by Kristin Rudolph (@kristin_rudolph)
It is impossible to honestly discuss the oppression of women and disproportionate ratio of men to women in the world without mentioning sex-selective abortion rampant in countries like China and India. But that is exactly what Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sheryl WuDunn did, speaking to 4,000 young Christians at the third annual Justice Conference in Philadelphia on February 23. The conference organizers describe the event as “one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice,” and it was sponsored by Kilns College in Oregon and World Relief, the international outreach arm of the National Association of Evangelicals.
WuDunn, author of the best-selling book Half the Sky, said, “The major moral challenge, the most important moral challenge of this century, is creating greater equality between men and women.” As slavery was the challenge of the 19th century, totalitarianism of the 20th, so the oppression of women is the 21st century’s battle, WuDunn claimed. She pointed out that contrary to popular belief, men outnumber women worldwide and she claimed this is primarily a result of inadequate nutrition and health care provided for young girls in developing nations. Not once in her 40 minute talk did she mention sex-selective abortion as even a contributing cause to the imbalanced gender ratio.
Regardless of one’s views on abortion, the numbers don’t lie. A major cause of this disproportionate ratio is sex-selective abortion, yet WuDunn did not give it a passing mention. She told a story of malnourished Indian girls in feeding centers who return home to find their brothers well fed and healthy. “Discrimination takes place within the tiny unit of the family,” she said, and “The result, writ large is that according to prominent demographers … [there are] between 60 million and 100 million missing females from the current population.” (These numbers are low, as even the United Nations estimated as of 2012 there are around 117 million missing women).
WuDunn explained further that in India, “Between the ages of zero and one, baby girls and baby boys survive at about the same rate because everybody is fed by the breast … However, between the ages of one and five, baby girls have a 50% higher mortality rate.” Not only do parents prioritize feeding boys, but often don’t vaccinate girls and are slow to seek medical help. But “if the boy gets sick, he’s rushed over to the clinic right away.” In summary, WuDunn declared“that’s why there are more men in the world than women.”
Mistreatment and discrimination after birth lead to higher female mortality rates, but the tragic truth is that too often girls aren’t given the right to live in the first place. We have all heard the statistics and stories of parents who abort girls to save their limited family space for a more economically and culturally valued boy. Abnormal sex ratios at birth (SRB) in countries like China and India are a major cause of the world’s disproportionate adult population.
The natural sex ratio at birth (SRB) is around 105 males for every 100 females, and because boys have a higher mortality rate than girls until adulthood, by the time a generation reaches marriageable age, the ratio evens out to around 1:1. But in countries such as China and India where girls are viewed as economically draining and boys are prized both economically and culturally, millions of parents–enabled by ultrasound technology–have aborted their unborn girls.
The demographic results of these individual decisions are dramatic. In China, between 2005 and 2010 the SRB was 120 boys to 100 girls. In Indian states such as Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi, fewer than 900 girls are born per 1,000 boys. These numbers would be impossible without human intervention, and are is largely responsible for the world’s millions of missing women.
Further, WuDunn said “One of the most persistent causes of poverty is overpopulation [although] it can be controversial to focus on that as an issue.” She told the story of a starving family with eleven children in Haiti, lamenting that the mother “had too many kids, she couldn’t feed them.” WuDunn asserted: “If this woman had been more educated, research has shown that she would have gotten married later on in life … she would have had fewer children, and of course, the children she had, she would have raised in a more enlightened way.” According to this logic, women’s fertility is the fundamental problem, and they attain equality with men by producing few children, educating themselves, and joinining the formal labor force.
Paranoia about overpopulation prompted China’s infamous one child policy, which lead to the slaughter of unborn girls to make room for boys over the past few decades. WuDunn’s conspicuous failure to mention abortion and her discussion of overpopulation reveals a view of human nature at odds with historic Christian teaching that each woman (and man) is inherently valuable because she is created in the image of God, regardless of her economic contribution or consumption. Indeed, her remarks were oddly placed at a conference intended to pursue “biblical justice.”
WuDunn’s work toward ending oppression of women is commendable, but it is impossible to genuinely promote the dignity of women without opposing abortion, the bloodiest weapon used against them. This reality has put pro-abortion activists in a difficult position between promoting abortion as a “reproductive right” and admitting its role in the “missing girls” epidemic.
Fortunately, The Justice Conference also featured Chai Ling, a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and a recent Christian convert, who discussed her work to end China’s one child policy and sex-selective abortion. She described how “God opened [her] eyes to one of the biggest horrors of our time: China’s one child policy,” and discussed the progress her organization, All Girls Allowed has made in bringing awareness to the issue. She highlighted the development in September, 2012 following media exposure and international outcry, China announced there would be no more forced abortions. “God is restoring justice to China,” Ling said.
The fight for justice and against oppression of women must include protection for women at all stages of life, especially the most vulnerable unborn girls.