“Oh, you gave birth to a son? Many congratulations, first child and a son.”
I was greeted with these remarks recently but this is not only my experience. It happens to many women in our society.
In our society, a son is preferred to a daughter. There is a belief that son retains father’s name and linage and passes it on. If a family only has a daughter, family name will die out and lineage will end, so goes the thinking. A son can be an heir to his father. They think a daughter cannot do this.
When a woman becomes pregnant the speculation begins whether she will have a male or a female child. When relatives come to visit they start predicting whether she will give birth to a son or a daughter based on glow of face skin. If you are pregnant and they know it they will tell you ‘may you have a son.’ Everyone in the family starts wondering, instead of praying for safe delivery and health of the mother and the child, whether she will give birth to a son or a daughter.
When a woman gives birth to a daughter she has to bear with a lot of criticisms. She has to face many questions.
Very few people are aware of the fact that a mother cannot chose the sex of the unborn. Biologically women have no role in determining the sex of the child. But our patriarchal society blames the women for this. Women in our society are harassed, even tortured, for giving birth to a daughter.
As a daughter (and now a mother) I always wonder when social mindset about son and daughter will change. Why should a woman feel embarrassed for giving birth to daughters? I have seen pregnant women worrying about whether they will be able to give birth to son. The woman whose first child is a daughter is literally haunted by this anxiety. “What if the second child will also be a daughter?” They keep thinking.
The one who gives birth to a son in second pregnancy feels lucky. My cousin who is expecting shared with me upon finding out the sex of the unborn “thank God, it’s the son this time.”
If this is what educated women in the metropolis think we can imagine the obsession for son in rural areas.
Discriminatory gender roles and social pressure have forced Nepali women to give birth to a number of daughters in hope of getting a son. With easy access to technology assisted sex identification, sex selective abortion is rising astronomically.
Some women just go on abortion spree, without caring for their health, until they conceive male child.
Where will this lead to?
According to United Nations Population Fund more than 117 million girls are “missing” in Asia due to sex selective abortions. Nepal is ranked 11th in imbalance of sex ratio at birth according to 2016 Asian Centre for Human Rights report.
Obsession for sons will lead to loss of millions of daughters, ultimately leading to an unusually high ratio of males over females.
This makes no sense at all. How is a son more important than a daughter? Is a daughter less human than a son? Doesn’t a daughter have the ability to grow and progress? Can’t she become a successful person? Is the daughter not your offspring? What is so special that parents gain from a son that the daughter cannot provide? The world has changed, so have the gender roles. But our society is still forcing women to give birth to a son. If daughters are given equal opportunities and provided education, they will be capable of handling not only their family matters but also guide the society.
Women have served as business leaders and politicians in the world. Out of world’s 100 most powerful women listed by Forbes this year, top three most powerful politicians are women: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. Eleven heads of state, including Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, have also been listed by Forbes. Women have made a mark in business, entrepreneurship and social sector as well.
There is a notion in Nepal that it is the duty of a son to look after their parents. But sons have failed to fulfill this responsibility. Elderly people these days suffer from separation and loneliness. They are neglected by their own children, mostly sons.
This is why conscious citizens have started to desire for girl children. A baby girl today is welcomed happily. There are examples of some couple having only child: a daughter. Daughters have started to perform death rituals for their parents as well.
But discrimination against a daughter starts even before she is born. We have failed to provide her security even inside her mother’s womb.
We must understand that we all are equally unique. A son may be more able than a daughter in one respect and vice versa. But we need each other. It takes both males and females to create life. All children are a blessing and a gift from God.
This is not to say Nepali society is still dogmatic in terms of daughters. Things are slowly changing. But to break all the stereotypes and change the established social mindset, we need to prove through actions than daughters are no less than sons.
We need to create equal opportunities for daughters. There is a need of policy improvement in women’s education and empowerment. Most importantly, we need to raise awareness about importance of daughters in the society.
The author is advocacy coordinator at Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Centre (KIRDARC) Nepal