By Gianna Stanley
“Why should I suffer to give birth to another girl?” This is the feeling of a mother who experiences the burden of not bringing a son to the earth – a legacy for the family name. Cultural, economic, and religious preferences for sons, along with the misuse of medical practices, have led to uneven sex ratios at birth – with India seeing around 44 million more men than women inhabiting their country. Ironically, the womb has become one of the most unsafe places for a female fetus in Asia.
This phenomenon began during the 1980s with the introduction of sonograms. They were used to detect the future sex of the fetuses, and this was met with the idea that parents wanted fewer children than past generations, and having a son would create better outcomes for the family. Despite their prosperity by having one of the largest economies in the world, tradition, beliefs, and family are at the core of everyday life.
Ironically, the womb has become one of the most unsafe places for a female fetus in Asia.
Girls are seen as being an expensive burden – with parents having to pay a costly dowry for marriage, along with not being able to carry on the family name. Stereotypically, the boys are the care-givers, the breadwinners, and the symbol of power for the family. Sons are also needed for some Hindu tradition to perform funeral rituals for his parents. It is the persistence of these sexist, outdated, and dangerous beliefs that perpetuate the normality behind women being overlooked, and sometimes this neglect unfortunately starts as early as conception. Every week in India, thousands of baby girls are killed by abortions or infanticides purely because of their sex, with many being abandoned in hopes of death or passing the ‘burden’ on to someone else.
Due to this extreme imbalance in gender, the Indian government has attempted to overcome this through legal action. In 1994, a law came into place that prohibited pre-natal sex determination due to the fear that new ultrasound technologies would consequentially decrease female births. In 2003, this law was extended to ban pre-conception sex selection in order to prohibit doctors from influencing the sex of the fetus through various methods like specific sperm selection. Despite their attempts, these practices continue to happen underground, although the happenings of it are widely known. Furthermore, abortions are legal in India, as they should be. However, it saddens me to know that women in India feel subjugated to give up their daughters because of societies harsh view that women are burdens and inferior to sons in the family dynamic. Although it is their rightful choice to have an abortion, the sad truth is that many of them have no alternate option.
It is interesting to see how in the less affluent areas, the ratio of men to women appear to be normal, but in more middle-class areas, men dominate the ratios. Why is this? Wealthy people have better access to underground sex-determinators and easier access to abortions. Scholars have suggested that violence and crime may be more prevalent in these wealthier areas where there is a surplus of men, with there being a significant correlation between the excess of men and an increase in rape, domestic violence and child marriage. So, being conceived a female decreases your chances of birth, and living as a woman increases your chances of being a survivor of abuse – can women really win?
Girls are seen as being an expensive burden.
Following on from that question – women can only win once society, politics, and the media changes their view about us. International Women’s day celebrates achievements of women, but also serves as a call for action to accelerate gender parity. We may appear to be levelling the grounds, but in a world where families are indoctrinated to believe that birthing a daughter will cause them a great burden, we still have a very long way to go. It may be most practically seen in India and around Asia, but the very ideas that causes this gender preference remains engrained in the Western thought. The preference for a son is a very real, and dangerous thing. You often hear comments from disappointed fathers about their daughters not continuing their name, or witness the frustration of an expectant father when finding out he will have a daughter. Remember that these ideas are indeed prevalent in the Western world, and just because we do not have an imbalance in gender ratios does not mean these thoughts can continue.
Today, we remember all of the women that could have been had it not been for gender preference.