Gender inequality killing millions of women in Asia, report finds

"Nearly 100 million women across Asia have 'disappeared' because of a huge and growing gender gap that has fatally deprived them of access to health care and food and has led to widespread abortions of female fetuses, according to a U.N. report released Monday," the Associated Press reports. 

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) report, released on International Women's Day, points to the Asia-Pacific region as "lag[ging] behind much of the world on nearly all aspects of gender equality because of deeply entrenched traditions favoring men and poor government efforts to counteract them," the news service writes (Naqvi, 3/8).

According to the report, East Asia has the highest ratio of male infants born to female infants due to selective abortion of female fetuses, with 119 boys born for every 100 girls, "far exceed[ing] the global world average of 107 boys for every 100 girls," Agence France-Presse reports.  

"Females cannot take survival for granted. ... Sex-selective abortion, infanticide, and death from health and nutritional neglect in Asia have left 96 million missing women ... and the numbers seem to be increasing in absolute terms," the report said. AFP notes, "The regional figure was skewed by enormous birth gender disparities in China and India, which each accounted for about 42.6 million of the report's 'missing' figure" (3/8).

The Economist also examines the birth gender disparities in China and India, documenting how rising incomes and advances in fetal-imaging technology have contributed to the trend. The article outlines social consequences of "the skewed sex ratio" unveiled over the past 20 years, noting "many of the problems associated with sex selection will get worse. Meanwhile, the practice of sex selection itself may spread because fertility rates are continuing to fall and ultrasound scanners reach throughout the developing world."

The article also highlights data from South Korea, "the first country to report exceptionally high sex ratios," which has now become "the first [country] to cut them" (3/4).

In addition to lagging behind men in health indicators, many women in the Asia-Pacific region face discrimination in education and jobs, political representation and legal rights, Reuters reports. "The key message (of the report) is that to meet any development goals that a society sets, you need the full participation and involvement of women," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said. "Human development cannot be achieved if 50 percent of the population is excluded" (Bhalla, 3/8).

"Advancing gender equality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] agreed upon by the heads of world governments who met at a summit in 2000 where they pledged significant improvement in the conditions of women along with targets for poverty reduction and development," the Wall Street Journal writes. "The U.N. says that despite some achievements in the increased enrollment of girls in schools in developing countries, gender inequality remain[s] entrenched in most of the world and tackling it is one of the most difficult goals," the newspaper writes.

The article details a proposed bill in India that, if passed, would create more parliamentary seats for women, and examines the economic impact of discrimination against women from the paid workforce in Asia-Pacific countries. "According to a 2007 study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, gender disparity in the workforce cost the region an estimated $89 billion every year," the newspaper writes (Pokharel, 3/8).

International Women's Day

In related news, several news outlets explored how groups around the world marked International Women's Day.

VOA News reports on efforts in Afghanistan to improve conditions for women, including projects to tackle maternal mortality. The government is working to educate the public about contraception, increase the number of trained midwives and launch a mortality study to help highlight ways to improve women's health, the country's acting Public Health Minister Suraya Dalil said (Maroney, 3/7).

BBC examines how several advocacy groups are calling for "more action" to reduce maternal mortality. "For every 100,000 live births in developing countries, 450 women die during pregnancy or labour," the news service writes. The piece highlights the efforts of Nepal and Rwanda in progress toward improving women's health and several measures that would help reduce the rates of maternal mortality (Dreaper, 3/8).

Marking International Women's Day, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon "said that more women should be given a bigger role in peacekeeping efforts, stressing that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would be more easily attained if more emphasis would be given to women empowerment," Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation reports (Sabater, 3/7).


Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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