Where have all the women gone?
Overcoming son preference in India remains a daunting challenge as even educated women are prone to it
Have women fared better than men, and girls better than boys in the last decade or so? In the din over a dramatic reduction in poverty in the period 2009/10-2011/12 that is unlikely to die down, deep questions about the discrimination and deprivation that women face from the womb to the rest of their lives are either glossed over or, worse, just ignored.
The Sen norm
Amartya Sen sought to capture the cumulative impact of multiple forms of deprivation that women face over their lives in an intuitively appealing measure of “missing women.” It aims to capture women’s adversity in mortality and to better understand the quantitative difference between (1) the actual number of women, and (2) the number we expect to see in the absence of a significant bias against women in terms of food, and health care. First, the difference between the sex ratio norm of women per 1,000 males and actual sex ratio is computed. Second, multiplying it by the number of males, the number of missing women is obtained. This is an absolute measure. A relative measure requires division of missing women by surviving women. In the same way, absolute and relative estimates of missing girls are computed.
Dr. Sen’s original estimate of missing women in India in the 1980s was 37 million in a global total of more than 100 million missing women. Another estimate is lower for India (23 million) in a total of 60 million in selected countries, based on the western demographic experience. More recent estimates point to higher numbers of missing women. The important point, however, is not that the differences are large but the fact that “gender bias in mortality takes an astonishingly high toll” (Sen, 2003).
The sex ratio rose in India from 932.91 per 1,000 males in 2001 to 940.27 in 2011, implying a decadal growth of 0.70 per cent. Using the same norm that Dr. Sen...