Gender inequality in silent form

Breakout sessions were in full swing by day two of the Association for Bahá’í Studies conference, and this year participants could choose from among 13 panels, including ones on bioethics, sustainable development, education, and science and religion.

Those in the session on gender equity studies heard Dr. Nathalie Auger, a physician and mother of three girls, speak about what she called a silent form of gender inequity: a practice known as sex selection which is the aborting of female fetuses.

Especially prevalent throughout Asia, over the past 20 years, the practice accounted for the lives of 10 million girls in India alone. This year the estimate is that up to half a million girls will be aborted.

Calling it a “great human holocaust,” Auger asked the audience to consider merely its implications for the half million men who in 20 years will not be able to find partners, as well as the surviving women who will be seen as increasingly rare commodities, and many of whom will be subjected to violence and forced marriages.

Invoking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s analogy of the bird of humanity not being able to fly unless both wings—men and women—are equally developed, Auger explained how the absence of these women will effectively handicap a society.

Drawing on the Baha’i International Community’s recent statement on violence against women, she highlighted the need to move beyond legal reforms for solutions, citing how easy it is for people to circumvent laws against the practice of sex selection.

Noting that gender equity is not measured very well in the west, Auger explained that it is generally believed that sex selection does not occur in North America. Suspecting that the practice traveled from Asia to Canada, she studied sex ratios (in a given population there are a 105 males born for every 100 females) in Quebec and found that sex selection may indeed occur in certain ethnic groups. The findings of her study will be publicly released shortly.

Dr. Auger’s presentation led to an animated exploration of the practice of sex selection with the audience, touching on how the teachings of Baha’u’llah can be applied to the complex underlying causes. This resulted in the identification of other potential avenues of research, including a study of sex ratios in the Bahá’í community of India, which could help indicate how the Bahá’í teachings have influenced attitudes towards girl children.

Auger is a community medicine physician with a specialization in epidemiology and biostatistics.