SOUTH CAUCASUS- Gendercide is a term that is used to refer to a phenomenon within a community where abortions are used to control for the gender of one’s offspring; specifically, the term refers to the millions of girls who are victims of selective abortions. News sources have captured this widely practiced phenomenon in India and China, but this disturbing trend has been occurring for decades in the Southern Caucasus as well and it continues to be on the rise. The gap illustrated below in male to female births is only second to China:
In Armenia, approximately 138 boys are born for every 100 girls amongst first children. The prevalence of this sex selection spread with the rise in the use of ultrasound machines after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The situation is even more dire when it comes to the second and third born. In Georgia, this disparity in the ratio jumped to 140 males to 100 females born, meaning women who had two daughters and a male third born had significantly more abortions that those who already had a boy. Interesting to note though, is while such equipment also became more common in other past Soviet satellites such as Ukraine, sex ratios there remained stable.
The Southern Caucasus exception is attributed to multiple factors, one of which might be political. Marc Michael, in his work “The Mystery of Missing Female Children in the Caucasus,” suggests that due to the frozen conflicts that Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia face, women’s bargaining powers have been diminished. As a result, men’s preference for a son is dictating family planning.
More importantly though, comprehensive sexual health education is lacking in these countries. Voluntary abortions were used as a contraception method in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and this left a heritage of a birth control culture based on pregnancy interruptions.
Furthermore, the figures regarding how many children women have on average in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have shrunk. As a result, presumably, a woman will have more abortions per child born if the intent is to have a son out of the one or two children that will comprise the family.
As Doris Stump, a Swiss delegate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has said regarding gendercide, “Prenatal sex selection is to be condemned as a phenomenon which finds its roots in a culture of gender inequality and reinforces a climate of violence against women.”
The high rate of abortions is especially perplexing in the context of these nations because they have incredibly conservative attitudes about the matter. According to the data gathered by the Caucasus Barometer, “over half of the Georgian (76 percent) and Armenian (61 percent) populations believe that abortion can ‘never be justified. ” It seems that the current sociocultural climate prefers male births and this desire trumps the reigning social and religious conservatism. The same dataset reveals that over 90 percent of individuals in Georgia and Armenia and about 80 percent in Azerbaijan identified religion as being important in their daily life. The Georgian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Shia and Sunni Islamic organizations of Azerbaijan vehemently advocate against abortion.
– Mari Sahakyan
Sources: Caucasus Research Resource Center, The Mystery of Missing Female Children in the Caucasus, by Marc Michael Lawrence King, Liang Guo, Martin McKee, Erica Richardson and David Stuckler, International Perspectives on Reproductive Health, Vol 39, No 3, The Implementation of Preferences for Male Offspring,” by John Bongaarts, Population and Development Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, Women’s News Network