By ADITI BHOWMICK
The idea of “missing women” is terrifying — globally, a disproportional amount of women have simply gone missing. It is unsettling to think that anyone could disappear, and more upsetting that no one goes to look for these women. The dilemma of “Missing Women” struck my attention in my development economics lecture last week. It all started when Amartya Sen penned an article in The New York Review of Book that made waves in academia. He claimed that “more than 100 million women Are missing” and that the problem is acute in South Asia, West Asia and China.
When we attempt to account for missing women in developing countries, we typically think of son-preference, female infanticide, differential parental investments based on gender, population controls like the one-child policy and differential mortality. Sen published this article in 1990 and I am revisiting the appalling predicament of Missing Women today. In India, whether or not you make it far in life as a girl depends on how progressive your parents are. I am beyond grateful to my parents for electing to invest almost all of their savings in my education instead of saving for a lavish marriage.
Indian weddings are regal, but the amount of economic pressure the poorest of families voluntarily take on to put up a fantastic wedding is disturbing. Research compiled in the paper Economic Lives of the Poor suggest that even in populations earning below the international poverty line, weddings and festivals can constitute 10 percent of total household spending per year. I would like to imagine that every girl in South Asia is as fortunate as me in terms of equal opportunities, but female infanticide, differential parental investment and vast gender differences in education exist in several parts of the world even today. In China, the one-child policy has resulted in horrific stories of baby girls abandoned in public restrooms and children voluntarily ending their lives to spare themselves and their families the suffering of poverty. Thinking about “Missing Women” got me to consider whether the United States of America, a complex society in itself, has a similar problem. I was surprised that in recent months, there has been some awareness of America’s own “Missing Women” problem. I was not so surprised that these missing women had been forced to disappear as a result of both racism and mass incarceration.
Forty percent of all missing people in America are black, and 64,000 of them are African-American women, according to the Black and Missing Foundation. Statistics indicate that most of these women disappear in New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland and Florida. However, since most of these women are of low socioeconomic status, police officials assume that their disappearance must be linked with criminal activity. The fate of these missing women is closely tied to the racially skewed incarceration statistics in the United States. Personally, I could not think of a more harrowing prospect than dropping out of sight and no one noticing. The intersectional nature of oppression endured by the Missing Women of America reminded me of two mass mobilization movements that have encompassed social media of late — #62MillionGirls and #BlackLivesMatter, for example.
While #62MillionGirls was supported wholeheartedly by everyone, #BlackLivesMatter received considerable opposition. Every way I look at it, America has a racial inequality problem. Avoiding the problem does not make it go away. Racial inequality handicaps American society just like poverty and illiteracy inhibit certain developing countries. The sooner this uncomfortable reality is acknowledged, the better. The case of America’s Missing Women is yet another example of the enormously steep price society pays for myopia. We rally for the 279 Nigerian girls kidnapped in Boko Haram, who can the missing African American women in the United States depend on to “bring them back?”
Indian author Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” I choose to speak for those who are preferably unheard until someone chooses to listen.
Aditi Bhowmick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.