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“The Importance and Role of Women in Development: A Panel Discussion” – Live Blog

Women vote in South Sudan’s referendum on independence. 09/01/2011. UN Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran.

Women vote in South Sudan’s referendum on independence. 09/01/2011. UN Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran.

Welcome to the live blog of tonight’s Prospect event, “The Importance and Role of Women in Development: A Panel Discussion“, which is being co-hosted by the Model UN at UCSD. Together with Prospect Editor-in-Chief Megan Magee, I’ll be relaying tonight’s discussion. I hope you enjoy.

Our panelists:

  • Prashant Bharadwaj is a professor of economics at UCSD. Professor Bharadwaj received his Ph.D. from Yale University, and focuses on labor and developmental economics. He has written extensively on the economic effects of the partition of British India.
  • Nancy Gilson is the Director of Academic Degree Programs at UCSD’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. Dr. Gilson received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, and at UCSD, Dr. Gilson has taught courses on immigration, the politics of race and ethnicity, civil liberties and civil rights law, and social policy and gender. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Gilson has worked in the UCSD and IR/PS administrations.
  • Jay Silverman is is a Professor in the Division of Global Public Health, Department of Medicine, at the UCSD School of Medicine. Dr. Silverman’s academic work focuses on the public health consequences of gender-based violence against adolescent and adult women, and he has advised the WHO, UNAIDS, and UNDP.

Dr. Bharadwaj starts off with a presentation, “Growing Pains – Health and Education Challenges Faced by Young Women in India”. Professor Bharadwaj begins by explaining that health and education are important for economic growth, and are extremely important inputs in determining whether countries grow wealthier or remain in poverty traps. Because women comprise half of the population in most countries, their welfare is an extremely important aspect of development. However, women in developing countries face incredible challenges in access to health and education.

Dr. Bharadwaj begins by exploring gender discrimination in prenatal care in India, which is a relatively under explored channel of sex discrimination. Because of the widespread availability of ultrasound technology in modern India, even poor families can often determine the gender of their child early in pregnancy. Early life health is important for later life success, making prenatal gender discrimination detrimental to future human capital. Even if sex selective abortion — the most extreme form of prenatal gender discrimination — can be prevented, more mild differential levels of prenatal care can still have long term impacts on gender equity. Mothers in India are 1.1 percentage points more likely to visit antenatal clinics when pregnant with a boy, and in northern India mothers are 4.6 percent more likely to visit antenatal clinics when pregnant with a boy, and are 3% more likely to receive tetanus shots. Even more severely, they are 16% more likely to deliver in a non-home environment. This same discrimination appears in China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even in the womb, female babies are discriminated against. This tendency towards gender-differentiated levels of prenatal care become more extreme for mothers that have already had two or three girls. Women with existing female children devote enormous effort to ensuring the health of a male fetus, while often neglecting female fetuses.

Indian law actually forbids telling expecting parents the sex of a fetus, but these laws are often flagrantly violated. There aren’t credible alternative explanations for these findings. Male fetuses do not medically require higher levels of care, nor is there any evidence of a recollection bias by Indian parents that would prompt them to recall providing more prenatal care for male children, even if they actually did not.

Dr. Bharadwaj continues by outlining his work examining educational challenges for females in India and Bangladesh. Many female students are thought to drop out of school early due to early marriages. While India and Bangladesh’s female school enrollment in quite high, years of schooling actually attained by women is low. Because the average age of marriage is 17, early marriage is a likely candidate to explain low educational attainment. Evidence from India and Bangladesh suggest that girls get married soon after puberty. Girls that reach puberty earlier tend to drop out earlier, hinting that the marriage channel plays a role in low education attainment. What can policymakers do to correct this? Raising the legal age of marriage seems like a reasonable policy prescription. However, only 35% of Indian women are report knowing the minimum age of marriage when polled, suggesting that legal marriage ages play little role in actual marriage practices, and raising the actual age Indian and Bangladeshi women marry will likely be challenging.

Next up in Dr. Nancy Gilson, with “What Does it Mean to Be “Equal” In a Diverse World: Defining Gender”. Analytically, it is widely accepted that gender equality is a universal good, but what it means to talk about equality in one setting isn’t necessarily applicable in another setting. Issues of gender equality are of paramount importance to human welfare. The World Bank, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, World Health Organization and investment bank Goldman Sachs have all argued that gender inequality hurts economic growth. CEDAW, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, was adopted by the UN in 1979, though it was not ultimately ratified by the United States.

CEDAW is emblematic of the first form of assault on discrimination against women through legal channels. But this isn’t sufficient — inequality should be seen as a collection of disparate and interlinked problems that sometimes work against each other: that is, fixing something in one area can lead to a problem in another realm. Divorce law in the US is a key example of this complexity. Despite efforts to create more equitable US divorce law, women remain more likely to fall into or remain in poverty after divorce, and still bear the majority of child care burdens. Legal efforts to reverse these disparities have been unsuccessful.

The situation in developing countries is similarly complex. Efforts to increase female education attainment by simply encouraging more girls to attend school are typically unsuccessful, because social biases — often prejudice against menstruation — make it difficult for girls to remain in school.

Today US women are more economically independent and richer than they used to be, but it’s important to note that other women are still paid to take care of the children of working women, ultimately perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Women remain stuck between a “sticky floor and a glass ceiling” — US women remain responsible for 80 percent of child care, while working equally long hours in the board rooms. When developed world women work more and are still expected to do the majority of child rearing they just sleep less — chronic sleep-deprivation is an increasingly severe problem for US women.

Attempt to combat gender inequality must be based on local contexts. This isn’t to say that gender discrimination is ever acceptable — women aren’t a cultural minority, but rather half of the world’s population! Gender can be self-defeating if you view it as simply adding or changing society by means of policy or law. Any argument about rights must be somewhere in the middle of relativism and universalism.

Last up is Dr. Silverman, with “Gender-based Violence against Women and Girls: A Major Barrier to Health”. Between 15 and 76 percent of women ages 15-49 across the globe experience Intimate Partner Violence at some point in their lifetimes. Intimate partner violence (IPV) has a major impact on global health. Women who are abused during pregnancy are much more likely to give birth to preterm or underweight children, and children born into abusive households are more likely to suffer from major morbidities. Women who are abused have much less control over their reproductive health and contraception, and IPV is a major factor in unwanted pregnancy and adolescent pregnancy.

Early marriages are also more likely to be violent. In India half of all girls are married under the age of 18, and 20 percent under the age of 16. Girls married young are more likely to die in childbirth, and are more likely to give birth to children with poor health outcomes.

Women in abusive marriages are at greater risk of STIs and HIV. Part of the abusive mindset includes the mentality that it is permissible to take risks with extramarital relations and abuse children. Abusive men’s tendency to attempt to control women violently extends to sexual control, and abusive men are more likely to practice unsafe sex. While India is not considered a high prevalence country for HIV, and enormous number of Indians — 2.5 million people — are infected with the virus. Heterosexual sex is the dominant transmission route, and married women comprise a larger and larger percentage of cases. Men’s sexual behavior is implicated in spousal transmission, and men who violent towards their partners are much more likely to engage in sexual activity outside of their marriages.

What can we do to reduce this risk? Community-based education program can be effective at reducing HIV transmission rates by increasing women’s ability to negotiate with abusive husbands’ high risk behavior.

Dr. Bharadwaj closes with an admonishment to the men of UCSD: easily seventy percent of the audience tonight is female, and UCSD males students should show more interest in gender equity issues. We can do better.

We’re now entering our question and answer segment, where our speakers will take question from our live audience and from Prospect’s Twitter followers. Thanks all around, and please continue to check out Prospect’s content and events.

You can follow questions and reactions to this event on Twitter. #prospectevents

nequality should be seen as a collection of disparate and interlinked problems that work against each other — that is, fixing something in one area could lead to a problem in another realm.
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One Comment Post a comment
  1. KiaW #

    What? An event geared to people of one gender didn’t attract as many people of the other gender? Shocking. I’m sure when we have a forum on the decline of the American male, we’ll be sure to admonish the women at UCSD if they don’t show up in sufficient numbers.

    To rebut one point by Dr. Gilson, divorced women provide more child care because they initiate many more no-fault divorces and are awarded sole custody much more often than the fathers. Gilson also fails to point out that the suicide rate of males doubles after divorce (while staying the same for females) and is silent on the unfairness of permanent income redistribution via alimony. A bit of balance would’ve been nice.

    November 7, 2011

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