Friday, March 19, 2010

Gender imbalances | The South Caucasus on the top of the list

Earlier this month The Economist published two articles (article one, article two) on imbalances in gender. In all societies there is, at birth, a sex ratio slightly biased in favor of boys: 103-106 boys to 100 girls. The number evens out later on as male babies have a higher mortality rate than female babies. In some parts of the world, however, there currently is an abnormally high number of boys being born.

The Economist explains the phenomenon of imbalances in the genders by a preference in the society for boys, together with the modern family’s desire for a small family and the increased availability of sex-determining mechanisms such as ultrasounds. Some authors, and The Economist itself, have called this development “gendercide” (to use the title from Marry Anne Warren’s 1985 book). Globally, as many as 100 million girls are assumed to have “disappeared”.

The articles focus on China and India, countries that are said to have the highest rates of gender imbalances. But excessively high numbers of male babies is not a problem confined to the Far East. Data from the United Nations show the prevalence of distorted sex rates also in the South Caucasus. On the list of countries with the highest levels of gender imbalances we find Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the top (see chart below).

The problem of distorted sex ratios in the South Caucasus is not a new problem. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was an upsurge in the ratio of boys to girls in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. According to a UNICEF report from 2007 the sex ratios rose from normal levels in 1991 to 110-120 in 2000. These changes occurred simultaneously in all three countries, in sharp contrast to neighboring countries.

So why have we heard so little about this and where is the discussion today? Any thoughts on this?


Therese Svensson said...

Here is a comment posted on another network:

In the 1990s Georgia had (allowing for the poor quality of abortion data) about the world's highest abortion rate. When abortion is the routine form of birth control, large families are untenable, and you have a conventional preference for boys, sex selection will rise.

Why Armenia is so much more imbalanced than Georgia, I don't know. Azerbaijan is another story (,,,,AZE,4562d8cf2,4b4b390b2c,0.html.)

Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia also have the three highest abortion rates in the world (see e.g. International Family Planning Perspectives (2007), "Legal Abortion Worldwide: Incidence and Recent Trends", 33(3):106–116).


Tamar Babuadze said...

Hello, I am very thankful for this post, because I closely watched economist publishing these articles and I was very delighted that gendercide was their cover-story also. However I wanted to tell you that the Liberali Magazine which I represent published the article about the same issue, based on the same findings in October, here is the link:

Unknown said...

I can’t say that there is no discussion of that issue in Azerbaijan. In the last five years it had been raised both by national NGOs (for ex. Documentary movie “Wish you to have seven sons and one daughter” by NGO “Symmetry”) and on governmental level by the State Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Issues and even by the Chief of the State Statistics Committee, not to mention articles that appear from time to time in national periodicals. There was also a research article by Elona Artamonova on the issue published by the HBF in Tbilisi in 2007. However, one would wish to have this topic to be discussed more constantly and even systematically, for ex. in the framework of certain campaigns for women’s rights.

There is no regulation on abortions and sex-selected abortions in Azerbaijan and we are leading the lists with the highest abortion rate regionally, not to say globally. However, I don’t believe that imposing regulations will change situation for a better, but rather may flourish shadow market of medical facilities that will offer their services to families who doesn’t want to have baby-girls.

When recalling my experience of standing once in a line for USM screening in Ganja (the second city of Azerbaijan), I must tell that four women out of six were there to check the sex of their fetus. When I asked a woman who was sitting next to me and who have already had one daughter and one son, why does she need that, she replied that her husband insisted on her visit to a clinic out of a fear that he will have the second daughter. He told her that it is very expensive now to afford having a daughter, for whom you need to collect good dowry, invest in her schooling education, dress her up and, finally, some other family (future in-law family) would benefit out of these investments...

Another story told to me by my neighbor working at maternity hospital was about a man who refused to take back home his newly born daughter and even made a scandal accusing medical personnel in changing babies, since USM screening attended by his wife mistakenly showed that they were expecting a boy. Finally, he took back home only his wife and some other relatives of this family decided to adopt the newly born child. I think, every woman in Azerbaijan can tell you dozens of such stories happened to themselves, their relatives or neighbors. And as long as different values will be attached to boys and girls in our society this problem will remain on agenda…