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Home > About Us > Magazine > Gender Matters

[(c) February 2006/Sheryl Nadler/World Vision]

World Vision Magazine, Spring 2007

By Ryan Smith, with reporting by Reena Samuel, John Kisimir, and John Schenk

In many places around the world, being female is a cradle-to-grave curse. These stories represent a few of the ways millions of women and girls suffer simply because of their gender.


When Kalaivani was born in rural India, her mother, Yashoda, was very worried. This was the third time she’d given birth to a girl. She would now be branded as “unlucky” for her husband and might be driven out of her home along with her three daughters. After hours of agonizing, Yashoda felt that the only option was for the newborn baby girl to die.

In India and many other developing countries, boys are valued more highly than girls. Girls are less likely to help support their families economically, and when a girl marries, her parents must pay a dowry to the husband’s family in addition to paying for the wedding. The boy’s family gains wealth, while the girl’s family often spirals into debt. Facing this dilemma, many families kill or abandon daughters after birth. An estimated 39 million women and girls are “missing” in India alone due to infanticide and sex-selective abortions.

Note of Hope: Had it not been for World Vision’s intervention, Kalaivani likely would have wound up among the “missing.” But local World Vision workers knew that Yashoda was a high risk to commit infanticide and visited her shortly after her baby was born. They counseled her and her husband to let Kalaivani live. They also connected Yashoda with a group of 25 other women that pools resources to take out loans and provides a consistent income for the members so they can help provide for their whole family—and especially, their girls.

Female Genital Mutilation

“I was only 7 years old when five women grabbed me by the hands and legs and placed me on the table. The cutting was not very painful, but the needle they used to stitch me up was terrible. As I screamed and called for help, the women encouraged me to remain calm. They kept saying that the same thing had been done to my mother and that I had to act bravely like her.”

Saphia (name changed to protect her identity) experienced female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female circumcision. The process involves trimming or removing the clitoris and in some cases, stitching the vagina closed, leaving only a small opening for fluids. The tradition has been passed down for many generations in Somalia, where Saphia lives, and in other African countries. Those who perform the “surgery” view it as a rite of passage into adulthood. But FGM at the least causes pain, infections, childbirth complications, infertility, and at worst, death.

Note of Hope: World Vision is working to create awareness of the dangers of FGM. In Mali, where 93 percent of women have undergone FGM, World Vision is working with women who perform FGM, convincing some of them to give up the practice, develop alternate rites of passage for girls, and educate the public about the risks caused by FGM.

Sex Trafficking

The ruse worked. The Norwegian authorities believed Nora’s story of leaving Albania after her parents’ deaths. Nora (name changed to protect her identity) was allowed to stay in Norway for six months and find a job. But her story was a lie given to her by her handlers, who already had work lined up for her—the same job she’d done in Italy, France, Germany, and Sweden since she’d been forced into a sex trafficker’s car in Tirana, Albania.

Nora told authorities that she was 22, but in reality she was 17—a child, like half of the 1.39 million people trapped in the global sex trade every year, according to the International Labor Organization. Human trafficking nets an estimated $15 billion per year worldwide.

Note of Hope:When Nora returned to complete some paperwork, she told Norwegian authorities her real story, and they helped her escape her captors and return to Albania. She and others who escaped the sex trade receive counseling, shelter, and protection at a World Vision clinic. The organization’s main emphasis, however, is to prevent the victimization in the first place. Through education, vocational training, and advocacy, World Vision is working to eliminate the poverty that forces many girls into the sex trade and to improve laws and enforcement against trafficking.

—Ryan Smith is the assistant editor for World Vision magazine.

Get Involved

>> Pray that families and societies around the world—in rich and poor countries—come to appreciate the value and special qualities God gave girls, leading to equal treatment and opportunities for all children.

>> Help empower women and girls. The World Vision Women and Girls Gift catalog offers some simple yet effective ways to make a life-changing difference for a girl or woman in need.

The feature above was published in
World Vision MagazineSpring 2007[pdf].

Other features from this issue include:
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