On missing baby girls

In: Uncategorized

4 Mar 2010

In 1990 Amartya Sen, who has since won the Nobel prize in economics, wrote an article in the New York Review of Books arguing there were 100m “missing” baby girls in the third world. From an examination of statistics that many baby girls in poorer countries died as a result of poorer medical care or even deliberate infanticide. It is strange that two decades later the same story should make the cover of the Economist with both the lead editorial and a substantial feature.

It is of course right that girls should have the same access to public health resources as boys and that men and women should have equal rights. However, something odd is going on with the recent heavy emphasis by establishment figures on gender equality in poorer countries.

As I argued in my recent spiked review defending abundance something odd seems to be going on. The aspiration to achieve material equality between the rich countries and the poor has become subdued. Instead there is a widespread discussion of gender inequality – and this in turn is often understood in terms of the authorities intervening in family life to stop men abusing women.

As a result tackling inequality is redefined as a problem of male abuse rather than one of a lack of economic development. From this perspective the relatively recent mainstream preoccupation with gender inequality is more problematic than it first appears.