Washington: In countries where women face more unequal treatment in society, young girls have a lower chance of survival, a new study has found.
According to the study conducted at the Queen Mary University, gender inequality is linked to more deaths than expected among girls under the age of 5 compared with boys of the same age, especially in lower- and middle-income countries.
Girls have a statistic, perhaps evolutionary, an advantage over to boys when it comes to survival. This seems to exist through women’s childbearing ages, said lead researcher Valentina Gallo, professor of epidemiology of London’s Centre for Primary Care and Public Health.
But the study shows that in settings in which sexist attitudes value boys more than girls, this advantage is reduced and a greater proportion of girls are dying, fuelled by reduced access to basic health care and more exposure to health risks, such as female genital mutilation. In India, for example, the rates of vaccinating girls are lower than in boys.
The researchers analysed gender inequality levels and sex-specific child mortality rates in 195 countries using UNICEF’s database of child mortality worldwide and the UN’s Gender Inequality Index, which measures gender inequality based on reproductive health, female empowerment and economic status.
“These girls are also further exposed to this risk via their mothers, who may themselves be penalized and valued less than mothers of sons and less able to provide for their daughters,” Gallo said.
Using statistical models, they explored the association between a country’s male to female ratio of under-5 child mortality rates — which shows the probability of deaths per 1,000 live births by sex — and gender inequality. They found a strong correlation between low levels of equality and more young girls dying than they should, Gallo said.
But other experts warn against claiming causation from such correlations and say more research is needed.
Research has shown that countries with higher infant mortality also experienced more gender discrimination, but this study is the first to examine how this impacts girls and boys separately.