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Montenegro: never born because female / Montenegro / areas / Home

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Montenegro: never born because female / Montenegro / areas / Home

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Declining compared to previous years, selective abortion continues to be a current problem in Montenegro. Researcher Jovana Davidović, who has explored the phenomenon, notes the permanence of strong patriarchal beliefs in society along with little media attention

According to data released by the National Statistics Office (MONSTAT), in Montenegro in the period between January 2008 and September 2023, out of a total of 117,346 births, the number of male newborns was 4,606 higher than that of females.

A gap that also emerges from research by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which included Montenegro among the nine countries with the most unbalanced sex ratio at birth in the world: the natural sex ratio is 105 males per 100 females, while in Montenegro the ratio is 110 males per 100 females. The main cause of this imbalance – underlined in the UNFPA analysis – is the use of selective abortion, a practice directly linked to patriarchal beliefs and cultural models.

Selective abortions – experts warn – are carried out by abusing prenatal tests. Although there is a register of pregnancy terminations, managed by the Institute of Public Health in Podgorica, there is no data available on abortions linked to the sex of the fetus.

Jovana Davidović obtained a PhD with a thesis entitled “Patriarchal beliefs and media representation of gender relations: the case of selective abortion in Montenegro”. From her research it emerged that 40% of the Montenegrin population (regardless of sex) is in favor of various patriarchal practices that take place within the home, among which the tendency to relegate women to a reproductive function stands out.

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Jovana Davidović (Private archive)

“One interviewee in four is convinced that the greatest privilege for a woman is to have a son. Furthermore, 43% of male and female citizens believe it is important to have ‘a male heir’,” Jovana Davidović explains to OBCT.

The research was conducted on a sample of one thousand interviewees.

“Observing the developments of the last two decades – specifies Davidović – in Montenegro every year on average 400 more boys are born than girls. The normal ratio between male and female newborns should be 130-165 units per year. The numbers recorded unequivocally indicate the presence of selective abortion since the persistence of such a wide gap cannot be linked to natural processes.”

The analysis also revealed that 50% of Montenegrin citizens believe that a woman is incomplete if she does not become a mother. Davidović warns about a paradoxical aspect, namely the fact that one citizen in five, while believing that abortion should be banned, is in favor of selective abortion if there are no male children in the family already.

“This means that the patriarchal system supports the use of abortion when it is functional to the elimination of female fetuses. If people who believe that abortion is never acceptable are willing to make a compromise by accepting selective abortion, then it is clear that the idea of ​​the inferiority of girls is deeply rooted in the collective consciousness [in Montenegro]”, stressed Davidović.

The second part of his doctoral thesis is dedicated to the analysis of the media representation of selective abortion in the period between 2012 – when UNFPA first expressed concern about the problem of sex selection in Montenegro – and 2019 .

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If on the one hand – as emerged from the research – the media discourse on selective abortion has been largely in line with ethical and professional standards, on the other hand the media have rarely addressed the issue in depth: out of a total of 245 texts analysed, even a quarter deal with the topic only indirectly.

“So, in one text out of four the topic of selective abortion is addressed in a marginal way, it is not mentioned either in the title or in the subtitle, it is not the main theme of the interview or reportage, and it is never mentioned on the initiative of the journalist, but of the interviewee”, explains Jovana Davidović.

According to his words, the marginalization of the topic of selective abortion in the media discourse is linked to an inadequate understanding of the importance of the issue in the public sphere.

As for the sex ratio, in the last three years there has been a change in Montenegro: on average 250 more boys are born than girls. Therefore, the rate of selective abortions – as the researcher points out – is slightly decreasing compared to the period 2000-2010 when on average 380 more boys were born per year. However, this decline does not mean that the problem of sex selection is solved, considering that the current numbers are almost double the normal values.

“My research – explains Davidović – has shown that patriarchal ideas play an important role in the formation of attitudes towards selective abortion, and this is anything but surprising. Patriarchy is not an abstract and imperceptible concept, it is everywhere, it permeates all our reflections on sex, gender and gender roles. It is a system of ideas that has persisted for a long time now, and it is unrealistic to expect it to be defeated in the short term. Now the patriarchal system is trying to somehow resist feminist policies and ideas, so we often hear that ‘women are the ones who keep patriarchy alive’ and that ‘feminism harms men’, or that ‘ the woman is a wolf for the woman’”.

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In a patriarchal society, theses such as those mentioned above are promoted with the intention of preventing solidarity and the creation of support networks among women, fundamental elements for achieving gender equality.

“The idea that feminism ‘threatens’ men usually stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of feminism. The purpose of feminism is not to discriminate against men, but to transform society to create a fairer and more inclusive community for all, regardless of sex and gender identity. Changing consciousness is a long and challenging process. To begin with, it is important that everyone understands to what extent patriarchal beliefs negatively impact our personal choices and quality of life,” concludes Davidović.

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