Recent Resources for Feminists
Pakistan: In political arena, women acceptable only as proxies &/or extension of male politicians Print E-mail

 Monday May 25 2015

Also at: Tuesday May 26 2015

Women in politics

By Tahir Mehdi

RECENTLY, it was reported that women were barred from voting in the Lower Dir by-election held earlier this month. It was not the first time, however, that this has happened, nor is it limited to Dir alone. More importantly, the oft reported phenomenon of women’s deliberate exclusion from participating in elections is only the tip of the iceberg. The issue that underpins it ­ women in politics ­ seldom finds place in our political discourse.

Democracies across the world have struggled to ensure equal participation of women. Although the success rate has understandably not been uniform, Pakistan seems to be going in reverse gear.

Consider, for example, the fact that whereas there were 77.8 women voters compared with 100 men in the first general elections of 1970 in the then Western provinces (present-day Pakistan), their ratio of participation in elections held almost half a century later, in 2013, actually slipped a notch to 77.4!

If these two, almost equal figures, are viewed in the specific socio-political context of the years in question (such as level of urbanisation, literacy, etc), they don’t represent a standstill. They in fact stand witness to our regression.

The debate on women’s participation in politics in Pakistan has largely remained confined to reserving seats for them. The 1973 Constitution reserved 10 seats in the National Assembly for women with the general seat members serving as their electoral college. The reservation was made for three general elections or ten years, whichever came later. The reason for this time bar was that it was hoped that within that span of time, women would arrive at par with men in politics, thus negating the need for special provisions.

The optimism, however, proved to be misplaced. Although Gen Zia doubled the number of women’s seats, he did not extend the time bar. The seats thus expired after the 1988 elections and the next three parliaments were without women’s seats.

Gen Musharraf proved more generous than his predecessor and increased the number of women’s seats in the National Assembly to an impressive 60, and likewise in the provincial assemblies. He did not put an expiry date on these either. Three elections have been held under this system so far and together they constitute a substantial body of experience, enough to evaluate whether it has brought us any closer to the objective of gender equality in the political sphere.

The answer is not difficult to find. It is written all over our politics. The reserved seats have only helped political patriarchs increase their numerical strength in the houses. They see them as a bonus, the awarding of which is monopolised by the party heads under the party-list system. Members may grumble over this monopoly but they do not disagree that only women belonging to the political elite should come on the reserved seats.

Earlier this year, Balochistan Assembly speaker Jan Mohammed Jamali (PML-N) refused to withdraw his daughter’s name in favour of his party’s chosen candidate in the Senate election.

The case of Sindh MPA, Parveen Junejo, is even more telling. She was elected from a general seat in Dadu as a proxy for her husband who was barred from contesting for legal reasons, but after the couple became estranged, Ms Junejo claimed she was forced to resign her seat. Her party and the Sindh Assembly, in the manner of a tribal jirga, promptly completed the procedure required to unseat her.

Equality of women in politics is not on any party’s agenda. They are content with flaunting their few women leaders as evidence of their progressive politics. In practical electoral terms, it is much easier for them to take women’s votes as multipliers of male consent. They are then left with the task of managing only the local-level male powerbrokers.

On the other hand, the parliamentary status of women on reserved seats remains completely dependent on their male colleagues even if they outperform the men on the floor of the house. Women are acceptable only as proxies or an extension of male politicians.

The present electoral system and the politics it is generating have become a vehicle for reinforcing the gender status quo, instead of being a tool to challenge and change it. There is a reason why even the parties that are against women in the political sphere, including Jamaat-i-Islami which spearheaded their exclusion from the Lower Dir by-election, happily nominate women candidates on reserved seats.

In hindsight, it seems the present system was designed only to play with the optics of women’s participation. It has effected a complete disconnect between the image and the reality on the ground. While we have a considerable number of women in parliament, womenfolk can still be barred from getting registered as voters and from casting their ballots.

If the increased presence of women was intended to have a trickle-down effect, let us admit that it simply hasn’t happened and there are no signs it can ever do so.

This is not to say that ensuring and increasing women’s participation in politics is impossible. One way can be for women to have a double vote, with one vote for the general seat candidate and another for the women’s seat. A single voter casting multiple ballots for different categories of candidates, including women, minorities, etc was tried out in local government elections of 2000 and 2005.

Another method could be to make it mandatory for a winner to have secured men and women’s votes in a fixed proportion. Yet another option can be to assign women’s votes an additional fractional weightage while consolidating results.

The point here, however, is not to propose a particular method but to stress that unless the electoral system puts an additional value on the votes of common womenfolk and incentivises their participation, women’s equality or even their increased participation will remain a distant dream.
The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group.

Afghanistan: 8 girls in critical condition following mass poisoning at school in Samangan province Print E-mail
Tuesday May 19 2015

Tens of female students poisoned in Samangan


By Mohammad Barat

AIBAK (Pajhwok): Dozens of female students were poisoned in Khuram Sarbagh district of northern Samangan province, with few of them were stated to be in critical condition, officials said on Tuesday.

The school is located in Abdul Malik locality of the district.

Qari Tajuddin, development council head of the locality, told Pajhwok Afghan News when students entered the school sharp at 9:30am they found white-type powder sprayed on the schools yard.

He added the students first felt itching in their bodies and later fell unconscious.

Abdul Latif, a resident whose two daughters had been shifted to hospital, said: When I came to know about the incident I rushed to school. I saw white powder with bad scent. Itching first and when I came out I nauseated twice.

Mohammad Nawab, Khuram Sarbagh acting district chief, said more than 50 students had been poisoned at the school.

He added eight of the students were in critical condition and were being shifted to the provincial hospital. The rest, he said, were admitted in the local hospital.

Nawab said nobody had been detained in connection with the incident yet and they have started investigations to divulge facts.

India: Women's reproductive rights sacrificed via 2014 budget focus on sterilisation Print E-mail
  Thursday May 7, 2015

Honour reproductive rights of women

Nearly 21 per cent of all pregnancies in India are either unwanted or mistimed. This not only exposes women to avoidable maternal health complications, but also affects their overall development and well-being

By Poonam Muttreja

Worrisome trend
Out of the total family planning outlay of Rs 397 crore in 2013-14 Budget, 85 per cent was spent only on sterilising females.
The recent Economic Survey reveals that tubectomy and laparoscopic sterilisations together accounted for 97.4 per cent of the total number of sterilisation operations performed in India in 2012-13.
Even in the developed states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, female sterilisation accounts for 90 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, of all family planning methods used.
The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome, it calls for multiple choices of sterilisation for women and their social empowerment.

The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome to be swept under the carpet in India. Thinkstock

India has made some commendable progress towards ensuring safe motherhood for women in the recent years. However, any satisfaction one may derive from the steep decline in maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 398 per 1,00,000 live births in 1998 to 167 in 2013 is tempered by the fact that the country still accounts for 17 per cent of all global maternal deaths.

Safe motherhood has three significant components that need to be addressed in equal measures: mortality, morbidity and social determinants of fertility. Unsafe delivery and pregnancy related complications are major factors why women die before, during or after child birth. While the direct medical causes of mortality - haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortions, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labour - are largely preventable with provision of better quality healthcare services, a significant proportion of maternal deaths are also attributed to indirect causes like anaemia and malaria.

The unmet need for contraceptives
One aspect of safe motherhood, often overlooked in India is unwanted or early-age pregnancies and high unmet need for contraception. According to National Family Health Survey 3, adolescents (15-19 years) contribute about 16 per cent of total fertility in the country and 15-25 years age group contributes 45 per cent of total maternal mortality. Nearly 21 per cent of all pregnancies are either unwanted or mistimed. This not only exposes women to avoidable maternal health complications, it also affects their overall development and well-being. A more accessible and equitable family planning programme that offers a wider choice of contraceptive methods to couples constitutes a simple, low-cost investment which can reduce maternal and child mortality by preventing early age pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies at a later age.

The present-day discourse on maternal health pays insufficient attention to the issue of morbidity. For every woman who dies in childbirth in India, about 20 more suffer from long-lasting illnesses with physical, psychological, social, and economic consequences. Severe and continuing ill-health among women affects their children’s health as well, in terms of nutrition and nurture, thereby having inter-generational consequences. A study by social activist Dr Rani Bang in Gadchiroli has suggested that over half of women in rural India suffer from maternal morbidity, highlighting the widespread extent of the problem.The focus of safe motherhood needs to be widened to include morbidity as an important aspect of maternal health.

Attitudinal shift
To be sure, family planning has had many successes over the last two decades. There has been a much-needed attitudinal shift. Contraceptives are now no longer considered only a means to stabilise the population but also as an intervention that improves maternal and child health. An analysis of the SRS 2011 report reveals that 8,00,000 births a year are being averted through the provision of family planning. Births among 15-19 year olds have come down by 3,50,000. Additionally, 1,700 maternal deaths are now being prevented each year and 3 out of 4 births are taking place in institutions.

Despite this, significant disparities and inequities in women’s access to healthcare continue to persist and the country remains far away from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of an MMR of 109 by 2015. The decreasing maternal mortality figures, as a whole, mask wide variations between different communities, states and even districts in the same state. Assam’s MMR of 390 compares poorly with 81 for Kerala. Many poor women from marginalised communities continue to exist outside the ambit of the healthcare system.

High mortality and family planning 
The unmet need for family planning remains a significant challenge in reducing maternal mortality. The District Level Household and Facility Survey-3 (DLHS 3)assesses the total unmet need for contraception at 20.5 per cent nationally, comprising 13.3 per cent for limiting, i.e. women who do not want any more children but are not using any contraceptives and 7.2 per cent for spacing i.e. women who want to delay their next pregnancy. The trend of unmet need shows that the rate of change is very slow, with the figures being 25.3 per cent, 21.1 per cent and 20.5 per cent for DLHS 1 (1998-99), DLHS 2 (2002-04) and DLHS 3 (2007-08), respectively. This directly translates into unwanted and untimed pregnancies.While the total wanted fertility rate is 1.6 in urban areas and 2.6 in rural areas, the total fertility rate is 2.06 and 2.98, respectively. The difference can directly be attributed to the unmet need for family planning.

It is estimated that if the current unmet need could be fulfilled within the next five years, India can avert 35,000 maternal deaths and 12 lakh infant deaths.

To ensure proper health and avert maternal deaths, it is important to widen the basket of choices with the addition of more methods, address issues of accessibility and quality of family planning services, and allay myths and misplaced health concerns that prevent women from using modern contraceptives.

Of equal significance for safe motherhood are social determinants of fertility. Women’s low status in the family and in society means they eat last and the least, resulting in a low body mass index. About 33 per cent of all women in India are malnourished, and 52 per cent are anaemic. This, along with marriages at an age is not ideal for conception, this makes women vulnerable to maternal morbidity and mortality, with a long-term negative impact on the entire family.

Reproductive rights
The Economic Survey this year has taken a closer look at “Unleashing Naari Shakti” or empowering women, who constitute 48 per cent of Indian population. It talks about reorienting family planning towards reproductive health and rights, paying greater attention to quality and spacing methods, and doing away with targets and incentives for sterilisation as well as sterilisation camps. This is an extremely significant statement of intention by the Government, but words need to be translated into action.

To create a more productive, egalitarian and sustainable world, it is essential to recognise women as equal stakeholders in human progress. While positive outcomes of women’s empowerment can come from a bouquet of opportunities, such as education and earning capacity, the crucial role of contraception and modern spacing methods in transforming gender inequality has been missing from the national discourse. The heavy skew of Government expenditure on family planning towards only female sterilisation has not been debated and questioned in any significant way.

Out of the total family planning outlay of Rs 397 crore in 2013-14 Budget, as much as 85 per cent was spent only on sterilising females. The recent Economic Survey reveals that tubectomy and laparoscopic sterilisations together accounted for 97.4 per cent of the total number of sterilisation operations performed in India in 2012-13. Male vasectomy procedures, considered much less complicated and risky, accounted for the rest. What is more shocking is that even in the developed states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, female sterilisation accounts for 90 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively, of all family planning methods used. The gender imbalance in sterilisation is too big and worrisome to be swept under the carpet, with women bearing the cross of meeting the Government’s family planning targets.

Female sterilisation, though a straight-forward operation, is often life-threatening in India due to poor quality, infrastructure and callousness, engendered by the pressure to meet Government-mandated targets. Last November’s incident in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, is still fresh in memory when 16 women, many of them in their prime, lost their lives in a mass sterilisation camp. Every such incident is not only a tragic loss of life, it is also a setback to the family planning efforts. The Government needs to reorient its efforts at stabilising population. Instead of employing the ill-conceived strategy of driving family planning through female sterilisation camps, it needs to focus on respecting the reproductive rights of women and expanding the choices available to them in terms of modern spacing methods. The shift from terminal methods like sterilisation to implants, oral pills and injectables is a national imperative because of the reproductive momentum generated by a youthful population. Young women and men need wider contraceptive choices to plan their families and space childbirth.

Modern spacing methods account for a small fraction (10 per cent) of contraceptive use in India. Between 1998-1999 and 2005-2006, there was a minimal increase (from 6.8 to 10.1 per cent) in the proportion of couples using oral contraceptives, IUCDs, and condoms. Data indicates that India’s family planning programme has not, so far, succeeded in providing contraceptives in any significant way to delay the first birth and space subsequent births. It currently offers five methods ­ female sterilisation, male sterilisation, intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD), oral contraceptives, and condoms. In contrast, other countries in the region like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have seven contraceptive methods available, including injectables and implants. This is significant because global experience shows that overall contraceptive use rises with every additional contraceptive method made available. The addition of one method available to at least half the population correlates with an increase of 4-8 percentage points in total use of modern methods, studies have shown. India’s family planning programme should therefore strive to provide widespread access to a range of methods, in line with international norms. This will empower women, families and communities.

New contraceptives
If the country were to introduce new contraceptives in the public health system, the immediate options are progestin-only pills, injectable contraceptives and implants. The former two are already approved and available in the private sector. The health benefits of increase in contraceptive choices are dramatic: universal access to reproductive healthcare could prevent two-thirds of unintended pregnancies, 70 per cent of maternal deaths, 44 per cent of newborn deaths, and three quarters of unsafe abortions in the world. Unfortunately, Introduction of new and modern methods of contraception has not been easy in India. It has been contentious, not in the community, not among the women for whom the contraceptive is meant, but among those who have the luxury to debate, discuss and oppose, who do not have to rely on unhygienic and life-threatening sterilisation camps as their only choice for contraception.

The issue of safe motherhood in India is much wider in scope than providing healthcare and family planning services for women. It involves a wider debate about their education, dignity, and reproductive rights and denying them the choices , they should be making on their own.

The writer is Executive Director, Population Foundation of India.

India: Women undergoing sterilisation in Bihar suffer from unsanitary conditions & shoddy equipment Print E-mail
Monday April 27, 2015

Filthy facilities imperil Bihar's sterilised women

Most facilities even lack the very basic, minimum necessary equipment, drugs and supplies for sterilisation, a study found

By Saumya Tewari | IndiaSpend

  • Women recovering from surgery lay on cotton mats on the floor.
  • Many were discharged without being medically checked or told about post-surgery care.
  • The floors of healthcare facilities were strewn with used syringes and bandages; walls were smeared with blood and windows­including those of operating rooms­were broken.
  • With conditions ripe for infection, that is, in fact, what happened to more than half of all women in district hospitals.

These were the results of an audit of public healthcare facilities offering surgical sterilisation procedures in the eastern state of Bihar, which boasts India’s highest fertility rate of 3.5 children per mother ­against the all-India average of 2.4­ and struggles to contain its population.

The audit is part of a five-district study conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), based in Washington D.C. Apart from the “unsanitary environment”, the study said: “Most facilities even lack the very basic, minimum necessary equipment, drugs and supplies for sterilisation, with some lacking simple essentials, such as scissors and narrow forceps.”

The fallout: Fever, bleeding, pus and other problems

The state of healthcare facilities was worst in the largest hospitals at the main district towns. More than half of women suffered sepsis, or infections, from their sterilisation wounds. The problems included fever, bleeding, pus and problems with sutures.

Source: ICRW

The objective of the ICRW study was to provide evidence on the gaps in family planning services for women as well as efforts needed to improve the quality of such services in Bihar.

These are some of the conclusions of the ICRW study:

  • Health facilities lack private spaces to deliver family planning services, compromising the dignity of clients and the quality of services.
  • Few facilities had enough drugs and equipment to effectively provide sterilisation and intrauterine contraceptive device services.
  • Many health service providers and counsellors have limited interpersonal skills and professional training to deliver quality family planning services to women.
  • Unsanitary conditions at most facilities demonstrate disregard for infection prevention
  • Women want cleaner facilities with better interaction with and care from providers.

Source: National Family Health Survey

High risk of simple sterilisation
In an incident that led to much soul-searching in India last year, 16 women lost their lives in Chhattisgarh to failed sterilisation procedures.
This was not an aberration, asreported.

Our analysis of national health data revealed 200 deaths ever year between 2009 and 2011.

A preliminary inquiry into the Chattisgarh deaths revealed that the first camp held on November 8, 2014, carried out 137 operations, ignoring government orders restricting sterilisation operations per day to 30, India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Jagat Prakash Nadda said in a statement to the Lok Sabha.

Nadda also said the operation theatre was not working, and adulterated medicine was given to the women who died.

However, larger questions emerged after the incidents regarding better practices at health centres. The ICRW report from Bihar indicates that while there have been some improvements over the years in physical infrastructure, such as electricity and water, other problems were widespread and severe.

 is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit

China-India: Masculinised sex ratios predicted to leave 21% & 15% of men aged 50 unmarried by 1970 Print E-mail
 UK ~ Saturday April 18th 2015

The marriage squeeze in India and China

Bare branches, redundant males

Distorted sex ratios at birth a generation ago are changing marriage and damaging societies in Asia’s twin giants

KHAPs are informal local councils in north-western India. They meet to lay down the law on questions of marriage and caste, and are among India’s most unflinchingly conservative institutions. They have banned marriage between people of different castes, restricted it between people from the same village and stand accused of ordering honour killings to enforce their rulings, which have no legal force. India’s Supreme Court once called for khaps to be “ruthlessly stamped out”. In April 2014, however, the Satrol khap, the largest in Haryana, one of India’s richest states, relaxed its ban on inter-caste marriage and made it easier for villagers to marry among their neighbours. “This will bring revolutionary change to Haryana,” said Inder Singh, president of the khap.

The cause of the decision, he admitted, was “the declining male-female sex ratio in the state”. After years of sex-selective abortions in favour of boys, Haryana has India’s most distorted sex ratio: 114 males of all ages for every 100 females. In their search for brides, young men are increasingly looking out of caste, out of district and out of state. “This is the only way out to keep our old traditions alive,” said Mr Singh. “Instead of getting a bride from outside the state who takes time to adjust, we preferred to prune the jurisdiction of prohibited areas.”

The revision of 500 years of custom by its conservative guardians symbolises a profound change not just in India. Usually dubbed the “marriage squeeze”, the change refers both to the fact of having too many men chasing too few brides and the consequence of it in countries where marriage has always been nearly universal. Sex selection at birth is common in China and India. The flight from marriage­with women marrying later, or not at all­is long established in Japan and South Korea. But until recently, Asia’s twin giants have not felt the effects of sexual imbalance in marriage. Now they are.

The marriage squeeze is likely to last for decades, getting worse before it gets better. It will take the two countries with their combined population of 2.6 billion­a third of humanity­into uncharted territory. Marriage has always been a necessary part of belonging to society in India and China. No one really knows how these countries will react if marriage is no longer universal. But there may be damaging consequences. In every society, large numbers of young men, unmarried and away from their families, are associated with abnormal levels of crime and violence.

Missing girls, missing brides
The roots of the current squeeze go back a generation. Sex-selective abortions became common in China in the 1990s as a result of the country’s strict (now somewhat laxer) one-child-per-couple policy and a traditional preference for sons. A few years later they became increasingly common in India, also because of a preference for sons and helped by the growing availability of prenatal tests to determine sex. In 2010-15, according to the UN Population Division, China’s sex ratio at birth was 116 boys to 100 girls; in India the figure was 111. Though these ratios have fallen a little since their peaks, they are still far above the natural rate, which is 105 to 100.

As a result, enormous numbers of girls and women are “missing”­absent, that is, compared with what would have happened if there had not been sex selection. If China had had a normal sex ratio at birth, according to a report in 2012 by the UN Population Fund it would have had 721m girls and women in 2010. In fact it had only 655m­a difference of 66m, or 10% of the female population. India’s ratio is not quite so bad. Had it been normal, the country would have had 43m more women, or 7% more, than it actually did. Other countries practise sex selection at birth, but Asia’s giants overshadow all others. Together they account for 109m of the 117m “missing” girls and women globally in 2010. Calculations by Christophe Guilmoto of the Institute of Development Research, a think-tank in Paris, show that marriage patterns in India and China were still normal in 2010. But they will become badly distorted by 2020 (see chart).

“Missing women” are only part of the explanation. Countries with normal sex ratios can experience a marriage squeeze if their fertility rates are falling fast. Fertility is important, because men tend to marry women a few years younger than themselves. In India the average age of marriage for men is 26; for women, it is 22. This means that when a country’s fertility is falling, the cohort of women in their early 20s will be slightly smaller (or will be rising more slowly) than the cohort of men they are most likely to marry­those in their late 20s (this is because a few years will have gone by and the falling fertility rate will have reduced the numbers of those born later). This may not sound like a big deal. But in fact between 2000 and 2010 the number of Indian men aged 25-29 rose by 9.2m. The number of Indian women aged 20-24 (their most likely partners) rose by only 7.6m.

Even if India’s sex ratio at birth were to return to normal and stay there, by 2050 the country would still have 30% more single men hoping to marry than single women. This is explained by a rapid decline in India’s fertility rate. But in China, where fertility has been low for years, the more gradual decline in fertility still means there will be 30% more single men than women in 2055, though the distortion declines after that. A decline in fertility usually benefits developing countries by providing a “demographic dividend” (a bulge of working-age adults compared with the numbers of dependent children or grandparents). But it does have the drawback of amplifying the marriage squeeze.

The problem is further accentuated by a so-called “queuing effect”. The length of a queue is determined by how many people join it, how many leave, and how long queuers are prepared to wait. In the same way, marriage numbers are a result of how many people reach marriageable age (the joiners); how many get married (the leavers) and how long people are willing to wait. In India and China, marriage remains the norm, so men keep trying to tie the knot for years.

Hence, a marriage queue in India and China builds up. At stage one, a cohort of women reaches marriageable age (say, 20-24); they marry among the cohort of men aged 25-29. But there are slightly more men than women, so some members of the male cohort remain on the shelf. Later, two new cohorts reach marriageable age. This time, the men left over from the previous round (who are now in their early thirties) are still looking for wives and compete with the cohort of younger men. The women choose husbands from among this larger group. So after the second round even more men are left on the shelf. And so on. A backlog of unmarried men starts to pile up. Just as you need only a small imbalance between the number of people joining a queue and the number leaving it to produce a long, slow-moving line, so in marriage, a small difference in the adult sex ratio can produce huge numbers of bachelors. They are called guanggun (bare branches) in China, malang (aloof and loopy)in Haryana and chhara (a derogatory term for unmarried men) in Punjab.

To make matters worse (for men, anyway), in rich Asian countries women are turning their backs on marriage altogether. Women with university degrees are more likely to marry late, or not at all, than those with primary education. Women who live in cities and have jobs are marrying later, or less, than rural women or those who work at home. Everywhere, female marriage rates are declining and the age of marriage is rising. In China, as women get richer and better educated, they are starting to repeat the behaviour of their Japanese and Korean sisters, pushing up the number of unmarried men.
Lucky man

The combination of these factors in India and China will make their marriage squeeze especially acute and persistent­much more severe than it would have been in the case of distorted sex ratios alone. Mr Guilmoto calculates that, in China, for every 100 single women expected to marry in 2050-54 there could be as many as 186 single men (see chart); in India in 2060-64 the peak could be higher: 191 men for each 100 women. This assumes the sex ratio at birth does not change. But even if the ratio were to return to normal in 2020 (which is unlikely), the marriage squeeze would still be severe, peaking at 160 in China in 2030, and at 164 in India 20 years later.

A marriage squeeze of this intensity would be unknown in China and India and extraordinarily rare anywhere in history. America’s Wild West (or the fracking fields of present-day North Dakota) are rare examples of a society with huge numbers of excess men.

There may be positive side effects: a shortage of brides in India is causing dowry prices to fall in some areas, for instance. Overall, though, the impact is likely to be negative. A study by Lena Edlund of Columbia University and others found that in 1988-2004, a one-point rise in the sex ratio in China raised rates of violent crime and theft by six to seven points. The abduction of women for sale as brides is becoming more common. The imbalance is fuelling demand for prostitution.

There are few obvious remedies. If girls married earlier, it would increase marriage rates but would impede the progress being made by women in employment and education. Brides can be found in nearby countries. There are villages in China’s south-western provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou where many of the young women are Vietnamese or Burmese because local girls have gone to work in cities. A state-run newspaper, Beijing News, recently offered advice about the ten best places for Chinese men to find brides abroad (Ukraine, apparently, is promising). But this merely transfers the problem from one place to another. China and India are so vast that no marriage migration could ever be big enough to satisfy demand.

Bare branches on the family tree
If­a big if­marriage pairing were to become more symmetrical (ie, college graduates marry one another, and so on), then at least the burden of non-marriage would be spread more evenly. In India and China, women tend to “marry up”­illiterate women marry men with primary education; primary-school women marry men with secondary education; and so on. As a result, men at the bottom of the pyramid, and women at the apex, find it especially hard to find spouses. So the marriage squeeze does not affect everyone equally. It disproportionately hits illiterate men and does not do much to help graduate women (shengnu, or leftovers, as they are called in China).

But overall, changing the patterns of marriage would merely moderate a squeeze which is likely to continue for decades. China has eased its one-child policy, and the sex ratio at birth has fallen. But because the marriage squeeze is the product of other factors, too, it will continue even were the sex ratio at birth to return to normal. If that happened, Mr Guilmoto reckons, over 21% of Chinese men would still be unmarried at 50 in 2070, while in India the figure would be almost 15%. Three generations after sex-selective abortions began, their impact will still be felt.

India and China will change hugely as they become wealthier and better educated in coming decades. But few changes will be as momentous and persistent as the one now beginning: universal marriage will become a thing of the past.

Sources cited in this article:
"Skewed sex ratios at birth and future marriage squeeze in China and India, 2005-2100" by Christophe Guilmoto. Demography magazine, 2012

UNFPA report: "Sex imbalances at Birth"
Research on impact of marriage asymmetry: "Potential (Mis)match? Marriage markets amidst sociodemographic change in India", by Albert Esteve, Ridhi Kashyap and Joan Garcia-Roman, Demography magazine 2015
Research on khaps: “Sex ratio, Khaps and Marriage reform” by Ravinder Kaur, Economic and Political Weekly, August 2nd 2014
See also "Mapping the adverse consequences of sex selection and gender imbalance in India and China" by Ravinder Kaur, Economic and Political Weekly, August 3, 2013
"More Men, More Crime: Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy" by Lena Edlund, Hongbin L,i Junjian Y,i Junsen Zhang. In Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper Series, 2314, December 2007
Sex ratios at birth and other demographic numbers from the UN population division website

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