A Womanless World

The world is missing approximately 160 million women as a result of prenatal female infanticide, sex–selective abortions, differential mortality rates, and other discriminatory practices against women. This figure is equivalent to more than the entire female population of the United States. While normal sex birth ratios range between 105 and 107 male births per 100 female births, the gender ratios in Asian and Eastern European countries have reached unprecedented numbers.[1] In China, 121 boys are born for every 100 girls, and in India the sex ratio is 112:100. Eastern European countries suffer from similar skewed gender ratios: Azerbaijan 115, Georgia 118, and Armenia 120.[2] These numbers are biologically impossible to sustain.

There is a strong connection between cultures that suppress women and these skewed gender ratios. Girls vanish in places where they have a deeply unequal status. In India, parents are less likely to take daughters to receive medical care or to be vaccinated. This indifferent health care alone accounts for one-fifth of India’s missing girls.[3]

Modern technology can also aggravate cultural biases. The development of the ultrasound has allowed pregnant women to find out the sex of their babies and get abortions if the gender is not to their liking. In the United States, the average woman going in for an abortion is in her first pregnancy and generally unmarried. Conversely, in Eastern Europe and Asia, the typical woman seeking an abortion is married and already has born children. Even more worrisome, she has had two or three abortions.[4]

signosPortable ultrasound machine.

While this technology was initially meant to satisfy the curiosity of parents or help them avoid passing on sex-linked diseases, the international availability of the ultrasound in the 1980s had huge ramifications in Asian countries. One clinic in Delhi advertised: “Better 500 rupees now than 500,000 later” in reference to the high cost of dowries.[5] Unfortunately, the appearance of the ultrasound coincided with China’s One Child Policy in 1980. The mass production of the ultrasound provided a way for women to have fewer children yet beat the odds. In China’s Fujian Province, one woman raved: “We don’t have to have daughters anymore!”[6] The situation was further aggravated in the 1990s when General Electric opened its first factory in China and began to introduce low-end ultrasound devices that could be used in rural areas.

Today prenatal sex tests are illegal in China and most Indian states; however, such testing is still extremely prevalent and enforcement of such laws is ineffective. Handheld ultrasound machines are widely available today and any common person can be taught to identify a baby’s sex through an ultrasound.[7] Many people also bribe local doctors, and some doctors continue to perform abortions so women don’t resort to more dangerous methods of terminating their unwanted pregnancies.[8] The situation is even more devastating as some women will resort to infanticide. On average, the deaths of fifteen infant girls can be avoided by allowing one hundred female fetuses to be selectively aborted.[9]


The gender imbalance resulting from sex-selective abortion practices has created a generation of young men who have little hope of finding female partners. The Chinese call these surplus men guang gun-er, or bare branches. In twenty years there will be approximately 30 million young surplus males in China and a similar figure in India at the same time.[10] The lack of women contributes to increased demand for forced marriages and prostitution. Wealthier men in countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, where the gender gap is already felt, go on “marriage tours” to Vietnam. These forced marriages create a gender gap in places where it was previously stable.[11] Many poorer surplus men turn to brothels. The demand for sex trafficking has skyrocketed as surplus males come of age. From 2004-2010, nearly two-thirds of trafficking busts by Vietnamese authorities involved women and children destined for China.[12]

The ramifications of the gender gap are very real, and they will continue to affect other countries. More girls are killed in gendercide in any one-decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century. These 160 million missing women can no longer be ignored.



[1] The overall sex ratio across all ages tends toward 1:1. This ratio reflects the increase in female mortality from childbearing as well as a longer female lifespan.

[2] Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer, “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace,” (MIT Press), 3.

[3] Half the Sky, xvi.

[4] Unnatural Selection, 170.

[5] Unnatural Selection, 71.

[6] Half the Sky, xvi.

[7] Unnatural Selection, 75.

[8] Unnatural Selection, 79.

[9] Half the Sky, xvii.

[10] Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer, “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace,” (MIT Press), 8.

[11] Unnatural Selection, 32.

[12] Unnatural Selection, 218.


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