The female deficit in the world is estimated at between 60 and 100 million and is seen to be especially pronounced in Asia. Significant demographic anomalies are observed in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Korea, Taiwan and Sri Lanka. In these countries, where nearly half the world's population is concentrated, the number of men is on average 10 per cent higher than the number of women, whereas the universal biological norm would have as many female as male births.
There are various reasons for this imbalance of the sexes: sex selection at birth or at young ages (selective abortion, infanticides), differential treatment as regards healthcare or nutrition, etc. The consequences in terms of social development in the countries in question are serious and are becoming a matter of concern for a number of observes.
Because discrimination against young girls can vary from one place to another and within a country-this is particularly the case in India-,a spatial exploration of this phenomenon on a wide scale is a matter of genuine interest. Dr. Christophe Z. Guilmoto (French Institute of Pondicherry, IFP, and research Institute for Development, IRD) and his colleagues have examined this phenomenon in an important demographic study undertaken in South India. What, then, could be more natural than for the IFP to coordinate a regional confrontation to deliberate and discuss this disquieting situation? A seminar focused on female discrimination in young ages was therefore organized in Pondicherry by the IFP, the French Centre for population and development (CEPED), the UNFPA in India and the National Institute for Demographics Studies (INED) of Paris.
Indian, French, Chinese, Pakistani, Taiwanese and Korean specialists presented their research carried out in different countries of Asia and considered numerous questions related to female discrimination, including, among others; What are the factors affecting sex selective abortion at the level of the major states? Do urban and rural areas differ regarding this phenomenon? Do the contexts of discrimination against young girls differ from one country to another? Is this type of discrimination decreasing as mortality declines and education improves? What kind of conclusions can be drawn from international comparisons? This form of discrimination has also been considered in relation to economic growth, development and change in values. Thus, through a comparison of national experiences, it has been possible to better identify the role played in the new trends by fertility decline, traditional son preference, the evolution of dowry and by the availability of amniocentesis and ultrasonography. A mid-term objective was also to promote comparative research on discrimination against women throughout the complete life cycle.
This publication is a collection of the principal contributions to the seminar. May it be of help in developing an increased awareness of the phenomenon of discrimination against girls in Asian countries and in implementing means to combat this affliction!
Subsequent 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.
Asia is the "black continent" for women. Estimates place the deficit in the number of women in the world at between 60 and 100 million, the vast majority of which is found on this continent. This book focuses on the intensity of female discrimination, from a demographic perspective, in the earliest stages of life, and more specifically around birth, in China, India, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan.
These 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 social and biological reproduction of the family. These are among the reasons why they 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 help with work in the fields. Moreover, girls and women still occupy a marginal position in society, whereas a male heir offers countless advantages.
Isabelle Attane is a demographer at the INED (National Institute for Demographic Studies), Paris, France, with special expertise on China. She coordinates, in collaboration with Olivia Samuel (University Versailles Saint-Quentin), the field "Society, Gender and Family" at the CEPED, Paris. Her current research focuses mainly on gender discrimination in China, from a demographic and socio-economic perspective.
Jacques Veron is a demographer at the INED (National Institute for Demographic Studies), Paris, France. His current research focuses on Indian population and on links between population and development.
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