Despite the fanfare about Asia’s ‘miracle economies’ the problem of ‘missing women and girls’ is actually growing, according to the UNDP-sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report. These ‘missing’ girls and women are a result of the abortion of girl fetuses and women dying through sheer neglect – underfed and starved and not receiving adequate health care. The birth gender disparity is the highest in East Asia, home of the Asian ‘miracle’ economies, where 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. China and India, much touted for their economic success, account for 85 million of these 100 million ‘missing’ women.
South Asia – which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh – is one of the worst regions in the world (just above impoverished sub-Saharan Africa) in gender equality relating to health, education and employment for women. It has the highest women’s illiteracy levels in the world with almost half of all adult women illiterate. South Asian women are also expected to die five years earlier than men. The region has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births – these rates are higher only in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nearly half of the countries in South Asia and some 60% of the countries in the Pacific have no laws against domestic violence. In India and Pakistan fewer than 35% of women do paid work. Pay gaps between female and male wages are as high as 54%.
The Asian miracle economies were built on the sweat and blood of women’s labour – the ‘nimble fingers’ in the garment and textile, electronics and other light manufacturing industries. This super-exploitation of women continues to mark the ‘economic progress’ of the emerging Asian economic ‘super-powers’, such as India and China. The message is clear: the system must be changed to ensure the basic survival of women and girls.