Payal takes a look at the Top Ten countries of the world with skewed sex ratio at birth, due to the patriarchal system. She talks of the winds of change blowing in India, where girls are performing the funeral rites of their parents. She also talks of the Indian government’s initiative to educate and save the girl-child, based on the South Korean model, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
India has horrendous statistics for female infanticide.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights conducted a study called “Female Infanticide Worldwide: The Case for Action by the UN Human Rights Council”, in 2016, which did an analysis of infanticide patterns, based on continents. As per the study, 117 million girls demographically go “missing” due to sex-selective abortions, as claimed by the United Nations Population Fund
The Study ranked the top countries in the world on skewed sex ratio at birth as follows:
Rank Name of the country Sex ratio at birth
No.1 Liechtenstein 126 males/100 females
No.2 China 115 males/100 female
No.3 Armenia 113 males/100 females
No.4 India 112 males/100 females
No.5 Azerbaijan 111 males/100 females
No.5 Viet Nam 111 males/100 females
No.6 Albania 110 males/ 100 females
No.7 Georgia 108 males/100 females
No.8 South Korea 107 males/100 females
No.8 Tunisia 107 males/ 100 females
No.9 Nigeria 106 males/ 100 female
No.10 Pakistan 105 males/100 female
Author: WUNRN, Date: July 21, 2016
In 2011, Indian Census statistics showed the ratio was falling alarmingly from 976 girls per 1000 boys, in 1961, to 914, in 2011.
We, who live in India, are all too familiar with the reasons for this the chief among them being dowry. As long as parents of girls have to pay a hefty price, and kowtow to the boy’s parents, girls will remain unwanted. Dowry does not end with the marriage ceremony – the girl’s parents continue to pay in cash and gifts on festivals and social occasions. Unfortunately, this is not restricted to the uneducated or economically weak sections of society but is propagated equally at all levels.
Doctors report that patients, who are wealthy, are equally keen and willing to pay any price for sex selection and being able to have a boy baby. Neither education nor the law against sex selection seems to change this prevalent mindset.
Female infanticide is not the only way that girl babies suffer. Figures show that
- Indian mothers breastfeed girls for a far shorter period
- Quality of food (protein content) and quantity fed to children differs between girls and boys
- Medical attention is more likely to be denied to girls
- Girls are less likely to be sent to school
- Girls are pulled out of school for participation in daily housework
It is widely believed that when girls are fed well and given milk/eggs/meat they will attain puberty early and the need for marriage.
Most patrilineal societies have always had a preference for a son, believing that the continuation of a lineage and inheritance is valid only through the male progeny. Poverty, single child law (as in China), socio-religious customs (son performs the parents’ death ceremony), social beliefs that men are superior to women and women must obey men (universally in all 11 countries in the table above) have all resulted in the skewed desire for boy babies. In addition, while the girl child leaves the home after marriage, traditionally the male child is supposed to financially support the parents in old age.
Somewhere down the line, socially, anthropologically, women were ‘downgraded’ as having ‘inferior’ qualities to men. Look at how the different religions perceive women: temptress, weak, wicked, frail, fallible. This is just a social construct.
Quoting from ‘Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council’:
Nepal: Nepal is a patriarchal society where a son is given preference over the daughter due to various socio-cultural, economic, and religious factors. Men hold most of the rights, responsibilities, and priorities, while women’s social, economic, cultural and political status is inferior to that of men.
Vietnam: Son preference in Vietnam has deep cultural roots and is linked to traditional Confucian beliefs, which are predominant in the country.
Armenia: The Armenian society has traditionally preferred sons over daughters. Daughters are also desirable in families but only after the birth of sons.
Georgia: Georgia has a patriarchal society where there has always been a strong preference for boys who continue the family line and provide support to parents in their old age.
Albania: Traditionally, Albanian families have favoured boys over girls for two main reasons: the inheritance of the family name, and the prospect of boys growing up to become breadwinners
Nigeria: The traditional preference for sons is deeply rooted in the structure of the society…. In Igbo land, when a woman has too many girls or no boy at all, she stands the risk of being sent back to her father’s house because the birth of a boy is what is seen as her passport to remaining in her matrimonial home. This accounts for the reason why most women with only daughters often make several attempts at getting pregnant so as to have the golden male child, and some, unfortunately, lose their lives in the process
Pakistan: Pakistan has a patriarchal and feudal kinship system where daughters are seen as an economic burden. Only 20 per cent of women is in the labour force, which means that most women cannot provide economic support to their aged parents. Another prominent reason is that the practice of dowry is increasing.
The revelations from the study show a similar mindset and social circumstances and it is no surprise that they form the top 10 in this list.
Of all the countries named above South Korea represents a success story where the imbalanced sex ratio has been reversed. South Korea introduced a number of measures, which helped reverse the tide.
- Exceptional economic growth.
- Desire for small families
- Increase in Urbanisation
- Greater participation of women in the workforce
- Better employment opportunities for women
- Creation of an old-age pension system that enabled parents to have retirement savings for the old-age, reducing dependence on male children.
These factors contributed to an increase in the status and value of women. Laws allowing women rights were beneficial, as was ‘Love your Daughter’ media campaign. In addition, the health system in the South Korea was able to effectively regulate sex determination tests.
India is now trying something similar with the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (Save the daughter, Educate the daughter and Save the Girl Child Campaign).
However, the fact remains that no campaign, law or government agenda can succeed without deep-reaching social changes that change the attitude towards the girl child and women. Feminism has a huge contribution to make in this respect because it demolishes the shibboleth that men are superior /desirable and works on a premise of equality for men and women. In countries like India (Nepal, Pakistan, China, South Korea) feminists are seeking the freedom to earn, to have control over their finances, to be allowed to support their parents and participate in religious ceremonies that were only the ‘right’ of male children.
In India, during Hindu death ceremonies, only the son/grandson was allowed to light the pyre for cremation – now more and more daughters are seeking the right to do this, as this is a deeply emotional and meaningful funeral rite that they want to be able to perform and not hand over this to a cousin or a nephew if there is no male child. As per long-standing belief, Hindu parents crave a male child so that he can give light to their funeral pyre, thus allowing them the passage to heaven. As thought processes change, to allow women entry into earlier taboos, the social attitude also changes.
Pankaja Munde[i] made headlines when she lit her father, Union Minister Gopinath Munde’s funeral pyre, in June 2014. She was not the first to do so, however.
When Major Kunal Gosavi was killed by terrorists, his young daughter Umang, lit his funeral pyre, in Dec 2016.
Feminism seeks to provide equitability and redress the balance in terms of education, opportunities, earning, and work-home balance for women, all of which result in the girl child no longer being viewed as a burden.
Photos and graph sourced by the author
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