While in China this summer, I read as much as I could about the country’s “orphan problem.” I particularly loved The Lost Daughters of China, written by Karin Evans, an American adoptive mom of a Chinese baby girl.

Evans’ book overflows with perspectives personal, academic, and literary. She talks about how the complete unprecedented-ness of this international exchange that brings babies from poor, rural families on one side of the earth to grow up with upper-middle-class families, usually of a different race and culture, on the other side of the earth (30,000 in America alone); shares an adoption researcher’s belief that adoption does important work stretching the notion of “family”; quotes a poet who addresses “these women of the world’s first international female diaspora”; and discusses the hundreds of thousands of women “missing,” scientifically speaking, from the world’s population.

What this means is that in many countries, especially in East and South Asia and the Middle East, there are not as many women in the population as are biologically expected: in nature, a birth rate of about 105 males to every 100 females and a better survival rate for females yield a nearly 1:1 ratio.

I had heard of China’s “gender gap” before, and I knew about female infanticide in China and of gender-selective abortions there and elsewhere (India especially), but I had never thought of the women missing as just that…real, individual people, people of all ages, across the world, who aren’t where they should be.

In China, old women, who were killed as infants in the 1930s and 40s, are “missing”; middle-aged women are “missing,” whose brothers were more likely to get their family’s last bits of food during the famine of 1958-61; girls and young women are “missing” from the advent of sex-determining ultrasound (since outlawed); and females of all ages who have been the victims of poorer health care, nutrition, and basic care than those received by their male counterparts are “missing.”

This is so haunting. I was glad Evans educated me about these women so I could think about them, honor their memory. In hindsight, the idea of not knowing about them made me sick.

I didn’t think until much later that this haunting presence had surely echoed, for me, our phantom population after the Holocaust: the millions, and the millions upon millions that their descendants would now be. They are in our peripheral vision when we look at our own community; to the left and right of us we know, eerily, the invisible branches on our family trees. I think, at our core, we are simply horrified knowing of so many people for whom no one was even alive to say kaddish.

Fifteen years ago, a government-sponsored survey in China showed more than 12% of that country’s baby girls missing, or more than one and a half million babies yearly. In all, about 30 million females are missing there, and worldwide, 100 million.

If we as Jews are the primary remembers of lost Jews, then we as women should – and will – be the primary remembers of lost women. They are an enormous and greatly diverse group that has amassed over the centuries right up to today. How can we memorialize them?

Info about infanticide on Gendercide Watch:

An appropriately angry blog post on the subject with an interesting slant (those articles about how hard it is for men in China to find wives):

–Anna Schnur-Fishman

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