Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
It is my pleasure to propose this motion. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I will take the opportunity also to welcome Ms Serrin Foster of the Feminists for Life organisation, who has done much good work in raising awareness of issues relating to the topic under discussion. I heard Ms Foster and Jill Filipovic on “Today with Pat Kenny” yesterday and I thought it was wonderful to see such a coming together of minds, with people making common cause despite major philosophical disagreement on the issue of abortion generally. Abortion is part of this issue, although by no means the whole of it.
We are here to talk about one of the most horrific human rights abuses in the world and perhaps the most widespread form of violent anti-female discrimination. It is called “gendercide”, a term coined in the book of the same name by Mary Anne Warren in 1985. It involves selective abortion, infanticide or fatal neglect of baby girls after birth. The scale of the abuse has been comprehensively documented at UN level, in US Congressional reports and by reputable publications such as The Economist, Time and Newsweek. Only two weeks ago, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution condemning the most prevalent aspect of gendercide, that of sex-selective abortion.
In June this year a joint statement by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, the UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and the World Health Organization condemned the practice of gender-based sex selection. They said, “Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women’s human rights.” There is huge pressure on women to produce sons. The discovery of a female foetus can then lead to its abortion. Sex selection can also take place before a pregnancy is established or after the birth of a girl through childhood neglect or infanticide.
Some two decades ago the Harvard and Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen documented the scale of gendercide in an article entitled “More Than 100 million Women Are Missing.” In a recently published book, Unnatural Selection, journalist Mara Hvistendahl, who is pro-choice on the question of abortion, demonstrated that the overwhelming reason for the increasingly large demographic disparity in the male-female birth ratio is sex selective abortion. She estimated the number of girls missing or dead to be 160 million and counting. She pointed out the ability of modern medicine to ascertain the unborn child’s gender at an early stage has contributed hugely to the scale of gendercide.
Gendercide is motivated by economic and social factors leading to prejudice against baby girls. It is especially the case in countries which implement strict population control measures such as China. The lower social status of women and girls generally, combined with their perceived inability to contribute to the family’s economic development, means that baby girls are valued less than baby boys. Gendercide is especially prevalent in India and China, which is why I have mentioned them specifically in the motion, but is increasingly an issue in parts of eastern Europe.
Opposition to gendercide tends to unite people with significantly different perspectives on abortion. Polls have shown that about 95% of the American people oppose sex selective abortion. Even those who are pro-choice generally agree that abortion should not be allowed when the explicit reason for it is the female gender of the unborn child. They recognise that it makes no sense to proclaim gender equality while at the same time permitting the direct targeting of an unborn child solely on account of her gender.
The scale of the problem is horrifyingly vast in north-west India and China where the practice is prevalent. These areas account for a large proportion of the 160 million so-called missing women in Asia. These missing women would be alive today if it were not for selective abortion, infanticide and economic discrimination. Selective abortion has become a major issue since the availability of ultrasound scans increased during the 1980s in these regions. In one hospital in Punjab in northern India the only girls born after a round of ultrasound scans were those who had been mistakenly identified as boys or those who had a male twin.
The normal sex ratio is between 103 to 106 to every 100 girls born, which is said to be biologically fixed. In China the ratio today is 123 boys per 100 girls, which has increased steadily over the past 25 years. Such a rate is biologically impossible without human intervention. In India the latest census reveals that there are 7.1 million fewer girls than boys under the age of seven. This statistic leaves the sex ratio for this age group at 914 girls to every 1,000 boys, the lowest rate since records began in 1961. If one compares the number of girls born to the number that would have been born under a normal ratio it indicates that 600,000 Indian girls go missing each year.
The growing gender gap will have major consequences for the coming generations. The horrifying social effects will become clearer as the large number of boys being born reach maturity. There is the obvious effect of a surplus of men who have no women to marry. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that within ten years 25% of men in the country will be unable to find a bride. The figure is slightly lower in India but still high at 15% to 20%.
To put it into context, China will have 30 to 40 million more men under 19 years of age than women. This will be almost twice as many as the number of men this age in Europe’s three largest countries combined and these men will have little prospect of marriage. Men unable to find brides seek sex and companionship in brothels and pay traffickers for abducted brides. Thousands of women have been smuggled into China from Vietnam to work as prostitutes or be sold into marriage. As the Colombia University economics professor Lena Edlund observed, the greatest danger associated with prenatal sex determination is the propagation of a female underclass.
A link has already been established between crime and an increased sex ratio in China. In the past 20 or so years as the ratio has increased, the crime rate has doubled. In India the best predictor of violence and crime in the area is not income but sex ratio. Another effect is the rise in suicide rates among women. China has one of the highest female suicide rates in the world and it is thought this can, in one way, be attributed to women living with the knowledge that they have aborted or killed their baby daughters, the view of the Chinese writer Xinran Xue who documented the problem in The Economist in March 2010.
Only two weeks ago the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution and recommendation condemning the practice of sex selective abortions. The text of the resolution was drafted by Ms Doris Stump, a pro-choice Swiss Socialist MP, something the Government should note. Sex selective abortion is defined as “A new global trend due to the combination of the widespread use of abortion as a means of family planning and the widespread availability of prenatal sex determination technology.”
In its resolution and recommendations the Parliamentary Assembly expressly condemned the practice of prenatal sex selection which is contrary to the core values upheld by the Council of Europe, such as equality and the dignity of human beings. It recalls the pressure placed on women not to pursue their pregnancies because of the sex of unborn children, that it is a form of psychological violence and the practice of forced abortions should be criminalised. As Ms Stump said, “In a number of countries which have legalised abortion this right is being misused in conjunction with the availability of prenatal sex identification to affect women’s chances of being born.”
The Government’s amendment partially acknowledges the human rights abuses which necessitate the motion I tabled. However, in explicitly mentioning female infanticide it fails to mention the problem of sex selective and forced abortions. This is despite agreement among experts that sex selective and forced abortions comprise an overwhelming majority of the 160 million deaths attributable to gendercide. The Council of Europe, the UNFPA, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UN Women have all, in the past year, condemned sex selective abortions but there is no mention of the word in the Government’s amendment.
The 1997 Oviedo Convention on human rights and biomedicine expressly forbids sex selective abortions. Why does the Government equivocate on this issue? Who could possibly support such a human rights violation? Does it do so in the name of gender equality? It would be outrageous if that was so.
The Government’s counter motion also fails to mention the need to put pressure on India and China in regard to this problem. All the leading experts and international agencies accept China and India are disproportionately responsible for promoting or tolerating the human rights abuses under discussion here. I wonder if the Government is thinking of trade links when it should be thinking of human rights.
It may be argued that laws have been passed in India in the 1990s but they are more honoured in the breach than the observance. We need to raise this issue and the fact that Ireland is small is no reason for us not to take a strong moral stance. People often speak about not exporting our problems but we should never hesitate to export good ethics and the message about human rights in a consistent way.
This motion was a wonderful chance for the Government to formally condemn for the first time gendercide in all its guises, including those involving unborn baby girls. That the Government has failed to do so is a terrible shame and sends a very worrying message to the international community. It would be no argument to suggest this is a term that is not accepted. It has been around since 1985 and The Economist used it as a simple strap head in a cover story article on the topic as recently as March 2010.
It is quite clear what the Government should have done. It should have joined me, Senators Van Turnhout, Crown and Quinn and Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin Senators in recognising that this was a motion that was drafted and succeeds in uniting people who may have different perspectives on abortion but do not have different perspectives on the importance of human dignity, in particular female human dignity. People should not have different perspectives about any cultural practice or state toleration of practices which involve ending the lives of young girls. Whether it happens before birth through pre-natal diagnosis or a sex-selective abortion or after birth through female infanticide or by allowing girls to die, the same revulsion should unite us. It is not enough to fall in behind an ideology of choice but ignore its consequences in certain cases, especially with 160 million women gone from our world. It is a real missed opportunity that the Government could not go beyond a condemnation of female infanticide or identify this as a problem, particularly in China and India. Infanticide is becoming more of a problem in Caucasus countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia since the fall of communism.
For those of us who believe in the sanctity of all life, from conception to its natural end, this is a justice and human rights issue. For those of us who describe ourselves as pro-choice, we should have been able to unite with this motion under the heading of women’s dignity, rights and welfare. For those of us concerned about economic stability and social cohesion, it should have been possible to unite behind this motion as well.
This is an issue with profound and far-reaching consequences for economies. In China, thousands of men, known as bare branches, are already becoming a social problem. Where people do not have the roots of family life and children, they wander and are a threat to stability and social order. In other parts of China, families with more than one child go from place to place like migrants to escape the population control authorities. This is the horrifying reality of what is happening in parts of our world. We should be united in naming this issue, condemning it and raising awareness of it in all relevant international fora.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the Chamber. I second the motion. I enjoy doing The Irish Times crossword every day because I am interested in vocabulary. Many of the new words I have heard in the past year are not very pleasant. I did not hear the word “gendercide” until last year but as Senator Mullen pointed out, it was used in a book title as far back as 1985. It really is a nasty word.
According to the newly published World Bank development report, there are 4 million missing women in the world in the past year. By that I mean these are females who have been aborted simply because of their sex. Deaths in childbirth account for about a third of the overall number of missing women. An even larger share derives from the 1.43 million girls missing at birth, mainly in China and India. An article in The Economist, entitled, The War on Baby Girls, said: “It is no exaggeration to call this phenomenon gendercide.”
Why does it happen? As has been well documented, male offspring are preferred in Chinese and Indian societies. Males who can work to bring in income are desirable and they bring higher social status. Smaller families are also preferred. The advent of technologies which allow parents to see the sex of their unborn child has resulted in unborn females being aborted in their millions like never before. This is illegal in places like India but still happens underground. Parents pay as little as €10 to get an ultrasound scan to determine the sex of their child. Doctors in India started advertising ultrasound scans with the slogan, “Pay 5,000 rupees [€110] today and save 50,000 rupees tomorrow”. The saving was calculated on the cost of a daughter’s dowry. Another aspect of this is the number of suicides of young women who discover they aborted an unborn male by accident.
To give some stark figures, around 120 boys are born for every 100 girls in China and India. In China, parents are willing to sacrifice unborn females in pursuit of a son. The result is that there are more than 1 million too few daughters relative to the natural level. This phenomenon is spreading rapidly. The World Bank says the number of missing girls has doubled in Europe and central Asia, mainly in the Balkans and the Caucasus, from a low base. The number has also risen in the Middle East and in east Asia outside China in places like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It is a mystery as to why this is happening. There is also the related issue of girls being sold on to child traffickers, which we must not forget.
What are the implications? In January 2010, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed what can happen to a country when girl babies do not count. Its study found that one in five young men would be unable to find a bride because of the lack of young women, a figure unprecedented in a country not at war. In Asia, there are now 100 million more men than women. This figure will rise. Some experts believe the oversupply of men could result in higher crime rates, more bride trafficking, sexual violence and even female suicides.
This will rise further as the generations get even more lopsided. To give an example, the crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios. Having a massive male population is not a good recipe. In Asian societies, where marriage and children are the recognised routes into society, single men are outcasts. According to one German scholar, European imperial expansion after 1500 and Japan’s imperial expansion after 1914 was the result of a male youth bulge.
What can Ireland do? We have to promote the value of girls internationally, pressure governments to encourage education, to abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters inheriting property and to support legislation that rewards having a daughter to correct the imbalance. We must also show how we corrected the male dominated public sector here and promoted mandated ratios of women in all grades in the public sector. While there are many other ideas we can promote, we must highlight and embarrass countries with these non-credible sex ratios. If that means reducing our development aid to them, so be it.
Ireland will take up the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, on 1 January 2012. This important international organisation consists of 56 member states from Vancouver to Vladivostok. I believe this could be one of the multilateral forums in which Ireland could use its guiding role to influence countries on gendercide. The human dimension is one of the most important security dimensions with which the OSCE deals. The chairmanship would be one ideal way for Ireland to bring this issue to the fore. Will the Minister of State indicate whether this issue can be put high on the agenda for Ireland’s chairmanship starting next year? Given that the problem of gendercide is rising in the Balkans and in the Caucasus states such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia and Macedonia, and the OSCE’s strong involvement in helping societies develop there, I believe we can make a difference.
Our Presidency of the EU, starting in 2013, should also be used to influence other countries and promote the concept at the United Nations. These are major international fora which we can use to make a tangible difference. Women are missing in their millions, either aborted, killed or neglected to death. We must do something. Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade use his office to make a difference? We cannot stand idly by with millions of girls missing. This is one of the great scandals of our times.
I do not believe the Government should have tabled an amendment to this motion as it does support the motion’s principles. There must be some reason it avoided the term “gendercide” and used “infanticide” instead. Will the Government reconsider its amendment to this motion? Senator Mullen’s motion stands as it is and should be accepted by the Government.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House and the opportunity to debate this important issue. The Government’s amendment to the motion encapsulates the sentiments and motivation behind the motion by Senators Mullen and Quinn while addressing some of the reservations we had about aspects of the wording.
It is important to stress the Government amendment, like the motion tabled by the university Senators, condemns in the strongest terms female infanticide and all other violations of the rights of women and girls, while commending the Government’s opposition to such practices and its efforts to combat all forms of gender-based violence and endorsing its strong support for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through its official development assistance programme. This support for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls goes to the heart of the matter and the reason this issue is as important as it is.
I will deal with some of the reservations the Government has with the wording of the motion. The term “gendercide” has had some usage in the media and was first coined in 1985, but its definition is not yet fully accepted and it is not used in mainstream development terminology.  There are questions as to what the word applies to and interesting work has been done on the idea that the term is gender neutral and, therefore, does not apply specifically to the infanticide of girls. The most common occurrence of gender-based mass killings involves young battle-aged men. Throughout history state-directed gender-selective mass killings have overwhelmingly involved men. There is, therefore, an interesting debate about the meaning of “gendercide”.
Leaving the definitional point aside, we agree with the sentiments expressed in the motion. However, we have other reservations about certain elements of the motion. It would be wrong to single out China and India and suggest problems covered by what could be meant by gendercide are to be found solely in these countries. It would also be wrong to suggest the governments of these countries somehow tolerate or promote, as the motion states, this practice. That is not the case. Senator Feargal Quinn fairly accepted that certain practices were illegal in India. The Government also points out that during the years Ireland has had a strong record of advocacy in EU and UN frameworks on issues relating to the rights of women and girls. Our official development co-operation programme has a strong emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The Irish Aid bilateral programme is strongly concentrated, as Senator Rónán Mullen knows, in sub-Saharan Africa which is not an area in which problems associated with the term have arisen.
As I stated, the Government amendment is preferable, as while encapsulating the sentiments of the motion, it does not limit condemnation of female infanticide to a particular state and does not suggest a particular state promotes or tolerates it. However, a bigger issue arises which we should debate, that is, the status of women and girls in societies in which girls are singled out for inferior treatment, even extending to killing.
An article headlined “Gendercide” in The Economist of 4 March 2010, to which Senator Rónán Mullen referred, stated the status of women was critical to the issue and pointed out that baby girls had been victims of a malign combination of ancient prejudice and modern preferences for small families. It also expressed hope this could change. The Economist suggested significant change had taken place in South Korea:
The Economist continued to state China should scrap its one child policy. I absolutely agree with this. I visited China with the British Council and one of the issues on which we worked was the empowerment of women and the ending of the coercive one child policy. TheEconomist points out that to tackle these issues all countries need to raise the value of girls and encourage female education, abolish laws and customs that prevent daughters from inheriting property and get women engaged in public life. This is critical.
The need to empower women and girls is recognised in Irish policy on overseas development aid. Earlier today, at the launch of the UNFPA state of the world population report for 2011, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, spoke about the challenge to break the vicious cycle of poverty in the developing world through empowering girls and women. She spoke about the need to invest in health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, and education services for women and girls. She also stated — this is absolutely uncontested — that in country after country women and girls who had completed at least primary school education choose to have fewer children. This can lead to a more prosperous society and a society in which women and men are more equal. The Minister of State pointed out that the 2011 UNFPA report clearly stated that governments serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies and information that women, men and young people needed to exercise their reproductive rights. The Minister of State’s speech at the launch of the report expressed very clearly the Government’s commitment to tackling the disempowerment and disadvantage of women and girls throughout the world.
In my work for many years I have always sought to ensure women and girls are empowered and that we see reproductive choices made available to women and girls. It is in this context that I very much oppose the coercive one child policy in China. I have worked with Plan Ireland which conducts a very effective “Because I am a Girl” campaign aimed at tackling, in particular, female poverty in developing countries and empowering women to break the vicious cycle of poverty for families and children. For me, the issues expressed in the motion and the Government amendment are about empowering women and girls. Many societies, including our own, have for far too long been repressive of women and sought to control women’s bodily integrity. In Ireland we forced women who had children outside marriage into Magdalene institutions and children born outside marriage into institutions in which terrible abuses occurred. What changed this was a change in culture. As happened in South Korea, we changed the culture to value women and girls more and give them rights; to give women reproductive choices; to introduce the unmarried mother allowance as it was then known, which had a hugely empowering effect on women; and to legalise contraception and access to information on abortion. All of these have helped to empower women and children in our society.
We must continue our work. I entirely agree that we must condemn in the strongest possible terms any practices which violate the rights of women and girls. I see my legislation on female genital mutilation in this context. It seeks to express utter condemnation of practices of female genital mutilation carried out in Ireland or other countries. As we know, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,500 women and girls in Ireland who have been subject to female genital mutilation. It is a very important issue to do with women’s reproductive rights and their right to health and bodily integrity. In this context, I am delighted to propose the Government amendment.
I am rather surprised the Government has not agreed with the motion which is very broad and fair. It would not cause any diplomatic difficulties for the Government in supporting it. The procedure in the House is that Government parties tend to table amendments to motions, even if a motion is generally acceptable. The motion has been very well prepared and I commend Senator Rónán Mullen, in particular. It is timely and appropriate.
The situation in India is frightening, with 914 girls aged six years and under for every 1,000 boys. Without intervention, a few more boys than girls would be born. A comparison of the number of girls who would have been born in normal circumstances shows that 600,000 Indian girls go missing every year. This is a frightening statistic. Every year in China 1 million children are abandoned. The one child policy has led to the creation of a major black market in stolen children, involving at least 70,000 children a year.
I attended a recent session of the Council of Europe held in Strasbourg as deputy leader of the delegation. Senators Deirdre Clune and Kathryn Reilly also attended. I was very pleased to support the motion placed before the assembly. It is only fair to point to its effect.
Discrimination against women is so widespread in the world that, spontaneously or under pressure, millions of women decide not to give birth to daughters who are considered a burden for their families and unable to perpetuate the family lineage. Sex selection is a huge problem in some Asian countries, in which the selective abortion of females, together with the killing of female newborns, has been practised for decades. Prenatal sex selection is indicated by a departure from the natural average sex ratio of 105 boys:100 girls and increases as the number of children goes up in a family or when there are legal or economic restrictions on the size of families. There is strong evidence that prenatal sex selection is not limited to Asia. In recent years a departure from the natural sex ratio at birth has been observed in a number of Council of Europe member states and the ratio has reached worrying proportions in Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in which boys outnumber girls by 112 to 100 and in Georgia in which the sex ratio at birth is 111 boys:100 girls.
The European Parliamentary Assembly condemns the practice of prenatal sex selection as a phenomenon which finds its roots in a culture of gender inequality and reinforces a climate of violence against women, contrary to the values upheld by the Council of Europe. Recalling the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the assembly believes the social and family pressure placed on women not to pursue their pregnancy because of the sex of the embryo or foetus is to be considered as a form of psychological violence and that the practice of forced abortion is to be criminalised. The assembly wishes to warn Council of Europe member states against the social consequences of prenatal sex selection, namely, population imbalances which are likely to create difficulties for men in finding spouses, lead to serious human rights violations such as forced prostitution, trafficking for the purposes of marriage or sexual exploitation, and contribute to a rise in criminality and social unrest.
In line with the Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, the assembly believes that, in the context of assisted reproduction technologies such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, prenatal sex selection should be resorted to only to avoid serious hereditary diseases linked with one sex. In view of these considerations, the assembly calls on member states to monitor the sex ratio at birth and take prompt action to tackle possible imbalances; collect data on sex ratios at birth among specific communities; collect data on sex selection in the context of the use of all techniques of medically assisted procreation; promote research on the causes of prenatal sex selection and its social consequences; encourage national ethics bodies to elaborate on and introduce guidelines for medical staff, discouraging prenatal sex selection by whatever method, unless justified for the prevention of serious sex-linked genetic diseases; consider recommending that public hospitals instruct doctors to withhold information on the sex of the foetus, or at least ensure this information is given in a positive way, irrespective of the sex of the foetus; and introduce legislation with a view to prohibiting sex selection in the context of assisted reproduction technologies and legal abortion, except when it is justified to avoid a serious hereditary disease. This is why we support the motion as a founder member of the European Assembly.
In addition, the assembly calls on the authorities of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan andGeorgia to investigate the causes and reasons behind skewed sex ratios at birth; step up their efforts to raise the status of women in society and ensure effective implementation of laws and policies on gender equality and non-discrimination; ensure the collection of reliable data on sex ratios at birth, including in different geographical areas within the same country, and ensure monitoring of their evolution; and organise and support the organisation of public awareness raising initiatives and campaigns on prenatal sex selection and its consequences. The Council of Europe has a responsibility to these countries, which is why we have asked them to step up their efforts.
I was pleased to support the decision of the Council of Europe, the members of which are very conscious of this issue. Prenatal knowledge about the sex of a child is becoming a major difficulty, particularly in China and India in which scans can be carried out cheaply. It is important, therefore, that we highlight this human rights issue. Fianna Fáil will be supporting the motion which I commend to the House.
Senator Michael Mullins: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, and wish her well in her new post. I commend Senator Rónán Mullen for moving the motion to highlight an appalling abuse of dignity and human rights. I was not familiar with the term, gendercide, until I started to carry out research for this debate. Senators Rónan Mullen and Feargal Quinn have done the House a service by preparing the motion and giving the issue the publicity it deserves.
Gendercide involves the practice of selective abortion, infanticide and the fatal neglect of baby girls which is an unspeakable crime for any right thinking person. In the course of my research I came across statistics which demonstrate the appalling scale of the abuse. Time magazine, The Economist and other reputable publications are to be complimented on highlighting this awful practice.
The motion and the Government’s amendment can unite Members in promoting human dignity. The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms all violations of the rights of women and girls. It is proactive in supporting the efforts being made at international level to combat all forms of gender based violence and will keep raising these matters at UN and EU level. Long-term questions arise for those who think reproductive matters should be reduced to an issue of choice. The problem of gendercide shows where certain choices can lead if they are endorsed or tolerated by entire nations and cultures. The widespread killing of baby girls is a terrible injustice, but it also risks causing major economic and social problems in societies in which gendercide is apparent. I understand that in India high murder rates are to be found not in the poorest regions but in areas with the largest imbalances in sex ratios. This leads to problems of human trafficking, as thousands, perhaps millions, of men unable to find life partners become a risk to society. Thousands of women from Vietnam have been smuggled into China to work as prostitutes or be sold into marriages.
I hope this is the first of many debates on this issue. I will be supporting the Government’s amendment, but I thank Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn for raising the issue. The support they have received from different quarters of the House demonstrates there is widespread agreement on the matter. In supporting the Government amendment, I look forward to having a more detailed and thorough debate on this matter in this House in the future.
Senator Martin Conway: I commend Senator Mullen on highlighting this matter. We seem to be specialising in human rights as our theme for this term. This practice is a complete and total violation of human rights. I will not repeat what my colleagues on all sides of the House have said. The facts speak for themselves. The Government amendment does not name specific countries, but we know which of them are the biggest violators in this regard.
I would like to add another dimension to this debate. Perhaps it can be considered in the future. Some of the countries that have been named in this House have a policy of aborting foetuses that have been shown to have disabilities. This type of termination can take place when a medical expert has identified that a foetus is disabled in one way or another. Such appalling violations of human rights are worthy of examination by this House in the future. The Government, through its partners in Europe and throughout the world, should examine how it can highlight this appalling abuse of human rights. There is much to be said for the facilitation of further research by the UN and other organisations. There is significant anecdotal research in this regard. Senator Mullen is probably better briefed on it than me. There is significant anecdotal evidence that this type of cleansing is taking place. We have responsibilities.
Although the motion before the House is well worded, the amendment proposed by the Government is a more practical way of bringing all sides together. I hope the amendment will be seen in the context in which it is meant. This country is proud of its human rights record. It has campaigned internationally. Many of our expatriates are involved in the missionaries. This country can be proud of the role they are playing in protecting children abroad. This issue has been highlighted in The Economist and other reputable magazines. I hope we will see a worldwide solution to this appalling crime.
Senator Aideen Hayden: The motion that has been put before us by Senators Mullen and Quinn has many merits. I do not want to repeat what other Senators have said. Any discrimination is undoubtedly wrong but the genocide, in effect, of female children and babies is an appalling abuse of human rights. There is no two ways about that. It is useful to point out that gendercide is not confined to poorer countries. It has already been mentioned that discrimination against female children is practised among the better-off sections of society in countries like China and India. It is important to study the list of countries where the population is proportionally skewed in favour of one gender. A significant number of them are not among the better-off countries of the world, although I was surprised to note that Cyprus is one of those with a skewed population ratio. I find it difficult to understand why it is on the list. It is important to accept that not all of the countries that practice gendercide are among the poorer countries of the world. It goes much deeper than financial assistance.
I disagree with the motion in one respect. We should recognise that some countries — South Korea, for example — have succeeded in turning the policy around and making strides against gendercide. It has been done by bringing about a change in culture and in the way women are valued in society. The basic changes that have been made include the introduction of legislation permitting women to own property, which may seem obvious in the western world but is important nonetheless. It was not until the late 1880s that legislation in Britain and Ireland allowed women to hold property independently of their husbands. Changes of this nature need to take place. Fundamentally, Ireland’s role on the world stage has been to support the equality not just of women and men but of people generally. We have a proud record in that regard.
We need to hesitate in one respect. My research has shown that China and India are taking measures to counter gendercide. Statistics show that China has made some progress, although it is insufficient. The 2000 census pointed to a more stable sex ratio in that country. At the very least, the problem has stopped getting worse. The World Bank agrees that there has been a decline in the ratios in portions of China where this phenomenon had been particularly problematic. In India, a study has shown that the cultural preference for sons has also been falling. As in China, the sex ratio is rising, albeit very slowly. For this reason, I do not think it would be a positive step to specify China and India in the manner that is done in the motion before the House, which asks that they be challenged “to abandon coercive population limitation policies”. Such an approach would be counterproductive, given that some measures have been taken in those countries.
Of course, it is important that we bring diplomatic pressure to bear on the governments of various states. That is something we should be doing in the normal course of our foreign policy. Of course, we should ensure the recipients of foreign aid do not promote gendercide. The Government amendment covers both of those factors. Ireland’s support for the millennium development goals is critical to bringing about the equal status of men and women internationally. It has been shown that by changing cultural attitudes, one will ultimately change attitudes to gendercide. I accept that this is an important international issue. In this instance, I have decided it is preferable to support the Government amendment.
Senator Catherine Noone: I welcome this timely debate and commend my colleague and friend, Senator Mullen for raising the issue. I agree with various things other speakers have said during this discussion. Obviously, I deplore the concept of gendercide and believe we must take whatever measures possible to prevent it from taking place. During this debate, we must take time to consider all other violations of the rights of women and girls. The Government amendment, which condemns female infanticide and all other violations of the rights of women and girls in the strongest possible terms, goes in the direction in which Senator Mullen would like to go to a certain extent.
I was horrified to read in The Guardian last weekend about the death of a 37 year old Chinese mother of two during an abortion. The woman in question was six months pregnant with her third child when a number of family planning officials arrived at her house and ordered her to accompany them to hospital. The procedure went ahead despite her protestations and those of her relatives who were attacked when they tried to stop it. She died on the operating table from heart failure. Her death can be seen as a callous abuse of human rights. Two children have been left without a mother and another child has been denied the right to life. A family has been ripped apart. It is a disgrace that women’s rights and human rights could have been so cruelly disregarded in 2011. As a woman, I am proud of the advancements in gender equality that have taken place in recent decades. Incidents of this nature remind us that some women are still being treated as second class citizens in this world. They should not and cannot be ignored.
Speaking as a woman, it is clear that all of these actions are a reflection of the societies in which they occur. Even today, in certain parts of the world, women’s lives are viewed as of lesser value than those of men. That this is happening in 2011 is astonishing. As such, while I reluctantly oppose the motion put forward by Senator Mullen, I am interested to hear the Minister of State’s view. The main problem with the motion is that it is somewhat personalised in pointing out particular countries. It would set a dangerous precedent for us as a nation to go so far as to name the protagonists in a motion passed in the Oireachtas.
Senator Paul Bradford: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this worthy proposal. We all understand the system of parliamentary democracy in the Oireachtas and how the Government generally proposes and the Opposition opposes. However, we must also recognise that we in this House have been at our best when we were able to act, not independently of Government as such, but with a certain independence of thought. We are at our most effective when we come together to make significant political pronouncements on matters of deep and fundamental significance. On this occasion, I would have preferred if we had come together to support the motion as it was written. We all appreciate that we are working within a party political system, and I am mindful of the political duty which will direct me as to how I must vote. However, it is very difficult to find anything incorrect or objectionable about the motion as proposed.
My colleague, Senator Catherine Noone, spoke about difficulties that may arise as a consequence of stating strongly our disquiet at policies being conducted in China and India. I beg to differ. We must be willing to speak against atrocities where we see them. There is no doubt that in these two countries and, unfortunately, I am sure it applies to other countries, the practice of gendercide takes place. I am gravely disappointed at what has happened in recent years and continues to happen in China. The Minister of State may have read that great book, Wild Swans, which clearly shows the huge value traditionally placed on both young and old in Chinese society, with three-generational families where grandparents looked after children while the middle generation worked. There was a great sense of family. The one-child policy has torn all of that apart and is beginning to have profoundly negative social effects. Moreover, it will also come to have grave economic effects.
I do not claim to be an expert on China and I am less so in regard to India. However, a recent article in The Economist indicates that what is happening in these countries is a cause for grave concern. We have a duty as Members of this House, as does the Government, to speak out strongly and loudly on matters of fundamental importance. Nothing is more fundamentally important than the right to life and the right to bear children. In the deeply disquieting article in The Economist, the Chinese author tells how he visited a peasant family where the wife was giving birth. She states:
The writer goes on to say that, to her absolute horror, she saw a tiny foot poking out of a slops pail. She concluded that the midwife must have dropped the tiny baby, alive, into the bucket. We must condemn such practices in the strongest possible terms.
I appreciate that the Government motion states its opposition strongly. Mention was made this morning on the Order of Business of the need for political reform and a review of how we do our business. We have often heard the phrase “same old, same old” in reference to politics in Ireland. On many occasions I have seen worthy motions put forward by Opposition Members in this and the other House — we were all in opposition at some point — only for the Government to submit the mandatory amendment. We must move beyond that type of politics towards a new approach to parliamentary business.
I welcome the airing of this issue by way of the worthy motion put forward by my Independent colleagues. We must note what is being said. Will Senator Mullen consider saving some of us the embarrassment of having to vote against his motion by withdrawing it in order that we can, at some stage in the coming weeks or months, seek agreement on an all-party motion which speaks as strongly as possible on this fundamentally important issue?
Senator Cáit Keane: I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this motion. Every Member of this House would condemn the practice of infanticide or gendercide. Terminology is important when it comes to this issue. I would have felt more able to support the motion if it had used the term “gender-based selection”. The word “gendercide” is most often used but is open to selective interpretation. As Senator Ivana Bacik observed, it has been used in other contexts in reference to young battle-aged men. When we stand here as legislators, passing a Bill or supporting a motion, we must be sure we understand the terminology used. “Gender-based selection” is the term I would prefer. In that context, I join Senator Paul Bradford in calling on Senator Mullen to defer or withdraw the motion in order to seek consensus across the House.
The Government amendment is not selective in pointing to particular countries. The reality is that gender-based selection has been banned in India. It seems perverse to single out a country that has taken some action on the matter. The 2011 census in that country shows the practice is decreasing in some regions of the state, while it is increasing in others. There are social, educational and other aspects to this issue. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade must take every opportunity to bring it to the attention of the United Nations and other international bodies.
Although the situation is not perfect in India, as I said, the 2011 census shows a slight overall decrease in gender-based selection. The number of girls in the age group birth to six years has increased slightly and there are now 914 girls for every 1,000 boys. However, this remains a huge gender gap and we must do everything in our power to ensure there is a further decrease. Although sex-selective abortions are illegal in India, fatal neglect of girls after they are born is widely assumed to be the leading cause of this anomaly. The use of ultrasound to determine sex has become cheaper and more widely available. Even though this procedure is illegal in India, the prohibition is not properly policed. We should urge every country to make the practice illegal and ensure there is enforcement. While we know it is impossible for one country to enforce laws in another, we can educate the countries to which we refer.
The Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, who led the census in India, stated that there is still reason for great concern. He regards the problem as a social problem rather than a democratic one, compounded by the failure of the authorities to enforce laws against sex selection by monitoring clinics that advertise ultrasound technology. He stated that technology is the main culprit.
The word “gendercide” is coming into common use. I will use it now but not in a legislative sense. The campaign to address the problem is a social campaign. We must all support a social campaign to improve the status of girls. Senator Bacik outlined many of the steps we need to take socially and educationally to ensure there is gender equality.
A 2011 inter-agency publication, “Preventing gender-biased sex selection: an interagency statement”, by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Population Fund, and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, refers to this noteworthy issue. I am grateful to Senator Mullen for putting it on the agenda but, as with some other Senators, I have no hesitation in saying I cannot support it. If the Senator had used the other words I have mentioned, I might have supported it. Perhaps he could reconsider tabling the motion again using the terminology I suggest.
Imbalanced sex ratios are unacceptable manifestations of gender discrimination against girls and women and a violation of their human rights. We must all support the effort to counteract this problem. Technologies such as amniocentesis and ultrasonography are making the problem more commonplace. Bearing in mind Senator Hayden’s point, we very often associate the issue with the poor but the richer in society must also be borne in mind because they are not enticed in any way by grants — of a few hundred dollars, for example. That will not change it. We must educate and do all we can through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations and everywhere we get an opportunity.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I support the motion tabled by Senator Mullen and congratulate him on raising this very important issue. Without being party-political, it is a very serious issue that is having a major impact in countries such as China and India. It is important that we, as a branch of the Oireachtas, express our deep concern over the issues at play.
From time to time, this House condemns China for its lack of transparency in the administration of justice. Members have visited China on several occasions to outline its appalling record on human rights. There is a total vacuum, particularly in China and to a lesser extent in India, whereby female children are treated as less important than their male counterparts. In 2020, there will be 40 million to 50 million more males in China than females. This imbalance is creating a problem. The recent case in China, namely, the running over of a little girl, is an appalling indictment of how society thinks in other parts of the world.
With all due respect to the Government, its amendment is pussyfooting and tiptoeing around the real issue. The Parliament and nation should condemn the practice in question. Senator Mullen has appropriately named it “gendercide”, or at least outlined his reasons therefor. We should condemn such practices in China, India and elsewhere and we should not be afraid of stepping on toes politically. It is a major issue. We debate poverty in various parts of the world and support efforts to combat it but, if we are serious about our foreign policy, we should state bluntly that the practice of gendercide in its many forms is wrong. We cannot condone it.
Senator Mullen’s motion is one on which the House should try not to divide, including by saying more time is required, as said by some Government speakers. The case made by Senator Mullen is so blatant and strong that we should accept his motion. The Government should support it absolutely. The facts are clear and it is most regrettable that in certain parts of the world an abortion or other procedure may be carried out where a woman is discovered to be pregnant with a female child. A child, when born, may be neglected and left to starve to death. This is a very serious issue. Senator Mullen must be lauded for his exposure of gendercide, which is widespread in China in particular.
I know the Minister of State’s heart is in the right place. I urge her to grasp the nettle and condemn the practice outright. There is no harm in doing so. Let us see what we, as a small nation, can do to address it. There are probably 5,000 couples in Ireland who are dying to adopt a child from another country. I was once in Romania with a member of my family in respect of an adoption. There are ways and means of trying to address this issue. For us to stand idly by is most regressive. I listened to a radio debate today in which it was stated that, by the end of this or next month, the world’s population will be 7 billion and rising. Not so long ago, I heard that the population in 1830 was approximately 1.5 billion. At the rate the population is growing, we will face serious problems. The most populated regions, such as China, India, eastern Asia and Indonesia, probably contain one third of the world’s population in a relatively small proportion of the world.
It is about time that we grasped the nettle, tried to address the problem and made our voices heard. Senator Mullen must be complimented for raising this appropriate issue. I hope the Government will state that it is not a political issue and regard the motion as a statement by a small country setting out its views on gendercide. We speak very strongly about injustices in China and poverty in Africa but we are very slow to grasp the nettle in respect of gendercide. Senator Mullen deserves great credit for raising it. His doing so is appropriate and I hope the Government will address the matter head on instead of deferring it.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: Like many others, I compliment Senator Mullen on tabling this motion. It is very brave. We live in the world, not just Ireland. We must be concerned about human rights issues and how we can advance societies.
I will reiterate many of the facts which fellow Senators have highlighted already. I put it to Senator Rónán Mullen that I would be delighted if he would agree to consider withdrawing the motion, just for today, until we can reach cross-party consensus in the House. I have no wish to be forced into a situation where because of the party political system I must vote against the Senator’s motion when I agree completely with almost every line of it and what it is calling on us to do, that is, to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on the governments of various states, in particular China and India, which either promote gendercide or tolerate the problems experienced within their borders. The Senator is right to ask us to raise the issue of gendercide at United Nations and European Union level and perhaps with the Irish Human Rights Commission to determine how it could bring pressure to bear. We want to do business with countries which have human rights issues such as China and India. What better way to advance human rights than to do business with them, whereby we can share and learn about how we interact and live? The Senator is to be complimented on the motion and I do not say as much lightly.
Let us consider some of the facts. The first time I came across this issue was when I was dealing with the matter of adoption. The Senator who spoke last said the same. I have adopted abroad, as I have said in the House more than once. We adopted a little girl from Romania. I was there in 2000 and recall that they mainly had boys to adopt because they were keeping the girls. Foreign adoptions were common at the time and this remains the case, as it is our only means of adopting children. However, when we look towards China, those involved are allowing girls to die. I condemn in the strongest terms the practice of selective abortion based on the use of ultrasound and other technologies that identify the sex of the foetus. It is dreadful that little girls are lined up in orphanages, fatally neglected and allowed to die when many families throughout the world would give anything to have a child. Although the practice is not confined to the countries to which I have referred, what happens to families in these countries who have difficulty in conceiving but who eventually fall pregnant and find out it is a girl? How can we, as an upstanding nation, say this policy is fair, right or just? It is not. For this reason and many others, I totally support what Senator Rónán Mullen said. The practice happens more widely because, traditionally, girls earn less than boys and there is evidence that boys can engage in more physical labour which is considered to be especially needed in some of the countries mentioned. In the long term this is needed to stall population growth and, for cultural reasons, the ancient preference has been to have boys.
Let us consider what the position is today. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in 2010 there were between 30 and 40 million more men under the age of 19 years than girls. Marriage and having children are considered to be the norm in the countries mentioned, but there is a lack of girls. Some of the programmes I have seen from China show men aged between 40 and 50 years living in isolated areas with no possibility of finding a partner. This has led to crime, isolation and violence among young men. Crime levels have doubled in China in the past 20 years. The social consequences include the trafficking of women and prostitution, as well as bride abductions which are rampant. As my colleague, Senator Cáit Keane, noted, people of all classes are buying into this mindset. If we are genuinely interested in promoting human rights and wish to ensure that at a human level there are no borders, we have an obligation to condemn the practice of gendercide, infanticide and fatal neglect. We must realise that in the long run it is not good for society that children are killed.
Interestingly, a law was enacted in 2004 in China prohibiting sex-selective abortions but because this has become such an embedded cultural issue, the law has been widely ignored by the Chinese public. I appeal again to Senator Rónán Mullen, to whom I take off my hat. He has brought forward a motion that has challenged me and most other Members. I call on him to consider withdrawing the motion in order that we can reach an all-party consensus. In this way we could achieve a good deal in the House. On most days we want it to be a house of solutions.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): I thank Senators Rónán Mullen and Feargal Quinn for bringing this important matter before the House and affording it the opportunity to debate it. There is no doubt there is broad agreement across the House on the motion, the amendment and the central substantial issue under discussion.
I wish to respond to Senator Cait Keane’s point on gendercide. The term has not been fully defined at international level and it is not in use in mainstream human rights and development discourse. Therefore, I am hesitant to use it. However, irrespective of the label we apply to the issues involved, these are serious problems that give rise to genuine concern and I commend Senator Rónán Mullen for raising them.
We are discussing the practice of female infanticide, what some refer to as sex-selective abortion and other forms of mistreatment directed at women and girls. I wish to make the Government’s position clear. We condemn in the strongest terms all violations of the rights of women and girls, including female infanticide and other harmful practices, and firmly support the efforts being made at international level to combat these and all other forms of gender-based violence.
While agreeing with parts of the motion brought forward by Senator Rónán Mullen, the Government has reservations about certain elements. Therefore, an amendment has been tabled for consideration. The Senator has singled out two countries in the motion, suggesting the Governments of China and India either promote gendercide or tolerate it within their borders. While the harmful practices under discussion are followed in these countries, it is wrong to imply that the problem is confined to these countries. We should acknowledge that the Governments of China and India are taking various steps to deal in their societies with these practices which they recognise as harmful and unjust. We should acknowledge the progress made.
We do not believe it is helpful or effective to highlight individual countries. If the international community is to address the serious issues involved, it will only do so effectively by focusing on the need to combat all forms of discrimination and human rights violations against women and girls, wherever they occur. The motion tabled by Senator Rónán Mullen invites the Government to raise this issue at UN and EU level. I am proud to highlight that Ireland already has a strong record of advocacy and action in the EU and UN frameworks on issues relating to the rights of women and children. We will continue our consistent support for international resolutions focused on strengthening the rights of women and female children, as well as combating gender-based violence.
The European Union’s commitment to protecting children is underlined in the EU guidelines on the rights of the child document. The rights of children are systematically raised during dialogues with non-EU countries and the European Union calls on partner countries to ratify relevant international conventions and lift reservations, to adopt or revise national legislation, to identify areas in which technical assistance could be helpful, and to promote good practices. The EU has agreed guidelines on violence against women and girls that address discrimination as well as violence against women. The guidelines prioritise women’s rights within the EU human rights policy towards third countries. Ireland has been an active member of the EU task force on women, peace and security. Ireland has been a strong advocate of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and has taken a leadership role in the international arena in consistently calling on other states to commit to implementation of this resolution. The resolution calls for an increase in the participation of women in peace making and peace building processes, the protection to women and girls in armed conflict, and the incorporation of a gender perspective into peacekeeping and peace building processes. We have taken an innovative approach to drafting a national action plan on the implementation of Resolution 1325 by combining interdepartmental and civil society consultation with an international cross-learning initiative. The national action plan will be launched this year.
Senator Mullen also asked the Government to ensure that recipients of Ireland’s foreign aid do not promote gendercide. Ireland’s official development programme has a strong emphasis on gender equality and on the empowerment of women and girls and all recipients of Irish Aid funding are required to demonstrate their commitment to these goals. In addition to a focus on access to health care and education, combating all forms of violence against women and girls is a strong theme of Irish Aid’s work and of our dialogue with our development partners, both Governments and NGOs.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are priorities that cut across all of Irish Aid’s work. Bilaterally in our engagement with partner countries, and at the UN and in other multilateral bodies, we consistently emphasise the importance of gender mainstreaming as a key aspect of ending poverty, hunger, discrimination and vulnerability across the globe. Gender equality is not only an important aim in and of itself but is an essential component of sustainable human development.
To respond to Senator Quinn’s point about whether we can highlight gendercide during the OSCE presidency in 2012, Ireland will focus on that area and it will be a priority during a chairmanship in 2012. It is an important part of the human dimension of the work of the OSCE.
The implications of policies that do not take gender equality and the rights of women and girls seriously are far reaching. To take just one example, in sub-Saharan Africa, girls are still less likely to complete primary and secondary education than boys and face multiple barriers to accessing education. Girls who do not have access to education are significantly more likely to be subjected to child or forced marriage, which in turn leaves them far more vulnerable to dying in pregnancy or childbirth. They are much less likely to use family planning services which allow them to time and space their children at healthy intervals. Girls aged between ten and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged between 20 and 24. This morning, I had the opportunity to launch the United Nations population fund’s 2011 State of World Population report, which focuses on the fact that the world population is due to reach the 7 billion mark in six days’ time. That report underlines in stark detail the massive challenges adolescent girls and women still face in accessing family planning services and antenatal care. A massive 215 million women across the developing world still do not have access to safe, effective and affordable contraception and almost half a million die each year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.
Uneducated girls are three times more likely to contract HIV. Their children are significantly more likely to suffer from malnutrition, to lack immunisation against preventable diseases, to be subjected to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and to die before the age of five. The results of ignoring or under-investing in girls are devastating, not just for the girl herself, but for her own future children and for society as a whole.
Discrimination against girls and women is also evident in the prevalence of gender-based violence. Such violence takes many forms, from violence against women in the home to the horrifyingly high levels of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict environments, child and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, sex-selective abortion and other harmful practices.
The root causes of all manifestations of gender-based violence are the same root causes underlying economic and political discrimination against women and the low status that women and girls still have in so many societies across the globe. It is this fundamental issue that Ireland consistently seeks to address, both through our engagement at the UN on gender issues and though policy dialogue with, and practical assistance to, Governments and civil society across the developing world. Senators Hayden and Noone referred to this.
To provide just some examples, for many years Irish Aid has supported the extension of basic primary education to all children in Zambia. In addition to our overall support to the education sector there, we have also provided funding to civil society groups who campaign for better access by the poorest and most vulnerable girls to primary education and work with poor communities to overcome the specific barriers that girls face in getting an education. The results have been remarkable. Just over ten years ago, only 60% of Zambian girls completed primary school education. Today, more than 90% of girls in rural Zambia are in school.
In Uganda and in Sierra Leone, Irish Aid has supported programmes to combat gender-based violence, including through providing support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and through funding research into how to combat gender-based violence at a community level and identify strategies that work. Eliminating female genital mutilation, a practice that affects an estimated 100 million girls throughout the world, is another important element of our work. I commend Senator Bacik for her Private Members’ motion on that topic. We have provided more than €1 million in funding to a joint UN programme that works in 12 countries where this practice is particularly prevalent. Since the programme started in 2007, 11 out of the 12 countries have passed national laws banning female genital mutilation, large numbers of community leaders across west and central Africa have made formal public declarations supporting the abandonment of the practice, and almost 42,000 girls have been treated for medical complications resulting from female genital mutilation.
Regarding Irish Aid’s response to humanitarian crises, we ensure that all emergency programmes we support take into account the specific needs of women and girls, particularly in respect of gender-based violence. In the Daadab refugee camp for instance, which houses almost 500,000 refugees who have fled from the famine in Somalia, we are supporting programmes that provide survivors of gender-based violence with quality and comprehensive health, psycho-social and case management services. Reporting mechanisms and referral networks are also being strengthened, as well as ensuring that the protection concerns of women and girls are taken into account in the design of the water, sanitation, shelter and health programmes in the camp. In addition, the Irish Aid rapid response register provides experts in the areas of gender, gender-based violence and child protection to UN agencies and NGOs in order to strengthen their emergency response. In 2010-11, eight protection officers from the register were appointed to UN missions in Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, the Balkans, Sudan, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Somalia.
Complementing our work on gender empowerment through our bilateral aid programme, Ireland also co-operates closely with key UN partners such as UNICEF, UN Women and UNFPA in their work on combating all forms of violence against girls. We work closely with Governments across the developing world to combat the root causes of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.
In 2010 alone, Irish Aid provided more than €12 million in core funding for these agencies. Key elements of the work of these agencies include supporting Governments to put in place legal and policy frameworks that address female inequality in areas such as inheritance laws, land ownership and social protection systems; providing incentives to families with girls to send them to school and ensure equal access within the family to nutrition and health care; and developing ethical guidelines for health professionals for the use of technologies such as ultrasound. This point was raised by a number of Senators. We condemn the use of ultrasound for this purpose but it also has positive uses.
On this last point, it is important to note that, although the relatively recent availability of technologies that can be used for sex selection has compounded the problem of sex selection in some societies, it has not caused it. The rise in sex-ratio imbalances and normalisation of the use of sex selection in certain societies is caused by deeply embedded discrimination against women within institutions such as marriage systems, family formation and property inheritance laws. It is this discrimination that Ireland, as well as our UN partners, is working so hard to combat.
The Government amendment to the motion proposed by Senator Mullen envisages that this House, condemning in the strongest terms female infanticide and all other violations of the rights of women and girls, would commend the Government’s firm opposition to such practices and its efforts to combat all forms of gender-based violence. It would also endorse the Government’s strong support for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls through its official development assistance programme. I thank the Senators for the very good debate. I commend the Government’s amendment to the House.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O’Sullivan, and thank her for her speech. I agreed with much of it. I take the opportunity to thank Senator Quinn for seconding the motion and Senators Leyden, Mullins, Conway, Hayden, Noone, Bradford, Keane, O’Donovan and Healy Eames for their speeches. I pay particular tribute to Senator Healy Eames. I found her speech particularly moving and it shows yet again the wealth of experience of members of the Seanad. It is particularly generous when people chose to speak from personal experience and to reason from it, as is right and proper. I note also the support from Senators on the Government side on this issue. I take seriously their request that I withdraw this motion. I do not feel I can do so, as things stand but I have communicated indirectly to the deputy Leader that I will be very happy if the Government proposes an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us to return to the matter in two weeks and debate it for another 30 minutes and give us time to come up with an agreed motion. There is a real appetite for it on the Government side. Otherwise, the amendment and the motion will be put to the House this evening. I am in the hands of the deputy Leader.
I will not try to traverse all the points made but will address some of them. I would be very happy to incorporate Senator Cáit Keane’s desire to include the issue of gender based sex selection. I do not think it captures all the issue, but it would be a welcome addition. It is important that we include the issue of selective abortion which goes on at a later stage. Selection would generally tend to refer to IVF related selection, where embryos are selected out on the basis of a disability or other criterion. In this case, we have the problem of embryos being selected out on the basis of gender. We should avoid euphemistic language in using the word selection when we are talking about the elimination of human life. Senator Bacik among others pointed to the emergence of a small bit of good news in some countries, such as South Korea but, it must be said that one does not gain progress on these issues unless one keeps the pressure on the culprit countries. I point out that it would misrepresent my motion if the Government suggested that there was only a reference to China and India. The motion refers to counties such as China and India. I remind the Government that it often and rightly points to countries where there are human rights abuses of another kind. I think of Senator Norris and others rightly condemning Uganda’s proposed legislation last year which would apply the death penalty to homosexual persons. On that point, I think the Government went looking in the drawer of crazy and bizarre rebuttal arguments when it comes up with the notion that the term gendercide is somehow unclear. I wonder if Senator Bacik has a problem with the use of the term “homophobia”. It seems to imply a fear of men but I do not think that is what it means. There is a commonly accepted meaning and when newspapers and magazines such as The Economist and others can use the term gendercide, I do not see why the Government cannot. It is not an argument that the term is not fully in use in mainstream human rights and development discourse. That line suggests that the Government is always looking over its shoulder to see if there is some great body internationally that will allow us to use a certain term. Everybody knows what gendercide means. It is the elimination of girl children, whether before or after birth. I have defined the problem in the motion, so that there could be no misunderstanding about it, were the Government to accept it.
Senator Bacik rightly raised the question of education and gender equality. In many ways she went off the point of the motion, but she did make good points, which are relevant to the issue. I would have been delighted and would have had no problem in accepting a Government amendment which sought to add some of those considerations. To try to weasel out of the use of references to sex selective abortion and to focus only on female infanticide which relates to the post-birth situation is to miss the point of the motion. The Senator points to the importance of education but I remind her that it is in societies where people are highly educated, among the middle classes in India and the like, that this continues to be a major problem. Education does not get to the core of the issue.
Sadly the Chinese Government backed away from a law that would have prohibited abortion on gender grounds. Senator Bacik knows that and that is the reason she did not refer to China. The Senator also should have referred to the fact that the Indian law is largely under used. That is the reason the Government should keep up the pressure on China and India as culprits. I recognise the sincerity of the Senator’s convictions — even if I think she is wrong-headed on this issue. I thank her for speaking from her convictions as she always does.
I will be very happy to withdraw the motion, if there is an amendment to the Order of Business, as I have proposed. If there is not, in justice to the 160 million women who have gone missing, I have no other option but to put the motion to a vote this evening unless the Government proposes to allow time to reach an amicable solution and agree an alternative wording.
Senator Ivana Bacik: There is no amendment proposed to the Order of Business. We have not used up all the time that was provided for the debate on this motion in Private Members’ time. It is open to any Senator to put forward a motion for cross-party agreement and a number of us have done so on many issues in the past. That is always an option open to Senator Mullin or any other Senator to put forward a motion to the Leaders of all the groups at any time seeking consensus on a particular issue.
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Brennan, Terry.||Burke, Colm.|
|Clune, Deirdre.||Coghlan, Paul.|
|Comiskey, Michael.||Conway, Martin.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||D’Arcy, Jim.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Gilroy, John.|
|Harte, Jimmy.||Hayden, Aideen.|
|Healy Eames, Fidelma.||Henry, Imelda.|
|Higgins, Lorraine.||Keane, Cáit.|
|Kelly, John.||Landy, Denis.|
|Moloney, Marie.||Moran, Mary.|
|Mulcahy, Tony.||Mullins, Michael.|
|O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.||O’Keeffe, Susan.|
|O’Neill, Pat.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Barrett, Sean D.||Daly, Mark.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Mullen, Rónán.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Last Updated: 24/08/2012 13:01:10||Page of 11|