Four on Friday: The Injustice to Women Edition

27 May

OK, now I’m really mad. The universe is conspiring to give women around the world a really bad deal. (Though it did find fugitive from justice Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general infamous for orchestrating the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered, among other war crimes. But other than this late-week bit of good news, it’s been pretty depressing.)

1. A Lancet study came out this Tuesday on the selective abortion of girls in India. The preliminary census numbers released by the government in April already showed that the number of girls aged 0-6 had declined overall from 927 girls to 1000 boys in 2001, to 914 girls in 2011—the lowest it has been since India won its independence in 1947. The Lancet study found:

The conditional sex ratio for second-order births when the firstborn was a girl fell from 906 per 1000 boys…in 1990 to 836…in 2005; an annual decline of 0·52%… Declines were much greater in mothers with 10 or more years of education than in mothers with no education, and in wealthier households compared with poorer households.

It added:

After adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, our estimates of number of selective abortions of girls rose from 0—2·0 million in the 1980s, to 1·2—4·1 million in the 1990s, and to 3·1—6·0 million in the 2000s… Selective abortions of girls totalled about 4·2—12·1 million from 1980—2010, with a greater rate of increase in the 1990s than in the 2000s.

Despite making it illegal for Indian parents to learn the sex of the foetus through the 1994 Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act(PDF), followed by a Supreme Court directive to the worst offending states to enforce the Act, there is little to no punishment for breaking the law, and female foeticide is a common occurrence. The practice is worse in educated and affluent families, and even the states that didn’t display a trend of sex-selective abortion are now starting to kill their unborn daughters. Plus, this phenomenon knows no borders: not only are Indians skewing the sex ratio in India, they are also carrying this abhorrent practice with them when they emigrate to other countries.

A still from Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women

A still from Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women

Brigham Young University’s Valerie Hudson provides a few measures the government can take to alleviate the skewed sex ratios:

The most important interventions India could make are improving the economic situation of women and providing a real old-age pension for families that choose to raise daughters. Regarding the first objective, enforcement of land and property rights for women would go a long way toward erasing the idea that daughters are economically unproductive. Old age pensions for families with daughters would then complete that circle, tangibly demonstrating that an investment in girls pays off not just for the larger society, but first and foremost for her natal family. It’s also time for U.S. diplomats to ask why so few physicians have been tried under India’s laws making sex-selective abortion illegal.

Mumbai, my hometown, the country’s financial capital, and home to Bollywood, can no longer lay claim to being the most liberal and modern city in India. For according to the new census figures, the sex ratio is a miserable 874 girls to a 1000 boys. And while money can be made off the backs of these sex-selective abortions, there is little pressure to change. “Entrepreneurs are said to tour villages with scanners on bicycles,” says this Economist article.

Sex Ratio map of India in 2001

Sex Ratio map of India in 2001

And until social attitudes change in India, the practice of sex-selective abortion will not go away. A 2008 study by ActionAid UK and Canada’s International Development Research Center profiled a woman they call Renu, an affluent and educated married woman in the northern state of Haryana, where sex ratios are among the worst. She already had a daughter when she became pregnant for a second time; the ultrasound revealed it was another girl. She chose to abort. This is her story:

My husband and I fought over my desire to have an abortion. I told him that this society does not value girls and I do not want to give birth to another one. I told him that girls are a burden on the family.

They have to face violence in all spheres of life. If the girl commits even a small mistake she and her entire family have to bear the burden. When I gave birth to my first daughter everyone pitied me. They all told me that I could not have a son.

The taunts from society and from my in-laws that I would have faced for not having a son forced me to abort. I had no other option. Knowing the amount of harassment my baby would go through after her birth, I think it is much better to die.

In a country which likely has a proverb like this Tamil one (“Having a daughter is like watering a flower in your neighbor’s garden”)  in most of its languages, where the blessing, “May you be the mother of a thousand sons” is routinely given to young brides and where, before amniocentesis was banned, advertisements for ultrasounds told families to spend Rs. 500 now and save Rs 500,000 later, this attitude is hardly surprising.

A 2003 film by Manish Jha (who I interviewed for TimeOut Mumbai in 2005), Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women, imagines what life would be like in a north Indian village if women were extinct, eradicated by female infanticide. The story he weaves—though deliberately exaggerated—is bleak and depressing and a wake-up call that I pray is heard all over India.

2. After that depressing display of numbers, here’s a break: I give you a depressing array of photographs by Stephanie Sinclair of child brides in Afghanistan. According to this photo essay in Foreign Policy, approximately 57% of Afghan girls get married before the legal age of 16.

Said Mohammed, 55, and Roshan Kasem, 8, on the day of their engagement in the village of Chavosh on Sept. 10, 2005. The father of the bride, Abdul Kasem, 60, said he is unhappy giving his daughter away at such a young age, but has no choice due to severe poverty.

Said Mohammed, 55, and Roshan Kasem, 8, on the day of their engagement in the village of Chavosh on Sept. 10, 2005. The father of the bride, Abdul Kasem, 60, said he is unhappy giving his daughter away at such a young age, but has no choice due to severe poverty. Courtesy Stephanie Sinclair

The photographs are beautiful and poignant; I encourage you to go check the rest of them out.

3. Switching from Asia to the United States, yesterday a New York City court acquitted the two police officers who had been charged with raping a drunk woman while they were on patrol, and charged with helping her get home safely. The officers were indicted in 2009 and the case has drawn national outrage in the media and even the police force. Read a summary of the evidence at Big Think. And attend this protest of the verdict this evening at 5 p.m. in front of the Manhattan Criminal Court building at 100 Centre Street. Why?

Because raping a drunk women while on patrol is more than “official misconduct”. Because calling 911 should not be an invitation to be raped. Because NO behavior, including being drunk, is an invitation to be raped. Because rapists do not deserve the protection of our tax-funded police department and city officials. Because we recognize this incident as part of the NYPD’s long, horrific history of violence—sexual and otherwise—often and disproportionately against people of color. Because the people of NYC will not accept victim-blaming, cronyism, and a culture of silence that allows rapists to roam free, without consequence.

4. Amanda Hess of TBD has a great new article out about the popular and extremely profitable (for the team, that is) Washington Redskins cheerleaders, “All work, (almost) no pay.” In it, she details the costs and sacrifices made by these professional cheerleaders who only make $75 per home game. There are auditions and trainings and make-up workshops and spray-tanning sessions and eye surgery recommendations and prep classes. All of which cost a lot of money. Then, once the team has been selected, there are rules and restrictions (one woman was warned that if her boyfriend proposed to her during the game she would be fired) and almost 20 hours of work a week. Then there’s the posing in skimpy attire for the team’s calendar, the official appearances throughout the year, appearance fees for private parties, and PR missions to make the team look good.

It’s possible to run a successful professional football team without the aid of cheerleaders; six NFL teams don’t employ the pom-pom shakers. But you might not be able to run a team as financially successful as the Redskins. Forbes this year valued the organization at $1.6 billion, making the Redskins the second most valuable NFL team behind the Dallas Cowboys. The Redskins “brand management” alone constitutes a $131 million industry.

The naked sexism on display is stunning. The players are paid for the use of their likeness, face no consequences for affairs with team cheerleaders while those same cheerleaders lose their jobs, and are valued for more than being a pretty face and a buff body. The cheerleaders, not so much.

Hess quotes a Redskins cheerleading fan who is attending the auditions (anyone who buys a ticket can attend). When she tells him how much these women make per game, he is horrified. “Pro players are making 600,000 times that a game,” he says. “I don’t know what’s right, but I know that’s wrong.”

And while you’re chewing on that, take a minute and head on over to Salon, where Anna Clark penned a piece on cheerleading as a sport back in 2008. While the sheer athleticism of cheerleading is certainly sport-worthy, Clark finds that schools are using competitive cheerleading as a smokescreen to cut funding to existing women’s sporting teams in a switcheroo that they hoped would still satisfy the government’s Title IX requirements. (Title IX being the 1972 U.S. law that prohibits any educational institution receiving government assistance to discriminate in any way in educational activity, including sports.)

2 Responses to “Four on Friday: The Injustice to Women Edition”

  1. Florencia 2 June 2011 at 11:21 AM #

    Really liking this feature J. You always point me to new sources and journalists I wouldn’t otherwise know about. Keep it up! -F

    • Jayati Vora 2 June 2011 at 12:27 PM #

      Thanks for the words of encouragement Flo!

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