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Gender Discrimination Lessens Women's Life Expectancy in S. Asia, says Report - 2004-04-12

Gender discrimination in South Asia is wiping out the biological advantage in life expectancy that women there should have, according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

In industrialized countries, women on average live longer than men, and girl children have higher survival rates. But females in South Asia fare the same or worse than males in both measures. The authors of the article say that's the result of discrimination throughout their lifetimes.

Abortion of girl fetuses, neglect of girl children, and injury and death during pregnancy all contribute to lowering women's life expectancy in South Asia. Article co-author Fariyal Fikree says women's health suffers because they are not valued as much as male children in South Asian cultures.

"Male children are more valued because they are considered as being able to bring in money in the future for the family," she said. "Whereas a woman is not considered in that context. Her worth her cultural and her social worth is limited to being able to reproduce."

Dr. Fikree says she hopes advocacy will help to change attitudes in the region and improve women's health. But she says it may be difficult because the low status of women is entrenched in societies, customs, and, in some cases, laws.