The preliminary results of the census have raised many pertinent issues; most importantly regarding the massive population boom. To many, this does not come as a surprise. The population time-bomb has been a fairly relevant issue but one that is often discarded in the face of what are considered pressing issues such as terrorism. An important element of this discussion that does not receive much attention is the female-to-male ratio of the country, a persistent problem that Pakistan, along with India and China, has faced for decades. Preference for male children prevails abundantly across society today, severely hindering social development and democracy. If there are fewer women in society than there should be, they have greater odds stacked against them in having a voice in state and society A common generalisation that is casually thrown around is that women outnumber men in the world. Although true in many parts of the world, this region has had an extremely low sex ratio in the past few decades, reaching even 90 women for every 100 men. The 1998 census in Pakistan gave a figure of 91.9 while the 2017 results put the number at 95.2. Although there is a marked improvement in the gender skewness of our population, the figure is still substantially lower than what is found in Western countries but also in sub-Saharan countries. If some of the world’s poorest countries can have a sex ratio in favour of females, then simply linking economic progress to gender bias is a misleading hypothesis. More evidence for this can be found in India and China, where the sex ratio has in fact worsened over the last few decades, despite the tremendous economic progress they have made. The preference to have a boy is a well-documented phenomenon in the region. Female infanticide, sex-selective abortions, honour killings and a disregard for female wellbeing is rampant, and not confined to any religion, class or ethnicity. Everyone does not partake in the violence, but the majority actively perpetuate the phenomenon through celebrating the birth of a boy, or having more children until there is at least one male heir. Especially with mainstream access to ultrasounds that confirm the sex of the child before birth, and the ease of abortions, the prevalence of sex-selective abortions has increased. If not that, then as documented by a recent piece in DAWN titled “No Country for Girls,” families discard female babies right after birth outside NGOs such as Edhi. The ramifications of this trend go beyond the moral crime that is committed. In a democratic setup, as far as Pakistan has one, demographics are a fundamental factor in shaping politics. Representation across the political rungs depends fundamentally on the size of social groups; arguments about access to the political sphere come later. If there are simply fewer women in society than there should be, they have greater odds stacked against them when it comes to having a voice in state and society. Electoral politics, civil society and social institutions suffer from an inherent misrepresentation of women, severely diminishing their power to fight patriarchal practices and raise a collective voice. Pervez Hoodhboy in a piece earlier this year, laid out the population problem at hand. But if we ever do get around to seriously dealing with family planning, contraceptives and other mitigation policies, it is essential to keep the gender aspect in mind. Pushing for smaller family sizes will raise the stakes for having a boy, risking an increase in the brutal practices against female born and unborn children. China’s rising trend of a more male dominated society after the one-child policy is an important testament to this looming threat. Therefore, along with policies to restrict the population boom, there must be an emphasis on countering the anti-female bias that exists. Countries like Bangladesh are a prime example of population control and an improved sex ratio — almost 99 women per 100 men. This must happen on two fronts: economic and social. Providing more education and employment opportunities to women is one way to diminish the economic potential that exists between male and female children. However, the importance of countering the social narrative against female children cannot be overlooked. Even the self-proclaimed bastions of morality — the clergy and its zealous minions — are active propagandists of this cruelty. Seeing sons as the custodians of the family legacy, and a source of pride and income is a prejudice that is deeply ingrained in all strata of our society. Only a comprehensive and collective counter-narrative can begin to neutralise this line of thinking. Compared to many developed countries, Pakistan — and South Asia in general — can boast of having elected women as heads of state. Before partition as well as after, women such as Annie Besant, Fatima Jinnah, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto have had a major role to play in South Asian politics. However, a small band of women at the top does not translate into real social change at the bottom. Rather than being entranced by political gimmicks and blindly following messiahs, perhaps we should be more cognizant of how our hatred towards a gender has engineered our society to become unnatural and inherently misogynist. The writer is a freelance columnist. He tweets at @mtaa324 Published in Daily Times, August 30th 2017.