Long time ago I was asked by a friend in Hawaii, ‘What’s it like being a girl in your part of the world?’ This was a loaded question. I was totally lost at the time. Not because I did not have an answer, but because I did not know where to begin. So I just said it was not much different to being a girl in the US. Her response of, ‘that bad, huh?’ shocked me. I am pretty sure her ‘that bad’ and our ‘bad’ were and are still poles apart. But yes there are plenty of challenges to being a girl on both sides of the world.
Being a girl child is not an easy job. I know what I reflect on now would be considered ancient, but what I have seen makes me very sad. Although I see a smile on the face of the parents after the birth of their first child, a girl, their disappointment is hard to conceal. A heartfelt tussle of thoughts of young parents at the birth of their child is worth mentioning here. If it is a boy, the parents are very happy looking at the small miracle. This is not always the case when the firstborn is a girl.
I have noticed over the years the expressions of different people to the birth of a baby girl. Even when the parents are mentally prepared to accept the consequences (whatever they may be) with a smile, there is still a hint of disappointment in their smile when a girl is born. It’s another thing that the girl wins over parents’ hearts in due course. This phenomenon has compelled me to think about it time and again.
Name v money
The more I think about it the more I am intrigued and a question constantly bugs me: why is it so? I have questioned myself at different times at different stages of my life and come up with totally different answers every time. Perhaps the reason that “a boy carries the family’s name, and a girl carries the family’s money when she gets married” is the dominating thought, one never knows! Whatever the case, do not think of our daughters as a burden. After all she is your child.
Although I think this practice is still prevalent in rural Nepal, the silent response of an educated mother is more compelling. While the father might still be thinking about carrying the family’s name, the mother silently radiates her response, “So what? I am a woman too! How would you carry your name had I been a man and not a woman?” To me it’s an interesting question. I don’t think even men would appreciate a world without females.
Having said so, I still see young parents torn at the birth of a girl child. At least in the modern setting they understand the concept of gender equality. Still a mother feels disappointed at having birthed a girl child, for the sake of the family. She feels a little sorry for the little baby girl, because despite her efforts to raise her daughter as a son, the society is bound to be an obstacle and she will have to show her determination and not be swayed by what people say.
That is important to break the cycle of male dominance and inequality and to eventually raise her daughter’s status in the society. Inequalities still remain and not everything is just. Yet the mother smiles and promises to try and make it better for her little girl. Of course she will be constantly reminded that she birthed a girl child and her daughter will be constantly reminded that she is a girl and restrictions will start piling on by the day. I have come across many instances when a girl is constantly reminded of ‘being a girl’ and that she will be married off to another family one day. At this point I am reminded of my encounter with a nurse while birthing my eldest son.
Losing my senses
It so happened that when the nurse informed me that I had given birth to a boy, I told her that I had wanted a girl child. The nurse was livid and started yelling at me: ‘People die for a son and you stupid girl, you want a girl child? Get hold of your senses! You are lucky to have a boy! Today he is the only boy born, all the others were girls!’ Hearing her small speech I felt like laughing despite my condition. She turned out to be very old fashioned despite her being educated. She reminded me that the society, especially in the rural parts of Nepal, still views girls as someone else’s property. Time has stood still for those in the rural parts of Nepal and this is not something that has passed into memory. Female infanticide is still a big issue in those parts.
I agree with the statement that ‘Gender discrimination shadows women, from cradle to grave’. This is unfortunate but true in all societies, whether advanced ones or less advanced ones like ours. Parents, be careful and do not let your daughter feel that she is the unwanted member of your family. I appeal to you to not adhere to the unwritten law that states ‘girls should be seen not heard’. I know it is tempting to do so but do not tell them that they are pretty at an early age. They will learn that in due course. Please do not encourage them to dress up, or give them only dolls to play with.
Finally, parents, please make a point of mixing all kinds of toys. Let her decide what she wants to play with. Let her get engaged in all kinds of sports. My nephew’s daughter is nine years old and is a black belt in karate. Now, can you imagine a guy teasing her? In this world where girls need to be careful at every step, building their confidence and strength is essential. If you daughter wants to go swimming, or learn karate or judo, do not stop them, but rather encourage them. This will help develop their core strength. At the same time it will also teach them obedience, discipline, politeness and grace, while also making them strong and decisive. Now that is something you can give to your daughter, right parents?
The writer is an educationist and author of several children’s books firstname.lastname@example.org