Last week I was talking with one of our leaders in India and he said something powerful. He said, “From the womb to the tomb girls in India face discrimination.” Often they are victims of gendercide- the systematic killing of members of a specific sex. In India, there is an estimated 940 girls for every 1000 boys. Across the entire population of India this means there are approximately 60,000,000 missing girls. This statistic is worrisome to say the least. The discrimination has even gone so far as to rank India amongst the five most dangerous places on earth to be a woman.
Gendercide in India has a long history. Traditionally boys have been valued more highly than girls, particularly because they will provide for their parents in the future. Sons carry on the family name, inherit property, and earn more income. Many Indian’s also believe that a son is necessary to perform the last rites for their parents, ensuring salvation. Girls, on the other hand, are a burden. They are a temporary part of the family requiring a dowry in order to marry well in society. Unborn babies and infants have the highest risk of losing their lives simply because they are girls.
Since the invention of ultrasound technology, India has seen an increase in the disparity of the child sex ratio. Expectant parents quickly learned that an ultrasound could be used to determine the sex of their unborn child. If the doctor declared that the child was a girl, families often opted to terminate the pregnancy and try again to conceive a boy. The government eventually realized that sex determining ultrasounds were becoming an issue and in 1994 passed The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, banning medical professionals from revealing the sex of a fetus during an ultrasound. However, the law has not helped the problem of sex-selective abortions. It is still legal to have an ultrasound if you are concerned about the health of the fetus, and the sex of the child is often revealed during these appointments. There are also facilities throughout India which offer ‘quick and easy’ sex-determination testing and abortion for a relatively small fee.
In recent years, researchers have noticed that the sex-ratio at birth is worse in wealthier parts of the country. Families with higher income are more likely to have an abortion because they can afford it. The earlier the pregnancy is terminated the better, they believe, because there is less chance for emotional connection between the mother and child.
The murder of infant girls is common practice in India, particularly in less developed parts of the country. Often families that were unable to afford an ultrasound and abortion kill their baby girl shortly after birth. Other infant deaths have less direct causes. Little girls are neglected, going without proper nutrition and care because they have little value to their families.
As girls grow up in India they are subject to different forms of abuse. Some of them experience physical or emotional abuse in the home, and sexual harassment on the streets. As girls mature, the harassment can intensify, and few women go out alone after dark because they fear being assaulted.
Marriage brings a new set of risks for women in India. Dowry is a large part of Indian marriage tradition. If a girl’s family is poor they may be unable to provide dowry for a good husband, and their daughter may end up with a husband who is an addict, abusive, or unfaithful. If the husband expects more dowry than the girl brings to the marriage, she runs the risk of being badly abused or even murdered by her new family.
After the marriage, young Indian women go to live with their husband’s family. There, it is expected that they be faithful, bear many sons, and serve their in-laws. Daughters-in-law are often treated poorly by their new families, and their status relies on their ‘ability’ to bear male children. The more sons a mother has, the better she is treated by her family and the more value she feels.
Throughout their lives, women are blamed for everything bad that happens in their families, and death is no exception. If a woman is widowed, some traditions would expect her to kill herself. Widow burning was a common part of Indian tradition where a widow would burn herself with her husbands body. This tradition has mostly died out, but is still sometimes reported in rural parts of the country. After the death of their husbands, some widows are neglected by their families and must resort to begging in order to stay alive.
How can we pray for this issue?
On his blog Darrow Miller has written powerfully about the issue of gendercide around the world. In the post, On My Birth There Was No Singing: Gendercide in India, he writes, “…We must recognize that the root of the problem is not economic or political. Rather, it is an idea: male is superior to female. This idea is embedded, to a greater or lesser extent, in a majority of cultures of the world. And the cultural story is often stronger than laws and economics.
Pray for a change in worldview. Pray that the idea that men are greater than women would dissipate and that the truth would spread that men and women are made equal and in the image of God. Pray that even people that do not recognize the God of the Bible would be confronted with the truth that girls have value, and that they would be drawn to the Source of this truth.
Pray for protection of women and girls. There are many laws in place in India to protect women, but for one reason or another they are not being enforced. Please pray that governments would enforce their bans of gender-selective abortions. That families and communities would find infanticide offensive and reprehensible. That law enforcement would see feticide and infanticide as murder and prosecute it as such.
Pray for the pastors and churches who have not yet understood God’s truths about the equal value of women. Pray that they become a light in the darkness of their communities, a witness to the truth that God values and loves women as much as men.
Finally, please pray for our staff as they address the issues of gender discrimination and gendercide in churches, at universities and throughout India. Pray that they have wisdom in the words they speak, and that they may speak truth with boldness. Pray for them to have favor with leaders and government officials. Pray for doors to be opened so that others can hear the truth about God’s value of women.