Why Are the World’s Women Disappearing?

There are women missing, all over the world.  It’s because of what journalist Mara Hvistendahl calls “unnatural selection”: the tendency, in countries like China, India, and South Korea, for parents to perform sex-selective abortions in an attempt to have sons.  Gender imbalances in newborn children is not confined to eastern Asia, however; it’s also prevalent in western Asia and eastern Europe, and even in some parts of North America.  The questions that Hvistendahl asks are important: what does this mean for the world, and why are so few people bothering to ask?

In an interview with Hvistendahl, Time blogger Laura Blue explores the implications of Hvistendahl’s new book, which deals with the issue of sex-selective abortion.  Surprisingly, Hvistendahl explains that sex-selective abortion was actually promoted by “American scholars and non-governmental organizations” as a way to curtail population growth, a fear which grew throughout the century.

Compared to some of the solutions that [population control advocates] came up with, sex-selection looked weirdly ethical,” Hvistendahl said. “It wasn’t coercive.”

You would think that as women became more scarce, that they would be considered more valuable.  But it seems, disturbingly, just to have led to a huge market for imported brides.  “Parents in rich countries produce boys, and parents in poor countries sell their daughters,” explained Hvistendahl.  “That was a very sad thing I didn’t expect to find.”

The Time article ends with some rather dubious speculation about the kind of world that a majority-male population could produce (similar to the Wild West?  That seems unlikely).  But the tragedy of sex-selective abortion is clear throughout the piece, as well as the challenges inherent in ending it.  After all, it’s hard to advocate against sex-selective abortion without opening the door to attacks on reproductive choice more generally.  And even though countries like India have tried to legislate against the practice, it just gets more and more common.

It’s obvious that this is an issue that will be hard to solve, especially since it’s so widespread.  But for the sake of the disappearing girls, and also for women’s rights more generally, it’s crucial that we begin to look at the issue honestly, and search for practical solutions.

Read more about sex-selective abortion:

Missing in India – Six Million Females

Missing – Over 100 Million Females

Female Fetuses Aborted At Highest Rates Ever in India

Photo from Capitan Giona's Flickr photostream.


joe M.
joe MARTINEZ6 years ago

Regarding Sarah M. comments I don't believe savage is a fair description. Powerful minds perhaps is more appropriate. Particularily in western societies, women have made tremendous advances which is proof that given the opportunity they're tough competitors. They are by natural design astute, resilent and with very powerful minds. Never under estimate women capabilities. For starters who do think build the war machinery during world war II? from airplanes to battle ships, women both in the USA and England,why simultaneous producing babies and attending to the farms. Women can do multitude tasks without missing a beat.

Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

The more "advanced" we become, the more savage we are.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

It's abhorrent and disheartening, but not surprising. Women, who produce and raise all the world's population, are nonetheless considered "less than" and unworthy of attention. I'm not surprised and it's pathetic. Men are actually frightened of women's power and strength, that we give birth and strive through incredible odds to perservere and keep on keepin on. I'm so happy to be a member of the female RACE (in the western world).

Annmari Lundin
Annmari L6 years ago

Everything female is considered negative. "Strong as a man". And if you're not, you're a "sissy", or you "cry like a woman". Coaches of sports often call on the players "Come on girls", "you're playing like a bunch of school girls", "quit wimping like women", etc. The language, determioned by men, have decided that anything connected to men/males are sometrhing to strive for and anything connected with women/females are something negative. The "tradition" of selecting sons over daughters through abortion or starvation or putting out in the forest are strongly connected to the language and to the, also, old tradition of trousseaus, the costs of weddings payed by the brides family and that daughters are considered less useful than a son when it comes to taking over the family business, farm or property.
The day the whole world realizes that daughters and sons have equal value, we will see a change and I feel that the only way towards this goal is to educate women and support their businesses to make them selfsufficient. This will also lead to an end to female genital mutilation.

Vlasta Molak
Vlasta M6 years ago

It is amazing how those people blame America for this patriarchal societies choice to prefer having male babies rather then female babies. As some of you may know, America has been now for years out of the business of family planning both abroad and home (just look at what is happening to Planned Parenthood)!

The patriarchal societies which value man by the number of sons he has are the ones that need to abandon their male chauvinism and start respecting women rather then treating them as a chattel to produce those sons. In countries where women are educated the number of babies decreases, and therefore education of women may be a key to curbing non-sustainable population growth.

This selective abortion of female fetuses had led to a shortage of marriageable women in China, which leads to lots of young oversexed men looking for outlets. Same is many Muslim countries, where this unspent energy may feed the violence and wars.

Bunny Vamp
Sarah F6 years ago

i think less babies in general would be better....

Victor Tavares
Victor tavares6 years ago

There seems to be something cruel about all this. What happened to "Thou shalt not kill"? Then mankind wonders, why things are getting worse. God don't like ugly! What goes around, comes around!! I guess that's all i have to say about it for now..

Bibi Sarangabataanan

Yeah Joe,

Only 45 days left until all the females disappear, at least in the White Rhino category, which goes to show you just how stupid humans are.... both men and women.

joe M.
joe MARTINEZ6 years ago

Sad in deed. One can not imagine a world without the most beautiful creature on earth women. I love their resilence, resourcefulness and warm compassion they posses, God blessed them for reason. Men will be lost without the compassion of women. Fool who thinks otherwise.

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

Sad, sad, sad...