I’m only alive today because the family and culture to which I was born value girls. At least, they value them more than many areas of the world.

That is the lesson I learn (and re-learn) every time I read about female infanticide. There are about 200 million “missing girls” around the world. They are either aborted, killed after birth or otherwise abandoned. All because they happen to have two X chromosomes. If you can’t see the fundamental injustice in this, then I don’t understand your brain at all.

All of this comes up because I saw the trailer for a movie today called It’s a Girl. The movie documents “the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughter’s lives and of other mothers who would kill for a son.”

The movie looks incredibly powerful, and I can’t wait to see it. But the seriousness of the issue really hit home when I read that there is a non-invasive test that can accurately ascertain the sex of a child seven weeks into a pregnancy. Seven weeks. Like most medical advances, this has a benefit. For example, evidently there are some diseases that hit one sex instead of the other. Parents can get the sex identification test done as a means of determining whether other tests need to be taken.

However, if you watched the video embedded above, it should be obvious how this type of test can be abused. Companies don’t sell the test in Asia, where sex-selective abortion is a real problem. But the New York Times article points to a study that indicates that some Asian-American populations in the United States abort fetuses based on sex.

Left to its natural devices, the world population would be roughly equally divided between the sexes, roughly 105 males to every 100 females.* Female is actually the default setting. But a societal preference for girls is causing a huge imbalance. For example, in India, there are only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys. This is very, very bad.

There are some who say that this is an argument against making abortion safe and legal. This is malarkey. Forcing women to have children is not the way to go, because the problem of sex-selective abortions is a much deeper one. In cultures where boys bear the responsibility to care for the parents and the rest of the family, girls are only a burden. The expectation is that a girl’s family will pay a lot of money for a man to marry her. Getting girls out of the house and into another family only to be expected when society tells you that girls are only a problem to be dealt with.

Forcing women to give birth will do nothing to help this. The weapon is way too blunt. It forces women who don’t want children to have them, even if it puts a women’s very life in danger. It doesn’t address the fundamental issue of the devaluation of girls. If history has taught us anything, it’s that women will get abortions if they want them, often with disastrous effects on their health. That isn’t very empowering.

The only way out of this is a massive cultural shift, which will take a while, but it’s not impossible. Foot binding in China was basically eliminated as a cultural practice in a generation. Yeah, sex-selective abortion is still a problem in China, but I think foot binding is proof that culture isn’t stagnant, and can be moved. Hopefully, little by little, we can chip away at the societal structure that assumes XYs are more valuable than XXs, and this problem can be a thing of the past.

*The original post asserted that the world population would skew female. That is wrong.