Gender Bias a 'Wake-Up Call'
Saturday, June 22, 2002
BY KIRSTEN STEWART
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
China's whopping gender imbalance, the product of a one-child policy and long tradition of prizing sons over daughters, could threaten the country's stability and pose a security risk for other nations, warns a Brigham Young University researcher.
A study in the May edition of International Security, a journal published by Harvard University, predicts that by 2020 there will be an excess proportion of 33 million young males in China.
Faced with a shortage of marriageable women, many of these men -- especially the uneducated and unemployed -- are likely to resort to theft and violence, proving a heavy burden on society, says Valerie Hudson, one of the study's authors.
In response, Hudson says, the Chinese government may grow more authoritarian or militant, picking fights abroad as a means of channeling the angst of its growing male ranks.
Either way, China's demographic imbalance imperils attempts to bring greater political freedom to the country, says Hudson, who describes her study as a "wake-up call" for foreign policy experts. "How you treat women really does have significant consequences for how stable, how peaceful and how democratic your society will be," she says.
Hudson and co-author Andrea den Boer of Britain's University of Kent concede that virtually no society is devoid of gender inequality, but say comparisons of various countries' sex ratios show gender imbalances to be greatly exaggerated in Asia's largest states, with China and India leading the trend.
Sex-selective abortion and infanticide are illegal in China, but journalists report both practices are widespread.
"It's illegal to even tell a family the sex of a fetus during an ultrasound," Hudson says. "But there are journalistically documented ways of getting around that; if a doctor smiles, it's a boy and if he frowns, it's a girl."
Pooling data from numerous sources, the two researchers estimate that today about 120 boys are born for every 100 girls in China. This compares with a "normal" birth sex ratio of between 105 and 107 males for every 100 females.
Based on these ratios, they conservatively estimate that in 20 years there will be 29 million to 33 million "surplus" males in China between the ages 15 and 35. The researchers chose to focus on an age group historically proven to commit the most violent crime.
Hudson says it's important to distinguish surplus males from the typical American bachelor. Single men in the West often form semipermanent relationships with women and have children, but in conservative China where the marriage market is scarce, surplus men are more likely to be poor, unemployed and living a transient lifestyle with few ties to the community.
"Relatively speaking, [they are] losers in societal competition," Hudson says. As such, "their behavior follows a predictable pattern" of violence and unrest.
The Chinese have a label for the legions of expendable young men already afflicting the country. They call them "guang gun-er," or "bare branches," referring to a branch of the family tree that doesn't bear fruit.
Bare branches have been known to plague China in the past, says Hudson, pointing to the Nien Rebellion of the mid-1800s in eastern China, where infanticide had tipped the gender balance to 129 men for every 100 women. Unable to find wives, about 25 percent of the male population became bandits and launched a rebellion, eventually usurping the rule of the Qing dynasty in that region.
Hudson acknowledges that gender inequality is just one among many factors -- including unemployment, disease, migration and infant mortality -- that influence violence within and between societies.
But other foreign policy experts are hailing Hudson's research as an important first look at the effects of gender inequity on international security.
Rose McDermott, assistant professor of government at Cornell, says it "will be one of the two or three most influential pieces published in International Security this year. Policy-makers who may have understood this problem intuitively now have some crucial evidence to use in designing foreign policies and aid programs which begin to target it."
Hudson says historically, China's response to the ranks of rootless men has been to battle them, expel them or co-opt them as soldiers.
"Engaging them in a small war is actually beneficial to China because it allows the country to send these bare branches off to die for a glorious cause," she says. The ramifications for neighboring countries and international security are apparent.
"The scale on which sex ratios are being skewed in Asia is arguably unprecedented in human history," Hudson says. "Peace and democracy may be as elusive as baby girls in this region where so many people live."
22 ต.ค. 45 01:07:11