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, where women give birth to two to three times as many children as in China, Taiwan or Korea, prenatal gender selection is not widespread, but discrimination against girls and women is no less pronounced as a result.

Girls are often neglected and disadvantaged compared to boys when it comes to nutrition, nursing and vaccination. This practice often has fatal consequences: up to the age of 5, the mortality of boys is usually higher than that of girls. In India, on the other hand, it is 7 percent higher for girls than for boys, in Pakistan by 5 percent and in Bangladesh by 3 percent. In the Muslim countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania, which are comparable according to the UN development program, the boy mortality rate among those under five is still just above the girl mortality rate. The strongest anomaly is found in China, with a 28 percent higher girl mortality rate.

Gender-specific abortions and neglect of little girls are the main reasons for the deficit in women - other forms of discrimination such as the killing of newborn girls play only a minor role. The patriarchal social order requires a son in order to ensure the continued existence of the family, to keep their name and to guarantee social and biological reproduction.

In China, Taiwan, and South Korea, the lack of a male heir is synonymous with the end of the family tree and ancestral worship. In Hinduism, parents see themselves as condemned to eternal wanderings, since the burial ritual is traditionally the responsibility of the son when the parents die. In India as in China, a girl belongs to her parents only temporarily. After his marriage, he should devote himself to his husband's family and no longer have any obligations to their own parents. In the rural areas of China everyone knows that you have to “raise a son to be ready for old age” because you never get a pension. “Raising a girl,” says a Chinese proverb, “means tilling someone else's field”, the Indians say “watering one's neighbor's garden”.

In India, prenatal selection is mainly practiced by the wealthy and educated classes. And strangely enough, this applies to women who have managed to make themselves independent. In China too - especially in the big cities - it is more young academics who systematically select their offspring before they are born.

In India, the recent rise in dowry prices is threatening the economic balance of families, which is a major reason why girls are being aborted. Even in wealthy circles, a girl is often seen as a severe blow of fate. If a daughter marries, part of the family property has to be ceded to the family of her future child. If a son marries, considerable sums of money flow into the family budget: "Three daughters are your ruin, three sons are your salvation."

Religious affiliation also influences the couple's tendency to prefer a son. Buddhism and Confucian values ​​give preference to male descendants and are more tolerant of abortions than Catholicism and Protestantism. This exacerbates the discrimination against girls via prenatal selection. In India, the Hindus - and even more so the Sikhs and Jainas - show a strong propensity for selective abortion, while Muslims and Christians discriminate little against their daughters and are within the norm when it comes to the proportion of boys.

Trafficking in women is booming in China

The immediate demographic consequences will become apparent from the middle of the next decade, when the cohorts with a girl deficit reach marriageable age.

In China, the imbalance on the marriage market will worsen from 2010, and by 2030 the surplus of men will probably reach 20 percent. Then 1.6 million men could involuntarily remain single each year. The marriage market will initially react to this with self-regulation. The men willing to marry will first turn to younger women and then concentrate on two groups that have so far hardly aroused desires in China: on the one hand, the widows - if the taboo of remarriage should eventually fall -, on the other hand, on the much larger group the divorced.

In any case, those willing to marry will have to wait longer before they find a wife, and they will be older on average when they get married than they are today. In the longer term, many men will be forced to remain single and have to forego offspring. What is thwarted is what is one of the main reasons for favoring male descendants today - the updating of the family tree.

In order to meet the growing demand for women, especially in China, transnational networks are being organized. For example, more and more Vietnamese women are emigrating to China for marriage. There is an acute shortage of women, especially in the southern Chinese provinces. In addition, the cost of marriage has risen dramatically since the economic reforms of the 1980s. It is therefore often cheaper for poorer Chinese families to buy a wife from abroad for their son in order to save the dowry (for the Chinese it is the groom who gives his bride a dowry). Businesses like this are now part of the economic strategies of Vietnamese migrant women who combine the hope of a better life with the marriage of a Chinese man.

Marriage migration from Vietnam is also increasing strongly in the direction of Taiwan. In 2000, 8 percent of marriages were between Taiwanese and Vietnamese. Since the mid-1990s, around 100,000 Vietnamese women have apparently married Taiwanese, who in most cases want a solid relationship with a woman who respects traditional values ​​and places less value on self-employment than a Taiwanese woman.

Trafficking in women is booming in China. Buyers are generally poor, poorly educated farmers who find it easier and cheaper to use human traffickers than to set up their homes the traditional way. A certain laxity on the part of the authorities and corrupt conditions simplify trading in the “buyer regions”. In some villages, the authorities arbitrarily shorten the marriage process and issue the buyer with a paid certificate confirming the marriage to the woman he has bought. Thus the marriage is entered in all forms in the civil status register. When a young Chinese woman who had been abducted and sold tried to return to her family when she was freed by the police, the buyer and official husband, certificate in hand, protested, “Yes, I bought my wife, but before the law we are married. "

Will the situation of women, because they have become scarce, improve in the longer term? There is currently no evidence of this. In China and India in particular, women are more and more perceived and treated as a commodity, and in some areas they are just one consumer good among others. Far from increasing the symbolic value of women and thereby paying them more respect, economic modernization and the phenomenon of the “missing women” promote their reification. That is the case in India, namely through the dowry system, and that is the case in China, where the market value of women rose in the wake of economic reform, but respect for women did not, especially not in rural areas.

So what is becoming scarcer does not become more valuable for that reason alone. This is illustrated in a remarkable way in the feature film by Indian filmmaker Manish Jha "Matrubhoomi: A Country Without Women" (2005). The story takes place in a rural region of India where the female population has been decimated for years by the murder of female babies. Ramcharan lives there, desperately looking for a wife for his five sons. Not far away, a poor farmer tries to hide his most valuable asset: his 16-year-old daughter Kalki, a girl of great beauty. Ramcharan learns of Kalki's existence through a friend and buys the girl for a lot of money - officially in order to give her to his eldest as a wife. But after the wedding celebration, the young woman finds herself at the mercy of the desires of the five brothers and her father. Later she is chained in a stable and left to the lust of the men of the village until she finally gives birth to a girl. A rather unreal than visionary film, which nonetheless depicts possible undesirable developments in a society suffering from a lack of women.

The governments of the affected countries are trying to get the difficult situation under control with political measures. In India, the Prenatal Diagnosis Techniques Act has prohibited medical personnel from informing parents of the sex of the fetus since 1994. Although a violation is punishable by imprisonment and a fine, it will continue to be violated - with complete impunity.

In China, various laws from the 1990s forbid ill-treating, discriminating or prenatally singling out girls. However, corruption means that selective abortions are still not uncommon. The campaign for “More Consideration for Girls”, launched in 2001, promotes gender equality in school books and tries to improve the living conditions of families that only have daughters. In some regions, parents receive payments from a support fund and do not have to pay agricultural taxes or school fees until their daughters come of age. In addition, the government has initiated a program aimed at reducing the proportion of boys among newborns to a normal level by 2010.

But laws alone do not help. Patriarchal values ​​are so deeply anchored in these societies that even women who acknowledge that there can be a deeper emotional bond between mother and daughter and that daughters often pay more attention to their aging parents than sons still prefer a son. It will be a few more generations before parents don't care whether they're expecting a girl or a boy.And for that to happen, the social status of women must also improve significantly.

It is to be hoped that the various laws and measures will take effect and bring about a turnaround, as happened in South Korea. Here, the proportion of boys among newborns has normalized since the mid-1990s, because younger married couples are increasingly questioning patriarchal values ​​and are beginning to abandon traditional sexist behavior.

If the women's deficit continues to grow - by several million every year - this will have serious consequences. Because fewer women mean fewer children, mathematically speaking, therefore, fewer girls, i.e. fewer women in the next generation, and consequently a rapid slowdown in population growth in today's most populous countries in the world. Then we will not be too far removed from conditions like those of Amin Maalouf in "The First Century After Beatrice"5 describes: “If men and women could tomorrow determine the gender of their children with a simple means, they would in some peoples choose only boys. So they would no longer reproduce. Today a social flaw, the cult of masculinity would mean collective suicide. ”The result would be an“ auto-genocide of misogynist societies ”.

Footnotes: 1 Excerpt from an article in the International Herald Tribune, August 18, 1994. 2 Title of Amartya Sen article, “More than 100 million women are missing,” The New York Review of Books, December 20, 1990. 3 Fast all over the world women have a longer life expectancy than men because they are generally more resilient due to hormones. Above all, however, they regularly consume less alcohol and tobacco and are less subject to stress. 4 More important reasons, however, are the excessive mortality rate among women of childbearing age and the inadequate information provided in censuses. The unequal distribution of the sexes at birth comes fourth. 5 2004 published by Suhrkamp Verlag. Translated from the French by Bodo Schulze Isabelle Attané is a demographer and sinologist and researcher at the Institut National d’Études Démographiques (Ined) in Paris and author of “Une Chine sans femmes?”, Paris (Perrin) 2005.

Le Monde diplomatique of 07/07/2006, by Isabelle Attané