Imagine a world without women. No, it’s not the tagline for some gloomy successor to Atwood’s feminist dystopia in The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s about us. We live in a world where women are dying, frequently, at ages above and beyond expected natural mortality rates. Women live longer and often healthier lives than men but only in Western societies. Elsewhere, that’s simply not the case. Throughout Asia and North Africa, women are in need of our help.
Indian economist Amartya Sen, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1990, called these women – all 100 million of them – the ‘missing women’.
Almost two decades later, the women are still dying. In fact, in 2005 the United Nations put the number of “˜missing women’ at 200 million or higher. And more recently, two researchers looking at population statistics, confirmed that the ratio of women to men in developing countries remains way below the norm.
More importantly, the researchers found that the “˜women’ were not dying, as previously assumed, in the first four years of life. Instead, the majority of the “˜missing women’ were much, much older.
One could argue that it’s simply a result of biological, social, environmental, behavioural, and economic factors. But, more likely, they died and are still dying because they live in a world where they are totally undervalued. A world where they often have unequal access (as compared to men) to medical care, food, or social services. A world where, to many, it’s acceptable to neglect, abuse, and attack women – emotionally, physically, and sexually. A world where gang rape of children is rampant.
In this day and age, it’s hard to comprehend that this form of gender discrimination still happens. But, sadly, it does.