Originally Published in Exploration Online Travel Magazine: http://exploration-online.co.uk/article.php?id=174
Please bear in mind that I’ve tried to keep this article as short as possible and I haven’t touched on other issues such as the fact that suicide is now the most common form of death amongst women aged 15-34 in rural China. Many studies link this to their inability to cope with knowing their daughters have been aborted or murdered. So err as you can see it’s a lot more serious then my previous Exploration Asia offerings but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s an incredibly serious issue.
In this article I’m not going to write about an amusing travelling anecdote, review a travel book or recommend a youth hostel. Instead I am going to talk about a disturbing cultural trend that is visible throughout much of China, India, Korea and Singapore as well as parts of Eastern Europe. The dramatic rise in the number of baby boys compared to girls as a result of the selective destruction of female foetuses and the shocking commonality of the murder or new born baby girls. This trend is more commonly known as ‘gendercide’.
As most of us are probably aware, it is a fair bit tougher being a woman in much of Asia than it is in the UK. I first heard of the ‘gendercide’ and the associated issues a couple of years ago from a South Korean lady called Wisteria.
Wisteria never wanted to get married. In South Korea women are still, generally speaking, expected to fulfil all of the stereotypical gender roles that we in the UK associate more with the first half of the 20th century then the second decade of the 21st. She wanted a career. And combining that with the over 40 hours of cooking, cleaning, tidying, caring for family members and attending to her husband and children’s needs the average Korean wife is expected to do a week would be impossible.
In this modern era of readily available ultra-sound scans these strongly held gender stereotypes have had some quite brutally shocking and unexpected consequences on the composition of many Asian communities, particularly with regard to male to female ratios.
The Asian country with the male to female children ratio most above what is statistically natural is China. To many this at first appears to be an unprecedented side effect of the one child policy – it is more profitable for couples to have a boy than a girl. Inheritance is passed through the male line and far more traditional approaches to gender roles see men being culturally valued and considered more lucrative to their families than women.
Where couples can only have one child, as in many provinces in China, those who can afford it will often take gender tests to try and ensure that child is male by aborting female foetuses. In poorer regions of rural China where gender tests aren’t so readily available or affordable there are many truly horrendous reports about just how wide spread the murder of new born baby girls, and the blind eye the authorities turn to it, is.
To put into perspective how wide spread this phenomena is recent estimates show that over the next decade there will be an estimated 30-40 million more men aged 19 or below than women in China. These men, unable to find brides and see the increase in social standing that being well married affords them are known as ‘bare branches’.
Rather than simply being an unwanted side effect of the one child policy ‘bare branches’ are an increasing feature in other countries with similar cultural views on women that don’t operate a one child policy. In India, for instance, women are generally expected to leave their parents family upon marriage and join their husbands. Parents wanting to increase the family wealth and be taken care of in their old age want sons.
As a result ‘gendercide’ is a feature there just as it is in China. In recent surveys one Bombay clinic reported that out of the last 8000 abortions they had performed 7999 where on female foetuses.
The ‘bare branches’, the unmarried young men this cultural preference produces bear hazards of their own. Over the past 20 years the crime rate in China has doubled. In all affected countries tales of bride abduction, trafficking women and widespread rape are common place. Many studies state that a correlation between this and the unnatural male to female ratio are most likely linked. It’s a serious situation.
Based on the unnatural male to female ration in these parts of the world as many as a staggering 163million baby girls have been aborted, murdered, left to die or are simply ‘missing’. Charities such as Save the Children and UNICEF are doing some work to put a stop to this devastating practice, but specific programmes are few, far between and hard to locate. One which is doing some amazing work in the area is the relatively unknown ‘All Girls Allowed’ (check outhttp://www.allgirlsallowed.org/ending-gendercide
to find out more).
This is not to say that Asia isn’t an amazing, incredible and beautiful place to visit. In fact you are probably wondering why I am writing about such a serious matter on a light-hearted travel website. I think that if you are going to travel to a region and you really want to get to know it, its culture and history, it is important to know what issues exist below the surface. It is easy to be a tourist and just focus on the nice, attractive holiday hotspots but it is only through seeing what is really going on beneath the gloss, the negative as well as the good, that you can truly say you have experienced Asia.
If you are at all interested in finding out more about the ‘gendercide’, its causes and consequences or the Eastern European side of the story take a look at a now old but still incredible informative article from the Economist last yearhttp://www.economist.com/node/15636231?story_id=15636231
and the many articles the same magazine has run on the subject since.
Or Chinese journalist Xinran’s book Message from an Unknown Chinese Motherwhich features a compilation of real life stories from those who have given up, aborted or abandoned their daughters.