By Muneeza Naqvi
The Associated Press
NEW DELHI (AP) — 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. This has led to widespread abortions of female fetuses, according to a U.N. report released on March 8.
The report, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, said the Asia-Pacific region lags 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 efforts of individual countries have not yet been broad, deep, sustained, or serious enough to undercut the severe forms of discrimination that persist,” according to the report, compiled by the United Nations Development Program.
And the disparities are spread across the continent, hitting wealthy countries such as Japan as well as poor countries such as Bangladesh, the report said.
Asia has the highest ratio of male babies born compared to female babies born, according to the report. In East Asia, which has the greatest disparity, 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. The world average is 107 boys for every 100 girls.
The reason for the disparity is mostly a cultural preference for male children and gender selective abortions.
“The sex ratio at birth is appalling and the gap is widening,” Anuradha Rajivan, who led the study, told reporters in New Delhi.
And once born, many women have far less access to proper health care and nutrition, leading to far higher death rates than men in the region, the report said.
The report estimated that 96 million females “disappeared” in 2007, either in gender-selective abortions or through the disparity in services. There were no separate numbers for deaths caused by gender-selective abortions versus neglect, infanticide, and inadequate nutrition and health care.
China and India each account for about 43 million of those “missing” women, while Pakistan accounts for 6.1 million and South Korea for 200,000, according to the report. Seven countries — India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, South Korea, and Nepal — were studied.
In South Asia, 500 women die for every 100,000 live births, the second-worst rate in the world after Sub-Saharan Africa. Just above half of adult women in the region manage to learn to read and write — the lowest rate in the world, the report said.
The Asia-Pacific region also lags behind every region but the Arab world, where women’s participation in politics is concerned, though women in the relatively conservative countries of South Asia enjoy greater political participation than wealthier East Asian nations, the report said.
In Nepal, 33 percent of members of the national legislature are women, but in wealthier Japan and South Korea, just 10 and 14 percent of women hold seats in parliaments. India’s parliament was debating a law Monday that would reserve one-third of its parliamentary seats for women.
In Asia, working women often earn as little as 50 percent of what men make and they are shunted into the worst jobs, the ones men refuse to do, the report added.
More than one-tenth of women in the Asia-Pacific region report assaults by their male partners, yet most countries have no laws on domestic violence, and where laws do exist, they are often poorly enforced, the report said.
The report recommended reforming constitutions, training judges and police to be gender sensitive, and using progressive interpretation of religious principles to ensure that women are given equal rights. ♦