영국 주간 이코노미스트는 8일 세계 여성의 날을 앞두고 여전히 지구상 곳곳에서 ‘사라지는’ 여성 수가 1억명이 넘는다는 기사를 실었다. 성별을 이유로 대량학살을 자행하는 이른바 ‘젠더사이드’가 벌어지고 있다는 것이다. 대표적인 예는 태아 성감별에 따른 여아 살해다. 이코노미스트는 여아 살해가 널리 퍼져있거나 급격히 증가하고 있는 국가들로 ‘미개발국에서 개발도상국으로 이행하고 있는 나라’들을 꼽았다.
‘가족계획’에서 딸들을 희생시키는 이런 나라로는 중국과 인도를 가장 먼저 들 수 있다. 자연 출생성비는 여아 100명 당 남아 105명 정도이지만 중국과 인도 일부지역에서는 남아 비율이 많게는 130명에 이른다. 잡지는 경제발전과 함께 여아 살해가 많이 줄어든 나라로 한국을 꼽으면서 “중국이나 인도 등 아시아 개도국들에서 여아 살해가 줄어들려면 경제발전이 훨씬 더 진행돼야 할 것”이라고 내다봤다. 아르메니아, 아제르바이잔, 그루지야 등 유라시아 내륙 카프카스 지역도 여아 살해가 많은 지역으로 거론됐다.
노벨경제학상을 받은 인도의 석학 아마르티아 센은 1990년 자연성비와 실제 성비를 분석한 뒤 “약 1억명의 여성들이 ‘사라진(missing)’ 상태”라고 지적한 바 있다. 당시 세계 인구에 자연성비를 대입, 추산한 여성 숫자보다 실제 여성 인구가 1억명이나 모자랐다는 뜻이다. 20년이 지난 지금은 인구규모가 커졌기 때문에, 인구분포에서 사라진 여성 수도 더 늘었을 것으로 보인다. 사라지는 이유는 여아 살해, 출산시 사망, 영양 결핍으로 인한 사망 등 여러가지다.
전쟁·분쟁 지역에서는 인종말살의 일환으로써, 생식력을 가진 여성들을 없애는 집단 학살이 종종 벌어진다. 미국 민간단체인 ‘젠더사이드 와치’ 등은 대표적인 예로 수단 다르푸르를 꼽았다. 다르푸르에서는 아랍계 민병대들이 아프리카계 마을들을 돌아다니며 여성들을 집단 강간·살해했다.
1988년 이라크 쿠르드족을 학살한 ‘안팔 작전’ 때나 90년대 옛 유고연방 내전, 인도네시아군의 동티모르 학살 때에도 비슷한 일이 일어났다. 여성단체들은 이슬람권에서 ‘명예살인’이라는 이름으로 남성 가족구성원들이 여성을 살해하는 것도 젠더사이드라고 지적한다.
성별에 따른 대량살상을 인종말살(제노사이드·genocide)에 빗댄 용어. 1985년 미국 여성작가 메리 앤 워런의 <젠더사이드(Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection)>라는 저서에 처음 등장했다. 전쟁 시에 적국의 민간인 남성·소년들을 살해하는 남성살해(viricide), 여성들을 집단 강간·살해하는 여성 학살(femicide) 등이 모두 젠더사이드에 해당된다.
젠더사이드 관련 자료/AFP
In a major report on gender equality, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that Asia had the highest male-female sex ratio at birth in the world, with 119 boys born for every 100 girls.
This far exceeded the global world average of 107 boys for every 100 girls.
"Females cannot take survival for granted," the report said. "Sex-selective abortion, infanticide, and death from health and nutritional neglect in Asia have left 96 million missing women ... and the numbers seem to be increasing in absolute terms," it added.
The regional figure was skewed by enormous birth gender disparities in China and India, which each accounted for about 42.6 million of the report's "missing" figure.
Despite robust economic growth across Asia as a whole, the report found that millions of women remained excluded from the benefits of greater prosperity.
The region, and especially South Asia, ranks near the worst in the world -- often lower than sub-Saharan Africa -- on basic issues such as protecting women from violence, as well as access to health, education, employment and political participation. "Today, the Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads," the report said.
"Whether gender equality is pushed aside or pursued with greater energy amid the economic downturn depends on actions taken or not taken now by governments." The report focused on the need to improve women's rights in three key areas: economic power, political participation, and legal protection.
Gender selection: In India, abortion of girls on the rise /CSM
Nandgaon, India – Babulal Yadav, a 50-year-old farmer, has revised his notions of the perfect wife. “I don’t mind what caste she is, what religion, or what she looks like anymore,” he says. “I just want a nice girl to look after me and give me a son.”
It is precisely this attitude toward gender selection that made it difficult for Mr. Yadav to find a wife. A preference for boy babies has resulted in a dearth of brides for the men of his rural village. Increased access to ultrasound technology, which allows parents to abort unwanted baby girls, has contributed to a female-male ratio of 933 to 1,000 in India according to the latest census, from 2001.
But Yadav’s prospects are especially dim because he lives in the relatively prosperous Haryana, the state with the most skewed female-male ratio in the country: 861 to 1,000.
Indeed, across India the most skewed gender ratios tend to occur in more prosperous communities. Far from being an ancient legacy of backward, chauvinistic communities, the practice of gender selection via abortion (also known as female infanticide or female feticide) is flourishing as India’s economy burgeons and the country modernizes. In the capital, New Delhi, the gender ratio is more unbalanced than the national average, with 821 females to every 1,000 males. Some of the greatest imbalances occur in the wealthy neighborhoods of south New Delhi.
And recent research suggests gender selection abortion is on the rise. Actionaid and Canada's International Development Research Centre found in 2008 that in 4 of the 5 states surveyed -- Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh -- the proportion of girls to boys had fallen further. In some areas of Punjab, among high castes, the ratio of girls to boys was 300 to 1,000.
Daughters believed to cost more
The reasons why boys are so longed for vary somewhat by region. In agricultural societies like Nandgaon, boys inherit the land. In urban India, a trend toward smaller families plays a part: Many couples who choose to have only one child want that child to be a boy.
Underlying the preference for sons is a belief that girls are liabilities who require protection and fat dowries. Though the practice of paying a husband and his family for marrying a girl was banned in 1961, dowry violence -- when a woman is abused in her in-laws' home for paying an insufficient price -- is on the rise, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Even in families that do not pay dowries, and where girls may be well educated and lucratively employed, females tend to be viewed as burdensome because they are perceived as requiring more care and protection than men, says Puneet Bedi, an obstetrician and campaigner against female feticide based in New Delhi.
“Everyone wants boys -- not just the rich,” he says. “But it is the rich who can easily afford to access the technology.”
Though it is illegal in India for a doctor to tell parents the gender of their unborn child, or to abort on the grounds of sex, there have been almost no prosecutions for the crime. It is carried out “by every doctor with almost no exception,” says Dr. Bedi.
“Save the girl child” campaigns launched by both governments and NGOs have raised people’s awareness about the issue of female feticide, but apparently done little to change their behavior.
Budding appreciation for girls?
There are hopes that the effects of a skewed sex ratio now becoming dramatically visible in places like Nandgaon will make parents reassess their urge to abort baby girls.
Villagers here say that the dearth of females has already had a direct effect on dowry customs: Dowries are getting smaller or disappearing altogether; instead, the onus is increasingly on young men to provide well for their future brides.
So bad are the romantic prospects of many bachelors in Haryana that they have started to take a step unthinkable a generation ago: importing women from other states, and often religions, to marry.
The Red Cross Society of India, which campaigns against female feticide across the country, estimates that at least 100 women from outside Haryana have been bought by men in the district of Bhiwani, one of Haryana’s 21 regions. In Nandgaon, at least five brides have been imported from other states.
Baljeet Singh, a 37-year-old truck driver, says he began to despair of finding a local wife once he turned 26. Men in this village, where most are farmers, consider it ideal to wed between 20 and 25. “I’m a van driver, I don’t have many prospects, and it seems that you have to have a very good job to get a bride these days,” he says.
So last year, Mr Singh used his life savings to marry a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Assam; though village rumors have it that Sonu Khutum is an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. She is happy to be living in a predominantly Hindu village, she says, joggling the couple’s 7-month-old baby girl on her hip.
But lonely bachelors’ new quick fix, buying brides from impoverished parts of India, seems likely to do little to enhance the status of women.
Since Singh married, single friends have been lining up for matrimonial advice. They have one question, he says, as he gestures toward his young wife, who stands shyly in a corner: “How can I get one?