Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Girls deserve respect and support

By Wang Ya-ko 王雅各

The gender issue is entering a new stage as society steps into the 21st century. Not only do people act in a much more sensitive way, but the status, rights and general situation of women are improving as well.

Almost every society is patriarchal. In the old days, women were treated as human only in a narrow sense of the word. They were viewed as if they were mere objects. Men also suppressed and exploited women, but at the same time they displayed protective and caring attitudes toward them. Over a long period, gender inequality has gradually become a cognitive, existing truth that is never challenged or even discussed.

The second wave of women's rights movements that got under way in the middle of the 20th century challenged sexual discrimination in society from every aspect. In the most complete sense of the term "human rights," feminists have been fighting for equality for women in their daily lives, education, work, homes, politics, culture, religion, legislation, art and so on.

A long-term effort has led to a sharp fall in illiteracy among women, and women in many countries now enjoy almost the same opportunities as men. Their chances for self-realization are also completely different from those in the past. Thanks to the efforts of women (and some men), the world is now drastically different from what it used to be.

In the process of changing inequality between the sexes, people have discovered many things, such as the illusion that all women (and all men) are the same, or the fact that male oppression of women is not the only kind of oppression that has existed historically. When discussing differences between women, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, age and religion become problems that society must address and resolve.

From the perspective of age (and generational) standards, all the rights and interests of adult women have to some extent been addressed and improved at some phases during the women's movement. But to this day, only the smallest number of rights and interests of underaged women (from infants to teenagers) have been addressed by the women's liberation movement.

For example, in many countries where men are emphasized over women, underaged girls are particularly looked down upon. Looking at abortion behavior, we find that the abortion rates among girls are high in Asian societies.

Statistics from this country over the past two years have shown that the gender ratio among children born in a third pregnancy is 100 girls to 130 boys. Specialists estimate that about 50,000 girls are aborted in this country every year. Regardless of whether the child is aborted or born, we clearly see that pregnant women prefer boys over girls. Academics call this a "son-seeking culture."

In addition, many societies practice clitoris removal on girls and even female infanticide. China began strictly implementing its one-child policy in the 1970s. This plunged the whole nation into a wave of female infanticide. In 1984, an American anthropologist conducting population-policy research in China was deported for reporting the Chinese custom of female infanticide.

In Asian countries with a slightly better economic situation, there are other severe violations against underaged girls -- the trafficking of women and child prostitution. The social problems resulting from the trade in women includes both adult and underaged women, but due to the particularly weak status of the latter, they are more vulnerable or have greater difficulty in extricating themselves from their situation. Child prostitution is a concrete example of the fact that as a country's economy grows, more men gain the material strength to exploit and oppress women.

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