How did 100,000,000 women go missing?

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Obama's speech in Cairo this week was brilliant and the warmth with which he was received was a wonder to behold. However some were disappointed with the length and breadth in which the President touched on human rights and specifically women's rights. Responding to Obama's reference to the hijab in his speech, Peter Doau asks:

Is that a joke?

With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab? I would have been much more heartened if the preponderance of the speech had been about how in the 21st century, we CANNOT tolerate the pervasive abuse of our mothers and sisters and daughters.

To be fair, later in the speech Obama did delve further into this:

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity - men and women - to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that people live their dreams.

Which brings us to a sad and startling picture of gender discrimination in the developing world. Researchers Siwan Anderson (University of Britsh Columbia) and Debraj Ray (New York University) recently co-authored a paper titled, Missing Women: Age and Disease. In it, they postulate that the ratio of women to men in developing regions and in some cultures is suspiciously below the global average.

The term "missing women" was coined in 1990, by Indian economist Amartya Sen, in the The New York Review of Books where he calculated that in parts of Asia and Africa 100 million women who should be alive are not because of unequal access to medical care, food and social services. Sen postulated that these with these excess deaths: women were "missing" above and beyond natural mortality rates, compared to their male counterparts.

The fate of women is quite different in most of Asia and North Africa. In these places the failure to give women medical care similar to what men get and to provide them with comparable food and social services results in fewer women surviving than would be the case if they had equal care. In India, for example, except in the period immediately following birth, the death rate is higher for women than for men fairly consistently in all age groups until the late thirties. This relates to higher rates of disease from which women suffer, and ultimately to the relative neglect of females, especially in health care and medical attention.[2] Similar neglect of women vis-à-vis men can be seen also in many other parts of the world. The result is a lower proportion of women than would be the case if they had equal care--in most of Asia and North Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America.

Sen went on to explain that in the world boys outnumber girls at birth, but in countries where women and men receive equal care, women have proved hardier and more resistant to disease, and thus live longer. In most of Asia and North Africa, however, he found that women die with startlingly higher frequency than in other parts of the world. Sen's research caused a sensation in academic circles when it was originally published in 1990.

Building on this data and focusing on figures from China, India and sub-Saharan Africa for the year 2000, what Anderson and Ray found out flew in the face of existing literature and commonly held beliefs about the missing women phenomenon.

"Previously, people had thought that they (the missing women) were all at the very early stages of life, prenatal or just after, so before four years old," Anderson says. "But what we found is that the majority are actually later." Female infanticide has been endemic in India and China for some time, which she says led researchers to assume that it was the source of all the missing women. But the truth is much more complicated.

Once the researchers broke down the numbers by age group, they found that the majority of excess female deaths came later in life: 66% in India, 55% in China and 83% in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using data gathered primarily from the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the researchers admits that getting the figures can be a huge challenge. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, many deaths go undocumented, and in India, it is virtually impossible to know how many "unintentional" deaths are actually dowry killings, because they are not accurately reported to the authorities.

One of their colleagues in the economics department at the University of British Columbia says this finding is striking, and points the way for future research and advocacy.

"Why would there be excess mortality of, let's say, 45-year-old women versus 45-year-old men?" asks economics professor Kevin Milligan. "And what they find is ... they have the same set of diseases, they just seem to die more frequently. The explanation that seems most consistent with that is differential access to health care. And so that's a really striking finding."

While they believe that lack of health care is likely a big part of the problem, there also believe that there numerous cultural and social factors that play a factor and can be difficult to narrow down. In their "elementary accounting exercise", Anderson and Ray began to plot the causes of excess death in 2000 by age group, and produced some striking numbers.

- 600,000 missing women each year from HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

- In China, suicide explains well over 100,000 missing women each year..

- In India fire-related death is a leading cause of missing women due to injuries (over 100,000 each year).

Dowry prices have not dropped off with improvements in education in India either. Instead, they have gotten worse, with educated brides and their families willing to pay even more for high-quality grooms. These dowry payments can be six times a family's annual wealth - an excruciating price, especially for poor villagers. The implications of this hefty sum trickle down to the first moments of a child's life. While conducting recent field work in India, villagers were asked about selective abortions and found them open about the fact that they use ultrasound to determine the baby's gender and help them decide whether or not to keep it.

"They see no other options, they really cannot afford to have a daughter."

Future research will delve deeper, seeking answers to questions such as: How often are men given mosquito nets to protect themselves from malaria, but not women? How many women die because they are not taken to the hospital when they are sick?

Most wouldn't argue that there is far more to gender equality than merely promoting education - inheritance rights, fair divorce settlements, freedom from family-imposed marriage, from culturally approved violence, from deeply held traditions of female subservience.

While Obama's speech was a start, clearly there is much work to do.

Tags: 000, 000 women, 100, cairo, gender discrimination, obama (all tags)



I agree with Obama on the right of women to

wear scarves if they wanted to. Although I don't think it is our business to tell France or Turkey how they should deal with the issue.

However I would have felt better if he had addressed the role of religious police and social pressures on women that force them to wear hijab! Unfortunately I don't think some realize that the right to wear hijab is not the same as the right not to wear it.

Anyway that's a great article. More later.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-06 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree with Obama on the right of women to

The thing about the hijab is that in all the time I've spent reading and listening to Muslim feminists, not one of them seems to view the hijab the way Westerners view it - as a symbol of the subjugation of women.  It's not a veil.  It's more like a yarmulke.

The issue has more to do with enforced religious conformity than anything else.

by Jess81 2009-06-06 10:06PM | 0 recs
Re: On cultural imperialism

Stop yelling.

by Jess81 2009-06-08 10:24AM | 0 recs
Re: On cultural imperialism

The "they " you are speaking about are usually male extremists who enforce and regulate their contrary to the wants and desires of the population.  Many women in these countries want equal access to education and umm, rights.  I don't think there is anything wrong trying to expose these outdated (from the stone age) cultures to equality and respect for women.

But I do disagree with Bush's method of exposure, i.e. brute force Imperialism, that is why I appreciate Obama's method, reasoning with the more moderate segments of these populations to help them gain confidence and momentum to achieve a more modern approach at governing populations.  

by KLRinLA 2009-06-08 09:38PM | 0 recs
So did you oppose Apartheid rute

in South Africa or did you think opposing Apartheid would mean cultural imperialism?

Now if you did, then replace racial apartheid with gender apartheid, and you'll know why this is important.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-09 01:22AM | 0 recs
Gender apartheid in a country needs

to be tolerated because of cultural heritage? The same thing could be said slavery should be tolerated in the slave owning states because of cultural heritage. Just like we protested racial apartheid rule, we need to protest gender apartheid. There is no pick and choose liberalism!

by louisprandtl 2009-06-09 09:45AM | 0 recs
fine. go to new york
go protest the shtetls.
who the fuck stops you?
by RisingTide 2009-06-09 01:36PM | 0 recs
FYI, I regularly go to New York..

what's your point? Sorry you don't have one!

by louisprandtl 2009-06-09 05:51PM | 0 recs
your point is gender apartheid should nto be allow
go DEAL with it when you go to new york next, ya schlemiel.
by RisingTide 2009-06-11 06:04AM | 0 recs
canadian gal?

I don't think that trollrating was called for.
Of course, I don't particularly have much tolerance for tax-evading, welfare mooching fools, either.
(naturally, I have MORE for them than the banksters, because they steal less. but stealin's still stealin', ya dig?)

and I'm totally off subject. mea culpa

by RisingTide 2009-06-11 08:45AM | 0 recs
Excuse me, are you talking about folks at

Crown Heights? Then your comment is highly inappropriate.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-12 07:49AM | 0 recs
no way in FUCK am I talking about the

people in Crown Heights. Shtetl would be entirely inappropriate to use, if i was! Ghetto would work, in that instance.

No, the Shtetl I am referring to is in upstate NY. (dangabit, i had the wiki link a while ago). Notorious welfare cheats.

by RisingTide 2009-06-12 10:59AM | 0 recs
Religious fundamentalists (I don't care which hue)

all discriminate against women. Look at most of these organizational hierarchy, and one can find the true story. Behind the curtain, women are forced to wear clothes a certain way, married off early, saddled with numerous kids at a very young age..

While the above can be found almost in any fundamentalist dominated places, there are some countries, gender apartheid is taken to extreme..where religious police would make a woman's life hell if they venture out of house by themselves (without a male relative), with their faces uncovered, or found talking with a male in public....

by louisprandtl 2009-06-12 12:52PM | 0 recs
btw, thanks for comment!

helps me understand why cg might be tring me. (clarity is a virtue... now if only I had my atlas)

by RisingTide 2009-06-12 11:00AM | 0 recs
Are you saying folks at NYC indulge in gender


by louisprandtl 2009-06-12 07:50AM | 0 recs
Re: On cultural imperialism

No, you are wrong, women over there do want to be educated and equal to men, we are talking about human beings, not second class citizens or animals that you can control with rules and guidelines set by a perverted derivation of their religion because of male ego, jealousy, and insecurity.

go back under your rock, ignorance is bliss

by KLRinLA 2009-06-09 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: On cultural imperialism

That's laughable, you missed my point entirely.  An objection to the way governments controlled by fanatics imposes their version of morality on its society is not an objection to the culture surrounding that region.   In fact that region used to flourish with arts, science, entertainment.

Let me make it simpler for you, if Falwell, Pat Roberston, and Limbaugh all ruled this country, the way the citizens would be treated would be pretty fucked up, and i'd hope other countries would try to expose us to our folly.

Do you get it yet?  

Oh yeah, you are just a Pat Buchanan nationalist who doesn't want to bother with the world's problems, cuz it's not yours.  See I can play that game too.

And yeah, moral relativism has its weak spots; women being stoned to death for being raped, that'd be one of them bucko

by KLRinLA 2009-06-09 10:49PM | 0 recs
the emancipation of women

is about the only good thing that came out of Soviet control over a large part of central Asia. When you compare the fate of women in Soviet central Asia with women in that part of the world who lived outside the Soviet Union, the women in the Soviet republicans had it somewhat better.

Things have moved backward to some extent in the former Soviet Union, but there is still basic education for girls and more freedom for women.

by desmoinesdem 2009-06-06 08:16PM | 0 recs
Re: How did 100,000,000 women go missing?

Excellent diary.

Peter Daou is off point though - I don't know if the condemnation of stoning in a speech delivered at Cairo University would have made a whole lot of sense to anyone.  It would be like Queen Noor going to Columbia University to condemn lynchings.  Had Obama done that, depending on how it was delivered it would either be boilerplate "look how civilized we are in this room that we don't do THAT" or it just would have offended 99% of muslims listening that they be associated with it.

by Jess81 2009-06-06 10:01PM | 0 recs
considering that stoning

is absolutely unislamic as practiced in somalia and other countries... yeah.

by RisingTide 2009-06-09 01:37PM | 0 recs
Re: How did 100,000,000 women go missing?

This is a fascinating post and while I have done quite a bit of reading on selective abortions in the developing world, I've not seen this argument before.  As far as Obama discussing the hijab, I think it was a way for him to address women's rights in a way that would not seem like a total assault on Muslim social norms.  When he says yes, women should be able to wear the hijab, but they should also be educated, maybe it is easier for Muslims to listen to what he has to say.

by abouja 2009-06-07 08:57AM | 0 recs
Missed opportunity

Great piece CG.

WHile in the wake of the speech I felt that his relative under-treatment of womens' rights was strategic, i.e. that he needed to create sympathy and did not want to alienate his audience reflected a strategic prioritization, I have rethought that position.  If he could take on the holocaust and call his audience out on the proliferation of vicious anti-Semitic myths and stereotypes disseminated more prolifically from Cairo than anywhere else, he might have lent greater emphasis to this "sensitive issue."  In fact, his way in might have been through establishing commonality.  He might have said something like the following:

"One of the challenges we face in both our cultures is the continuing degradation of our mothers, sisters, and daughters.  Both in America and throughout the world, the most brutal violence against women is often excused or ignored out of deference for supposed traditional values.  Yet our wisest and most humane thinkers in all religions, from Moses, Jesus, the rabbis of the Talmud, Mohammed and the visionaries of the Hadith have often spoken of the imperative to recognize and respect the humanity of women and girls.  We must heed their call.  The integrity of womens' bodies and souls is equal to that of men.  We must strive to eradicate violence against women in the name of humanity and its holiness.  We must confront those who use tradition and religion as excuses for this brutality.  This is as true in Alabama as it is in Alexandria; this is a struggle we must engage from Boston to Beirut and from Raleigh to Riyadh."

It was a missed opportunity.  I still think the speech remarkable, but I lament this shortcoming.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 04:34PM | 0 recs
Cannot but help pointing out that all of the

folks you mentioned as "our wisest and most humane thinkers" are all religious figures from the Abrahamic religions. How about a Socrates or a Omar Khayyam? How about a Jalaluddin Rumi or a Al-Beruni..?

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 04:50PM | 0 recs
that was on purpose

Good point, but I was considering the context: a Christian American (thus associated in the mid-east with Israel) speaking to the Muslim world from Cairo.  Look at Obama's peroration, he quoted the Quran, the Talmud, and the Sermon on the Mount.  I do not slight non-Abrahamic voices in the least.  I was following the speech's attention to context.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 04:58PM | 0 recs
Sorry I cannot let you get away that

easy here! Being the professor here, would you tell that to your student??? :)

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:01PM | 0 recs
Not "getting away" with anything!

What would I tell my student?  

Exactly what I told you.  

When I teach rhetoric and composition courses, one of the things I teach is the concept of an ethical appeal.  In order to establish credibility, one must consider the ethos, or context of the audience and speak to it in the most direct fashion.  If, however, the student submitted a paper on the status of women in a comparative religious context and only looked at Abrahamic religions, I would point this out and suggest they amend their claims with an explicit qualification.  Following this, sure, edit my little speechlet to "the wisest and most humane thinkers in all the Abrahamic faiths."  Though I think in the context of this speech it's a bit unnecessary.

If that doesn't satisfy you Louis, I dunno what to tell you.  Enjoy your gotcha moment of catching my abrahamicentrism out!  I'm really an Abrahamic chauvanist and bigot.  You got me.  But I think you miss the central importance of context here, which Obama's speech generally nailed.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:08PM | 0 recs
Hey you're getting really upset..Sorry

I didn't mean to offend you. I was just pulling your leg. I was just getting back to you for getting me on a dated reference from early 20th Cent...come on..I didn't mean to make upset.

Take it easy, please..

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Hey you're getting really upset..Sorry

No. No.  

I'm playing along with exaggerated pedantry.  Sorry it didn't come across.

Nothing as amusing as a prissy pedant inflamed with petulant indignation!

Just a little self-parody, though the stuff about the "ethical appeal" is for real.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:19PM | 0 recs
Your pedantic oratory once again got
better of my jestful self. Good Sire, my vengeful self shall once again retreat in the wings, await my chance to snap back again..just be on your guard. hah!
by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:27PM | 0 recs
Re: that was on purpose

I think Louis makes a good point and only mention this as you seem a truly open-minded and well-informed thinker.  You considered the 'context' of the speech but perhaps are missing part of the broader implied message, that of secular pluralism and that elusive Socratic quality of 'virtue.'  Granted a 'pagan' reference might have been lost on the audience at the time but Obama's moral argument is in favour of any voice which advocates for the higher good of all concerned.  And because you are such a good teacher your students would surely understand that.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 05:27PM | 0 recs
Re: that was on purpose

Actually, Plato has already been incorporated into Muslim thought by its medieval philosophers.  His paganism is excused just as medieval Christian thinkers excused it, in part due to chronology.  But see the first circle of Dante's hell for the persistence of the problem of the righteous pagan.

Anyway, yes, Louis has a point and I acknowledged it.  But I disagree that the wider context of the speech was to engender secular humanism.  Rather, I think it was to facilitate recognition of shared aspirations to "virtue."

So, sure to Socrates.  I'm not sure Buddha would have made sense here though, or for that matter Rousseau.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:33PM | 0 recs
Re: that was on purpose

Fair comment.  Not sure I'm clear on the distinction between the philosophical arc of 'secular humanism' and shared aspirations toward virtue but you probably have some insight on that.  Just in passing I always assumed that the synoptic Gospels owed a lot to the contemporary influences of Hellenism and specifically the formal assumptions and structure of the Socratic dialogues.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-07 06:34PM | 0 recs
Re: that was on purpose

The difference is that secularism implies a stronger separation between religious institutions and the operations of the state.  In that sense, Egypt is "secular" as it's run by a non-religious autocracy.  But the society by and large understands itself as Islamic.  The thrust of Obama's speech is that the "Muslim world" may define itself as it chooses, but that does not mean that America and that world must see one another as opposed in a fundamental sense and that we should be able to recognize shared ideas, history, and aspirations from both sides along with our differences.  It may be a bit of a fine distinction, and certainly a messy one.  My point is that I did not understand Obama's speech as an attempt to inculcate secularism as an ideology.

And the synoptic Gospels, Pauline Epistles, and Johanine texts bear the traces of numerous traditions.  Greek texts were most certainly in circulation in "Judea" in the Second Temple period.  For instance, the Mishnah records a debate between the Sadducees and Pharisees over the status of "the writings of Homerus."  But early church fathers (Origen, Clement, Eusebius) certainly imbibed a great deal of Platonism both through Philo and directly.  By the 4th-5th century with Ambrose and Augustine, the influence of classical Greek thought is explicit.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 07:45PM | 0 recs

a Socratic quote from one of Plato's dialogues might have been very appropriate. Plato (Aflatun, in Arabic) is revered by many Muslim intellectuals.  He might have even found a quote that is used by a Muslim philosopher such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Al-Farabi, Ibn Bajja, or Ibn Rushd (Averroes) to strengthen this.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:01PM | 0 recs
Absolutely that's the point. n/t

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Absolutely that's the point. n/t

Fine, but did you call Obama out for not including Omar Khayyam in his peroration?

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:09PM | 0 recs
I would have "iff" he

would take my telephone call!

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Absolutely that's the point. n/t

Additionally, my suggestion of invoking Plato through a Muslim philosopher employs him as already within an Abrahamic context.  So it makes my point as much as it does yours.  Why didn't you suggest a Shinto quote?

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:16PM | 0 recs
You missed my point...sometimes written

comments are not the best way of was a jestful remark and not a serious one...sorry.

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:19PM | 0 recs
For future reference

I rarely use exclamation points when I am being serious.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:20PM | 0 recs
Ok I Jest in Peace... ;)

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Cannot but help pointing out that all of the

Rumi was a Sufi, as such a Muslim and as such in the Abrahamic tradition as well.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:10PM | 0 recs
Yeah still he is a human being...not someone

who claimed that he has the direct hotline to God!

by louisprandtl 2009-06-07 05:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Yeah still he is a human being...not someone

Moses was a human being with a hotline, like Mohammed.  The Talmudic sages and the composers of the hadith also lacked direct communication with the deity.  

Personally, I see them all as "poets" the truest "legislators of the world," though some are acknowledged as such and other not.

Coleridge, for instance, rejected all revelation as he could not bear to think that when David wrote the psalms he was merely God's "marionette" and argued that if revelation existed there remains no precedent for true human  visionaries.

So I read them all as poets.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:27PM | 0 recs


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