Gender Preference and Unwanted (and Missing) Girls in the US and India

Renamed Girls in Maharashtra
Darcy Facebooked me last week about the almost 300 girls in Maharashtra whose names had been recorded as  "Nakusa," or unwanted.  Esther is currently choreographing a dance of the recent renaming ceremony, where each of the girls chose a new name for themselves.  The topic is in the news and was the subject of a panel I attended on Saturday: gender preference for boys and sex selective abortions in the South Asian community.  And the shocking news is that it's not just prevalent in India.  Unequal gender ratios in the South Asian community just showed up in the 2010 US census.

Narika's panel on Saturday included Professor Raka Ray from Cal, Dr. Sunita Puri, who has done research on sex selection at clinics in the US, and Sujatha Jesudason, PhD, who works in the emerging field of gene technology law.  In India the expectation has been that increased economic growth and modernization would lower the gender ratio gap, a gap that's been in place since the first British census in India.  In the 2011 Indian census, however, the gender ratio worsened to 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, with certain states showing even greater disparity.  This gap is not particularly influenced by religion, class, or education.  The major factor increasing this trend is access to technology:  as fertility declines, families want to ensure they have boys.  And sex selective abortion early in a pregnancy is easier than female infanticide after birth.

Poster in India 
Sex selective abortion in India is illegal, although it certainly occurs (part, but not all, of the gender gap in India is due to neglect and malnourishment of girls).  Sex selective abortion in the United States is not illegal, falling under the umbrella of pro-choice rights.  In the United States often high-class, highly educated women are the most interested in sex selecting their children.  Partly this is a woman's choice, but sometimes she's influenced by her husband and often her mother-in-law to have sons.  The obvious question is why a woman who is highly educated, works outside the home, and contributes to her family financially would choose against her own gender in the child she wishes to have?  Although women have been liberated to have a career and become independent outside the home, this doesn't mean they've become liberated within it.  Highly capable and successful career women often struggle with traditional gender expectations of marriage and motherhood.

Girls in India
The problem is not convincing families of the fallacy of sex selective abortion, it's getting at the roots of gender preference.  A family with a preference for boys, even if they have girls, will raise girls to feel they lack intrinsic worth.  This makes girls vulnerable to exploitation and abuse throughout their lives, and makes that exploitation and abuse more socially acceptable.  What the 2010 census in the US revealed was that amongst Chinese American, Korean American, and South Asian American families in the US their first child had an equal gender ratio between boys and girls, their second child showed a preference toward boys, and the third child in a family was almost always a boy.  We need to move away not just from sex selective abortion for later children, but also gender preference itself to create a world in which all children are valued and the exploitation and abuse of any child of any gender isn't tolerated.

Here's a short trailer that Darcy just shared with me, from a documentary entitled "It's a Girl!":