In June, Gloria Steinem noted that this is the first time we’ve had fewer females in the world than males. And it’s because of the pandemic of violence against women and girls.
The symptoms of this plague take different forms across countries and cultures. While Asia is known for female infanticide, which is the selective abortion of female fetuses and the killing of newborn girls, the practice takes place in many African communities. Honor killings occur throughout the Middle East and intimate partner violence take the lives of women and girls throughout the globe, including in the United States and Europe. The United Nations Population Fund notes that pregnancy and childbirth together are the leading cause of death of adolescents in lower income countries – and that the overwhelming majority of these pregnancies occur within the context of early and forced marriage.
When we aren’t killing the female percentage (we can’t accurately say female half) of the population, we are still enacting heinous forms of violence against their bodies, minds and spirits. According to the World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation, a procedure that removes some or all of the female genitalia, can cause severe bleeding, ulcers, trouble urinating, cysts, infections, pain during intercourse as well as infertility and complications during childbirth. “Then they use it against you,” one woman in Ethiopia explained to me. “My husband tells me if I’m not complacent he will cut more off.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rape is more common than smoking in the United States. The International Labor Organization reports that the majority of the 4.5 million people trafficked for sex are girls and women.
What can we do?
Whether we’re in Switzerland or Swaziland, we can begin by creating a safe, secure, just and dignified environment for women and girls. While women and girls must empower themselves, the United Nation’s HeForShe campaign points out that we need the entire population – including men and boys – to work to end violence against women and girls. If we’re parents of sons, this might mean talking to them about their role in ending the pandemic, starting with stereotypes and reaching topics such as rape. This might mean calling friends out on sexist jokes or questioning the unequal pay of female colleagues. Maybe this means supporting organizations that help women and girls overcome the challenges of the patriarchy, whether locally or globally.
Ending violence against women and girls requires many different acts across diverse cultures, but there is one universal requirement: participation.
We must participate in ending the violence that has decreased the total number of females in this world. This is the only way to restore the balance and create a world of dignity.