Tuesday, May 31, 2011

India's Girls Are Being Decimated

Most people who use the word "decimate" do not understand its true meaning or origin. They use it to mean a wiping out, a massive defeat, or a natural disaster. The tornado decimated Joplin, Missouri. In reality, it means the slaughter of 1/10 of a population. Decimation was used as a form of military punishment for cowardice in Roman times, and occasionally thereafter. So there aren't too many instances in which one can correctly use this word. But the appalling truth is that it can accurately be applied to many parts of India, where one in ten female fetuses is now being selectively aborted.

You may be familiar with this phenomenon from China, where the one-child policy, along with a preference for males, has been a major contributing factor to a skewed birth ratio. In a normal human population, slightly more boys are born than girls, with ratios ranging from around 103 to 109 males born for every 100 females. This naturally leads to a roughly 1:1 ratio of adults. But in countries such as China and India, where sex-selective abortion and infanticide occur, this ratio can become extremely skewed. In 2005, the ratio in China was at 119 to 100, and in some parts it had reached the astonishing imbalance of 130 males to 100 females. It is estimated that some 24 million Chinese men will be unable to marry when they reach adulthood around 2020, because their potential brides were selectively aborted.

India has apparently learned nothing from China's example, and although education and income levels have been rising in India, so too has the problem of selective abortion. In fact, according to a new study, it appears that the phenomenon is actually directly linked to affluence and education: educated, well-off women are far more likely to obtain an ultrasound and abort a female fetus. Thus, the latest Indian census found a ratio of 914 girls for every 1000 boys, which is the most imbalanced since India gained independence in 1947. Girls in India are literally being decimated.

The total numbers are staggering: in the last 30 years, it is estimated that between 4 and 12 million Indian females have been selectively aborted. Of course, the practice of using ultrasound to determine the sex of a fetus in order to selectively abort is illegal in India, but until deeply held cultural beliefs are changed, the laws are essentially meaningless. So-called "honor killings" are also illegal in India, yet a 2010 study found that 1000 people per year were being murdered by their family members for bringing "disgrace" to their family.

Here are a couple of recent articles which discuss the phenomenon of sex-selective abortion in India, as well as a link to the original study from which these articles were drawn:
-As Wealth and Literacy Rise in India, Report Says, So Do Sex-Selective Abortions  
-Earlier article on same topic, also from NY Times, with more social context
-Original study published in The Lancet 

Note: An earlier version of this post contained a typo regarding the Indian birth statistic. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Happenings, the Non-Happenings, and the Future of Fertility Awareness

This post is late! Here's what's been happening, with backstory:

I am currently working with some wonderful, talented women who are on the path to becoming teachers of Fertility Awareness. I think an important part of the teacher-training process is being connected to, and learning from, other Fertility Awareness educators. So when my Israeli colleague Michal Schonbrun told me that she would be coming to NY for a couple of days in May, I asked her if she'd be willing to spend a few hours working with my students. She readily agreed, and somehow that idea grew into a two day event. One day was for teacher training, just for my students: Michal in the morning, and me in the afternoon. We also decided to create a public event. That event was to have centered around an introduction to Fertility Awareness (my presentation), and also was to have included presentations by two artists who do incredible work related to fertility and sexuality. The artists are Alexandra Jacoby, whose work I've mentioned & written about before, and Rebecca Morton (whose website is nearly complete, I'm happy to say).

So we poured a lot of time and energy into creating both these events, and my last blog post was to have been in late April, promoting the public one. But about a week beforehand, we decided to cancel the public event, due to poor ticket sales. We were all very disappointed, of course, but there came a point where we had to make a tough decision, and that's the one we made. I see again and again how people who know about Fertility Awareness tend to be quite passionate about it, but people who don't know about it tend to be indifferent. FA is a hard concept to get your mind around, since we're not used to thinking about fertility management, or body literacy. We think about birth control, until and unless we're ready to get pregnant. Then we think about pregnancy achievement. And we hardly ever think about empowerment around our sexuality or reproductive health care, unless something goes wrong. In short,  we don't have a holistic approach to our bodies in general, and much less so when it comes to our fertility and sexuality. So, Fertility Awareness, which offers a comprehensive approach to fertility, sexuality, and reproductive health care, is off the radar for most of us. It just doesn't fit neatly into the boxes we're used to ticking off.

So we cancelled the public program, but proceeded with the teacher training day. And that was a big success! I look forward to introducing you to each of these women as they get closer to actually teaching. There are so few qualified, secular teachers of Fertility Awareness in the US. My colleagues and I are actively working to make sure that there are new, younger teachers to carry on this work in the future. It may never be "popular," but it's life-changing stuff, and we want to ensure that personalized, non-religious instruction will always be available to those who need it. Charting on your iPhone is convenient, of course, and I think keeping track of your data electronically is a great idea, especially as our devices become more entwined with our lives. But electronic charting will never eliminate the need for personal instruction. When your smartphone can discuss with you the relative benefits of progesterone supplementation vs. Traditional Chinese Medicine for luteal phase defect, or how to assess if you can have unprotected intercourse up to day 3, day 5, or using the formula S-21, or helps you negotiate when to start trying for pregnancy when your partner is on the fence, or does any of the myriad other things that only a human teacher can do for you, you let me know, and I will take a nice long holiday.

By the way, in anticipation of the public event, I finally got the Facebook page for the Fertility Awareness Center up and running. It's been pretty active thus far. In fact, I think eventually it might supercede this blog. So if you're on Facebook, please "like" us. You'll be rewarded with more frequent postings, news of events, links to like-minded orgs, and photos. And of course you'll be part of a community of other FA devotees.