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Gender discriminations among young children in Asia

 | 
Isabelle Attané
, 
Jacques Véron

Introduction

Isabelle Attané et Jacques Véron

Texte intégral

1Subsequent to the demographic transition, Asian countries have been experiencing deep-rooted changes in family structures. In this context, the question of gender relations within the family, and more generally within society, is crucial, in view of the increase in discriminatory practices toward women, beginning at foetal conception and continuing through all stages of life.

  • 1 See Amartya Sen, 1990, «More than 100 million women are missing», New York Review of Books, pp. 61 (...)

2Asia is the “black continent” for women. Estimates place the deficit in the number of women in the world at between 60 and 100 million (compared to a population which would correspond to the expected overall male-to-female ratio), the vast majority of which is found on the Asian continent1.

3The countries in this part of the world displaying the largest demographic anomalies are China (1.28 billion inhabitants), India (1.01 billion), Pakistan (141.3 million), Bangladesh (137.4 million), the Republic of Korea (46.7 million), Nepal (23.0 million), Taiwan (22.5 million), Sri Lanka (18.9 million) (Table 1). Altogether, these countries include almost half of the world population: 2.7 out of a total population of 6.1 billion in 2000.

  • 2 Including Eastern, South-Central and South-Eastern Asia (according to the United Nations definitio (...)

4In countries where women are not discriminated against, the overall sex ratio, which measures the proportion of males and females in a given population, is always in favour of the latter. In France, for instance, there are 96 men per 100 women. Scandinavian societies, at the avant-garde of social progress, have a comparable ratio: 97 men per 100 women, a slight female majority. In Africa, there are 99.8 men per 100 women. The Asian2 norm is much higher: 104.5 in 2000.

  • 3 From World Population Prospects, The 2000 Revision, Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, United Nations (...)

5Most of the above-mentioned countries display an overall male-to-female ratio of around 10 per cent above the non-sexist norm: India, 106.5 males per 100 females; Bangladesh, 106.4; China, 105.9, Pakistan, 105.8; Sri Lanka, 105.6, Nepal; 105.2, Taiwan, 104.3. The ratio for the Republic of Korea fits this norm better: 101.33. That is to say, as the male proportion is largely above the expected figure in these countries, women are facing harsh discriminations on a demographic basis.

Table 1: Population and overall sex ratio, in 2000

Table 1: Population and overall sex ratio, in 2000

Source: World Population Prospects, The 2000 Revision, Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, United Nations. For Taiwan: 1998 Taiwan-Fukien Demographic Factbook.

6In most of these countries, the 1980s sound the knell of biological sex regulation at birth. Following the fertility decline, family size decreased. But because of a strong traditional son preference, couples generally did not accept to give up a male heir. This causes gender discriminations to escalate.

  • 4 See Chahnazarian Anouck (1988), “Determinants of the sex ratio at birth: review of recent literatu (...)

7According to the universal biological norm, there is a stable proportion of males and females at birth, setting the sex ratio at 103 to 106 boys for 100 girls4. But in most of these Asian countries, the natural gender balance at birth is upset. Among the most striking cases: China, with 116.9 males per 100 females at birth, India: 106.9, Taiwan: 108.7, the Republic of Korea: 109.6, around the year 2000 (Table 2).

Table 2: Total fertility rates (in 2000) and sex ratio at birth (around 2000)

Table 2: Total fertility rates (in 2000) and sex ratio at birth (around 2000)

Source: Total fertility rate: «Tous les pays du monde, 2001», Population et sociétés, July-August 2001.
Sex ratio at birth: (1) In 1990. 1992 Statistical yearbook of Bangladesh, BBS. (2) In 2000, Chinese 2000 census. (3) Among children aged 0 in 2001. Korea Statistical Yearbook, 2002. (4) NFHS-2 survey, 1998-99, (5) T. Leone, Z. Matthews, G. Dalla Zuanna, «Impact and determinants of Sex Preference in Nepal», International Family Planning Perspectives, June 2003, pp. 69-75. (6) Among children aged 0-4 in 1998. Pakistanese census, 1998. (7) In 1995. Statistical Abstract of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1997. (8) In 1998. 1998 Taiwan-Fukien Demographic Factbook, Rep. of China, p. 309.

  • 5 Data from the Indian Census of 2001, cited by Fred Arnold, Sunita Kishor, T. K. Roy, «Sex-Selectiv (...)

8This gender imbalance at birth, which is sometimes aggravated by discriminations during childhood, has a domino effect on older age groups. In India, for instance, the sex ratio at birth is still relatively unaffected by sex selection and is therefore close to the normal level, although it is increasing, whereas in older age groups, the girl deficit is growing. In some Indian states, female proportions are worryingly decreasing: there are, for instance, 126 males per 100 females among children aged under 7 in Punjab, and 122 in Haryana5, instead of a ratio that should be slightly under the normal sex ratio at birth.

9The low status of women as the result of the traditional son preference can also be reflected by abnormally high female death rates. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, for instance, are among the few countries in the world where women’s life expectancy is equal to, or even lower than, that of men. But in normal circumstances, that is, when women are not discriminated against, especially in health and food supply, male mortality is higher than that of females at all the ages of life, which is a natural offsetting of the natural male surplus at birth.

  • 6 Elisabeth Croll, 2000, Endangered Daughters, Discrimination and Development in Asia, London: Routl (...)

10In China, for instance, where excess mortality affects girls immediately after birth, the infant mortality of girls is 40 per cent above that of boys, whereas male disadvantage should normally be around 20 per cent. In India, there is no excess female mortality in this first year of life. However, female mortality becomes abnormal between the ages of 1 and 5, with a female mortality 50 per cent higher than that of boys. This is also the case in Pakistan, where girls born in a family that already includes a daughter die more often than boys6.

11These Asian societies share cultural characteristics that are not favourable to women: patriarchal systems, patrilineal families, socialization processes encouraging the submission of wives to their husband’s family, etc In these societies, a son is needed to perpetuate the family line and ensure the social and biological reproduction of the family. In China, Taiwan or Korea, the absence of a male heir means the extinction of the family line and ancestor worship. In the Hindu religion, parents who do not have a son are condemned to everlasting wandering. According to traditional rites, the son is the only person allowed to light the funeral pyre. If they have no son, the parents’ souls will never stop reincarnating, and never attain nirvana.

12In India and in China as well, a daughter lives temporarily in the home of her parents. When she marries, she leaves her biological family to join that of her husband, to which she has to devote herself entirely for the rest of her life. Furthermore, in India and in Bangladesh, for instance, dowry is continually increasing. Poor families have no choice but to become indebted for life to pay it..

13These are among the reasons why these Asian societies share a strong son preference, which is in some cases accentuated by economic constraints. A son is generally the only person to support his parents in old age, and as a rule only sons help with work in the fields. Moreover, girls and women still occupy a marginal position in society, whereas a male heir offers countless advantages.

***

14This volume contains the proceedings of the seminar “Gender discriminations among young children in Asia”, organized in Pondicherry in November 2003. The objective of the seminar was to analyse recent trends in gender discrimination by combining historical and geographical perspectives. It seemed to the organizers of this seminar of great interest to compare national experiences in this region of the world–South and East Asia-where son preference could be documented by figures: sex ratio at birth and differentials in infant and child mortality.

15A comparative perspective was adopted because the countries of this region offered various situations. In South Korea fertility is low and the sex ratio at birth is about 110. However, the sex ratio at birth by parity, for 3 children or more, increased dramatically from the beginning of the 1980s to the early 1990s. The situation in Taiwan is quite similar, even though fertility is somewhat higher. The adoption in China of the one-child policy resulted in a sharp fertility decline and in an increase of the sex ratio at birth. India, with a size comparable to that of China, has experienced a very different trend. Indian fertility is declining, but the number of children per woman still exceeds three: compared to China, the population policy has not really been efficient in India. The sex ratio at birth for the whole of India is a little higher than the level of 105 but, at the level of the different Indian states, the sex ratio at birth may be quite high. The comparison between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would be particularly interesting since these three countries have partly shared histories. Son preference is documented by surveys in Pakistan, but fertility is still high and no significant discrimination of girls has been clearly identified. The cases of Nepal and Bangladesh were not discussed at this seminar but it would be useful in the future to consider the similarities between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and their particularities.

16Comparisons in gender discrimination between countries are necessary, but given regional diversity inside each country, it is important to focus on gender discrimination at this level. In India, for instance, the sex ratio at birth varies considerably from one state to another. In the southern states, the sex ratio at birth varies at around 105 boys for 100 girls, but in north-western states such as Haryana and Punjab, it exceeds 120 boys for 100 girls. In China or in South Korea we also observe regional disparities. The intensity of son preference is not the same in all states or provinces.

17A better understanding of gender discrimination in the early stage of life is only possible by means of an interdisciplinary approach. To what extent can historical trends and/or anthropological differences explain disparities in the sex ratio at birth or in infant and child mortality? How do demographic and/or economic constraints intervene? Has foeticide, for instance, taken over from infanticide, practised in ancient times? To what extent is it possible to state that son preference is increasing? Discrimination may happen before birth, through selective abortion, but also in the first years of life, through the neglect of girls who receive less care than boys. In this case, the difference between male and female infant and child mortality is reduced or even reversed.

18As the countries considered display very different experiences, it is possible to analyse the relationship between gender discrimination, development and fertility decline. It is also important to emphasize the role played by population policies. In a context of strong son preference, fertility decline increases the constraint on the desired sex composition of the family. But if there is no strong son preference as in South India, fertility decline itself does not result in an increase of the sex ratio at birth. The availability of ultrasound machines, at a local level, gives couples who want a boy at any cost the opportunity to resort to abortion in case the foetus is female. This availability of ultrasound machines, which is a technical progress, is used for health purposes–of mother and child-but also for discrimination. It appears that the relation between gender discrimination is much more complex than we may have thought. Foeticide is more common in regions with a better economic situation. The increasing standard of living may result in a larger dowry and in turn contribute to the reluctance of couples to have a female child. Therefore, development may have paradoxical effects.

19In this book, experiences of India, Pakistan, China, South Korea and Taiwan are compared: the trends are well documented, but the analysis raises new questions. Why, for instance, is son preference declining in South Korea, if one refers to the decrease in the last decade of the sex ratio at birth by parity for 3 children or more? Will the sex ratio at birth increase in Pakistan, with lower fertility in the future? The situations in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been omitted here, but this seminar was only a first step in comparative studies on gender discrimination. One of the next steps will be the setting up of a network to promote research in this area.

Note

20In India, the sex ratio at birth (SRB) is calculated by dividing the total number of female births by the total number of male births, the normal SRB being around 950 female births per 1000 male births. In the other Asian countries considered in this volume, the SRB is calculated by dividing the total number of male births by the total number of female births, the normal SRB being around 105.5 female births per 100 male births.

Notes

1 See Amartya Sen, 1990, «More than 100 million women are missing», New York Review of Books, pp. 61-65; Ansley Coale, 1991, «Excess female mortality and the balance of the sexes in the population: an estimate number of the missing females», Population and Development Review, no 3, pp. 517-523; Elisabeth Croll, 2000, Endangered daughters, Discrimination and development in Asia, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1-5.

2 Including Eastern, South-Central and South-Eastern Asia (according to the United Nations definition), but excluding Western Asia. See World population prospects, The 2000 Revision, Vol. I: Comprehensive Tables, United Nations, pp. 40-41.

3 From World Population Prospects, The 2000 Revision, Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, United Nations, Taiwan excepted.

4 See Chahnazarian Anouck (1988), “Determinants of the sex ratio at birth: review of recent literature”, Social Biology, vol. 35, no 3-4, 215-235.

5 Data from the Indian Census of 2001, cited by Fred Arnold, Sunita Kishor, T. K. Roy, «Sex-Selective Abortions in India», Population and Development Review, 28(4), December 2002.

6 Elisabeth Croll, 2000, Endangered Daughters, Discrimination and Development in Asia, London: Routledge, pp. 67-68.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: Population and overall sex ratio, in 2000
Légende Source: World Population Prospects, The 2000 Revision, Volume I: Comprehensive Tables, United Nations. For Taiwan: 1998 Taiwan-Fukien Demographic Factbook.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/4468/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 85k
Titre Table 2: Total fertility rates (in 2000) and sex ratio at birth (around 2000)
Légende Source: Total fertility rate: «Tous les pays du monde, 2001», Population et sociétés, July-August 2001.Sex ratio at birth: (1) In 1990. 1992 Statistical yearbook of Bangladesh, BBS. (2) In 2000, Chinese 2000 census. (3) Among children aged 0 in 2001. Korea Statistical Yearbook, 2002. (4) NFHS-2 survey, 1998-99, (5) T. Leone, Z. Matthews, G. Dalla Zuanna, «Impact and determinants of Sex Preference in Nepal», International Family Planning Perspectives, June 2003, pp. 69-75. (6) Among children aged 0-4 in 1998. Pakistanese census, 1998. (7) In 1995. Statistical Abstract of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1997. (8) In 1998. 1998 Taiwan-Fukien Demographic Factbook, Rep. of China, p. 309.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/4468/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 77k

Auteurs

Demographers at INED, Paris, In charge of “gender and development network” at CePeD, Paris
Institut national des études démographiques (INED)
133 boulevard Davout
75980 Paris cedex 20 FRANCE
Email: attane@ined.fr

Demographers at INED, Paris, In charge of “gender and development network” at CePeD, Paris
Institut national des études démographiques (INED)
133 boulevard Davout
75980 Paris cedex 20, FRANCE
veron@ined.fr.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2005

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