Subscribe >>

Alumni Dispatches: Mary Shepherd

Alumni Dispatches: Mary Shepherd

Mary Shepherd

PhD '06, MS

India's Unwanted Daughters

Fifteen years ago, I first traveled to India to work on a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the Indian National AIDS Research Institute. Over the course of the next decade, I saw girls as young as 13 who had been brought to the urban area of Pune from nearby rural areas and from as far away as Nepal to work in the brothels, and older women who ended up there because they were widowed and had no other way to support themselves. How could the fairer sex be fairing so poorly in the world's largest democracy? Through study at the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, I learned that not all female family members were treated poorly—it depended upon their social class, caste status, and, importantly, their birth order. The first daughter in the family was treated well, but the third daughter was perceived as a burden. Meanwhile, technologies to determine the sex of a fetus have continued to develop and diffuse, with legalized abortion readily available, leading to the increasing use of female feticide. Has this prevented unwanted girls from being born and suffering an early demise? Or has it just added a new and earlier form of discrimination against girls who would have gone on to lead happy and healthy lives? These difficult ethical dilemmas are investigated in my book, Sex-Selective Abortion in India: The Impact on Child Mortality (Cambria Press, April 2008). My hope is that this work will be used to direct policy development and enforcement to improve the lives of women in India.

Mary Shepherd currently resides in Santa Fe, N.M., and works on health disparities and community health profiles.

Support JHSPH

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health strives every day to keep millions of people around the world safe from injury or illness.

Make a Gift