Gender inequality takes on many faces, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said.
It can be seen the moment cultural perceptions push a parent to desire a baby boy instead of a baby girl. But when that parent decides to turn to sex-selective abortion as a result of the gender inequality, the global phenomenon becomes gendercide — the killing of a specific gender as a result of human choice and behavior.
Sen, who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize for his contributions to welfare economics and is now a professor at Harvard, addressed gendercide and the survival and empowerment of women at the ATEC building on April 24.
Sen said the desire to change the world isn’t out of the ordinary, but is a thought that inevitably passes through every child’s mind sometime in his or her lifetime.
“I can’t think of a point when I didn’t want to bring a change in the world, nor can I think of a point when my classmates didn’t lecture me on how they wanted to change the world,” Sen said.
Sen is the author of almost 50 books and hundreds of essays that have been translated into more than thirty languages across the world. He created the first model for measuring gendercide in a paper published in 1990 and discovered that 100 million women were missing as a result of discriminatory actions.
Other forms of gendercide include female infanticide, gross neglect of girls, maternal death that is indefinitely preventable and the inability of older women to access food and shelter, he said.
Now the estimated number of missing women has risen to 117 million – more than the casualties from World War I and World War II put together, according to the Gendercide Awareness Project
Sen said although his primary focus lies in southeast Asia, some of the issues he addresses do have a claim globally.
For example, modern Japan has no particular gender bias in school or healthcare, yet Japanese women seem to have relative difficulty in securing high leadership positions in science and technology, Sen said.
Some biases often form at an extremely young age — a time when social factors and patterns greatly influence the minds of children, he said.
“The upbringing in family is essential, but the upbringing in the society in which you go is even more essential,” Sen said. “Educating you has the effect for you to meet people of different backgrounds. No one person follows the same practice.”
Rape is another issue Sen concentrates on. In 2010, the rate of recorded rapes per 100,000 people was 1.8 in India – one of the lowest in the world, according to the United Nations. Sen said this rate does not reflect reality, as a majority of rapes committed fail to get reported.
He said there is a rate of 2.8 rapes per 100,000 people in Delhi alone, one of the highest in the country.
“It is remarkable that Delhi has a recorded rate that is nine times worse than Kolkata’s,” Sen said. “No matter how unfriendly to women Indian society may or may not be, there is no reason why Delhi cannot even come close to making the capital of India as safe as the other cities of India already are.”
Sen said India’s problem lies in the lack of public policy and preventative planning regarding rape.
As of now, rape isn’t a seriously monitored and addressed issue in India unless media coverage brings it into the limelight as in the case of the 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi.
But a lot of crimes on women’s security never catch the media’s attention. Sexual trafficking of young women is one example. The reason it is less publicized, Sen said, is because the victims of sexual trafficking typically come from poorer families.
It is like these women belong to a different and unknown universe altogether, and media takes less interest in their lives than in the fate of a young, middle-class medical student like Jyoti because of that social status contrast, Sen said.
That is another reason to focus more attention specifically on the education of girls and the awareness of the issue of gendercide and other neglected questions. There is a lot to do based on what is known and a lot to research, but Sen said he is hopeful for the future of women’s equality.
“Unless you have a certain kind of optimism, you will never be able to do anything of significance,” Sen said. “You have to begin with that optimism that you can make a difference in the world.”