Sex Selection Blares on World Bank’s Radar

Posted by Doug Pet September 21, 2011
Biopolitical Times
Global attention to the growing sex selection problem appears to be snowballing.  In the wake of last week’s draft resolution on sex selection from a special commission of the Council of Europe, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report (WDR 2012) [pdf], published Monday, foregrounds sex selection as a major global issue perpetuating gender inequality.  Entitled “Gender Equality and Development,” the report identifies how complex social, behavioral, and technological factors have converged to skew sex ratios and disenfranchise women in parts of Asia and Europe.
The intersection between son preference, declining fertility, and new technologies has added to the number of girls missing at birth and may well disadvantage children already born through the number of siblings and the timing of births.
Although the report regards sex selection with seriousness and urgency, the overall statement is both proactive and optimistic.
Changes in informal institutions and, through them, household behavior are key to resolving this problem. And it can be done. Korea, where the male-to-female ratio at birth first increased sharply and then declined, suggests that broad normative changes across society brought about by industrialization and urbanization can ultimately return sex ratios at birth to normal ranges.
It identifies two levels on which policy efforts are desperately needed.
First, laws need to be enacted and enforced to deal with the abuse of sex selection technologies, as has been done in China and India. A second, and more promising, approach is to enhance household perceptions of the value of daughters. Expanding economic opportunities for young women, including those in the labor market …And the process can be complemented by providing financial incentives to parents to have daughters…and supporting media campaigns to change societal ideas about gender equality.

Efforts to attenuate the global sex selection problem will require coordinated top-down/ bottom-up approaches which, as above, acknowledge both the emergent technological and deeply rooted social/cultural dimensions.  

The Council of Europe’s statements, released last week, astutely recognize how sex selection arises as an extension of culturally rooted violence and discrimination against women. Important research has shown these pervasive patterns violence are giving rise to sex selection not only in parts of Asia and Europe, but in North America as well.  With this in mind, the commission’s recommendations espouse long term, socially informed, gender equality-based interventions.

Seeing sex selection featured prominently on the agendas of two major international bodies is encouraging to say the least.  The hope is that WDR 2012 brings us one step closer to catalyzing action from the international community to address the sex selection problem, as well as the underlying gender violence and inequality issues that it both results from and promotes.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: