The Economist has a damning article about son preference and female infanticide in East Asia, and the negative impacts on societies and regional stability as well as on girls. Heartening to see an important global gender issue make the front page of such an influential weekly (though why it took them so long escapes me – Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer’s influential article, appeared in International Security almost ten years ago; now the Economist is writing as if it has “discovered” high sex-ratio societies just in time for International Women’s Day.)
Well, so be it. But while the Economist has global elites’ attention fleetingly focused on gender and “gendercide,” because of how it affects the state-system, let me update the framework on offer slightly:
a) In the past decade since Hudson and den Boer first called attention to Asia’s “Bare Branches” problem, they have also been working on developing a dataset of gender empowerment indicators that among other things has allowed them to test the hypothesis that gender equality, not democracy, is actually the best predictor of pacifist relations between sovereign governments. And gender equality means a whole lot more than keeping little girls alive. Let Obama think about that as he revamps Bush’s democracy promotion agenda in the service of global stability.
b) Ultimately, let’s not confuse global stability with human rights. “Securitizing” a problem like this can be useful, as I’ve often argued, but it can backfire. Natalie Hudson’s new book argues that the advocacy language that got women’s rights on the agenda at the UN Security Council has also hobbled it at the policy implementation stage. I can see the point of making policymakers care about female infanticide because the knock-on effects are bad for whole societies. But I’d like to think that we’d want it to end even if that weren’t the case: killing anyone because of the genitals they were born with is simply wrong.
c) This brings me to a final comment. As an advocacy trope it works… sort of. But as a concept “gendercide” ala Mary Warren has been usefully picked apart and expanded to include a whole range of mass killing practices in the last two decades – including those targeting men. It would be a shame to see it become synonymous now primarily with the issue of sex-selective abortion as a security problem.