One of the easiest ways of putting feminists to the test is to ask them: “Are you against gendercide?“
While the decriminalization of abortion is often presented as one of the biggest achievements of feminism, women are in fact its first victims. Liberal abortion laws in conjunction with pre-natal screening lead to gender-selective abortions. While in Western societies parents appear to have a preference for “gender-balanced” families, in other cultures there is a strong cultural preference for sons. The practice of gender-selective abortion appears to be wide-spread; world-wide it has lead to a so-called “gender gap” of more than 100 million “missing” girls. In countries like India and China, there is now a ratio of 120 (and in some region even 130) new-born boys per each 100 new-born girls, the “natural” ratio being 102/100.(Quite remarkably, there appears to be no country where a social preference for girls has tilted the abortion balance in their favour. Even in the Skandinavian countries or Canada girls appear to be more frequently the victims of abortion than boys.)
While the aborted girls are, of course the first victims of this “gendercide”, they are not the only ones. Indeed, the self-inflicted gender imbalance will inevitably lead to dire consequences for the societies concerned. In China alone, where the official “one-child-per-family” policy in conjunction with a traditional son-preference has led to an estimated 30 million “missing” girls, the implication is that at least 30 million young men will not be able to find a spouse to marry. This will inevitably lead to extreme risks of social unrest: angry young men with no prospect of founding a family have a high potential of aggressivity. That aggressivity may turn inwards (taking the form of domestic crime and violence, including rape or, as is frequently reported from China, the kidnapping of girls and women), but it could also turn against neighbouring countries.
In addition, the lack of women further exacerbates the dramatic demographic decline resulting from “one-child-per-family”. As some predict, this could soon jeopardize, and is in fact already jeopardizing, China’s ascent to super-power status: “China will get old before it gets rich.”
But gendercide is not an exclusively Chinese problem; it affects other countries as well. And in all countries concerned it causes a serious threat both to social stability and economic development.
In Europe, some countries, such as Sweden, have openly declared sex-selective abortion (i.e., the abortion of a child for no other reason than its gender) to be legal. Others, such as the UK, declare it to be “illegal”, but in fact have no laws to prevent it. The truth is that sex-selective abortion must be deemed “legal” wherever the law of the country allows for “abortion on demand” and people have access to technologies that allows them to determine a child’s sex before birth. This is currently the case in a majority of European countries.
What can be done against gendercide? It would be naive to wait for a change in attitudes (I.e., a disappearence of the preference for sons in certain societies). Even though desirable, such changes in attitude require many years. At the same time, it would be for obvious reasons unacceptable to tell people that aborting girls is wrong, but aborting boys is ok. The only viable answer to gendercide is to restrict, or better prohibit, abortion. Another solution is not available.
Thanks to the efforts of some politicians and pro-life movements, there is a growing awareness of gendercide. The European Parliament’s Committee on Development in 2012 has published a Study on the issue., in which it recommends the “further development of appropriate legislation, including more robust sanctions to those who breach the laws in countries where regulations have proved ineffective” without, however, explaining in what this “appropriate legislation”might exist. On 8 October 2013, the European Parliament with 567 against 37 votes adopted a Report in which it described gendercide as “a crime and a severe violation of human rights”, and called on governments to “draw up and implement legislation so that feminicide cases are investigated, perpetrators tried and survivors ensured easy access to health care and long-term support”. The Commission was called upon to ” to work intensively to prevent gender-biased sex selection, not by imposing restrictions on access to reproductive health services and technology but by promoting responsible use of it”. While the Report stopped short of calling for a general ban on abortion (which, as we must recall, does not fall within the scope of “reproductive health services”), it certainly leaves room for such a measure. This was, in fact, the first time in many years that the European Parliament has unambiguously described abortion as a crime; it is an important step forward and encourages us to ask for further steps in that direction.
Further reading: The worldwide war on baby girls, The Economist, 4 March 2010