There is a wonderful picture on my computer screensaver, taken last September, of my husband and I, surrounded by our five granddaughters (ranging in age from four months to almost 7 years old).
Each time that photo catches my eye, I still find myself in a kind of almost happy disbelief, for the score has been flipped on its head in only one generation. My husband and I had three sons; hence, I was outnumbered in our household 4:1.
Back then: 4 testosterone; 1 estrogen.
Now? The men in my family are outnumbered. Today the score sits at: 4 testosterone; 9 estrogen.
I waited many years for the joy of female family members, never expecting to experience this ratio. Now that I am a grandmother, an Amah, I reflect on what the future holds for today’s young girls.
Whilst I was waiting (and hoping) for an estrogen infusion into our family, the world was going through a dramatic change in the gender ratio balance, in the opposite direction. This is a significant, virtually hidden and very worrisome issue, one that is very likely going to have a big impact on our world in the future.
In July, while travelling, I picked up a book called Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendadhl, shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times book prize and a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. What I read about gender imbalance of boys to girls was shocking. Consider this shift; moving from a ratio of 105 boys to 100 girls as the average to numbers ranging from 110-126 boys to 100 girls.
The link to technology and subsequent use of ultrasound is alarming, for it means that the skewed sex ratio is often an outgrowth of economic progress not backward traditions. Evidence shows there are higher rates of abortion when the expected child is a girl as well as increased levels of infanticide at birth. Restoring the global balance of males and females could take until 2050.
Implications are profound. Evidence already shows that girls throughout the world face higher rates of violence, poverty, and discrimination. The surplus of men in the world means an increase of testosterone and likely more violence. There are huge rises in the number of kidnappings, prostitution and international human trafficking. There is also an increase in child marriages.
The Taliban shot a 14-year-old girl by the name of Malala for standing up and advocating for the education of girls. Ironically, during the same week, October 11, 2012 was declared, by the United Nations, the world’s first International Day of the Girl Child. Canada has led the international community in adopting this day, along with the support of Plan Canada.
The question is: why are girls and women valued less than boys and men?
There is a growing recognition around the world of a need for the support of girls and their basic human rights. This is key for healthy communities. History shows that the best way to convince more couples to have girls is to improve the status of women by boosting education and career advancement.
And yet, sadly, women still need to be distinguished separately in diversity initiatives along with immigrants, GLBT, and people of color. Each of those segments are composed of either men OR women and so to be identified separately AND to naturally fall into any other ism as a woman is a double whammy. In spite of that ‘so called’ advocacy, we still read in the media that women’s salaries are 15% to 30% less than men, and women’s representation in Fortune 500 leadership positions has stagnated in recent years. A 2005 Royal Bank of Canada report estimated the lost income potential of women in Canada due to the wage gap is about $126-billion a year (Globe 2012).
So what is going on? It is a cultural and economic issue… not a gender one.
Culture can be defined simply as ‘the way we do things here’. Geert Hofstede, a well-known researcher, defines culture as the “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group from another“.
And culture is not easily described. Try distinguishing five or six practices in your organization and then ask “why do we do that?”.
Culture is based on values, the glue to behavior and decision-making.
The question is: what’s invisible in our Canadian culture that does not recognize girls and women as equal, valuable contributors and leaders in the world of work ¾ in government and in politics?
My invitation to you: take a stand and start an inquiry with others about what is going on looking through a cultural and economic lens.
For me, this is not just about my granddaughters; it is about your daughters and granddaughters too. It is about taking responsibility for the future of the young and the generations to come.
Contact Rhonda Singer (firstname.lastname@example.org), Senior Associate, Coaching for Action Inc.