The Breakthrough Voice 10th May, 2019

The Preference For Sons And The ‘Unwanted’ Girls of India.

The desire to have at least one male child has made India home to around 21 million unwanted girls. In spite of many awareness drives, parents in India continue to aspire to have boy,  a male child rather than a female child. The phenomenon is called ‘son meta-preference’ and there are certain patterns to this. Studies shows some families keep on producing children until they get the desired number of sons.   To get one son at least, parents give birth to number of ‘unwanted’ daughters.

Usually last sex of the child exhibits the practice of  ‘son meta preference syndrome’.For example, if the sex of the last child is male after many females, this shows the practice of son meta preference. Even if the last child is a boy after a mix of male and female children, this also exhibits the same thing. It means that the parents wanted a certain number of male children to complete the family.  Yes, ‘to complete the family’ means that girls cannot make a complete family. But interestingly, even by adding so many unwanted girls, the sex ratio still differs by as much as 943 per 1000 male child as per the 2011 census.

There are multiple issues around this –  from gender based discrimination to sexual harassment to trafficking and many more folds of it. But here I would like to highlight the other side of it which is not much discussed.

The world is changing and so are gender norms. There is a shift and as an optimistic person, I feel we should always reflect, talk about it or the entire story becomes one sided, and a single story cannot be the entire story.

There is a shift in the norm or should I say, behaviors towards these unwanted girls. These  little girls whose parents were praying, fasting, going to religious places or self-claimed doctors to be blessed with a baby boy but eventually blessed with a girl child …what do they do? How do  they react to the whole thing? When I started reflecting on this, it was not so difficult to see the change around.

There are parents, families who do love their daughters and  some even wish for girl children. They give her all the love and care she needs, rather is entitled. After the birth of a girl child, there is no looking for more boys or for a son who will carry their name. In these families’, girls  lives their lives to their full potential. As much as her parents can afford for health, education, opportunity, even the inheritance rights.

Fortunately, we have parents who were able to overcome the  social practice of son preference and refused to be an unwanted parent by discriminating between their own children. Our patriarchal society has traveled a long way to reach this stage, with many more miles to go. But acknowledging this change that breaks the norms, allows daughters to see the world is important.

This is a symbol of growing personal agency of women. She can now assert her reproductive right. She decides on her motherhood. The credit should also go to the men and the always-criticized mother-in-laws, who stand by the decision of women and welcome the girl with same warmth and love.

As per the DHS and NFHS Economic Survey 2018, published in The Economic Times, with regard to women and girls, there has been a 12% increase in decision making regarding their own health, 21% increase in earning more or equal to their husbands, 13% increase in education and other fields. However, data also shows a 1.7% decline in choice of contraception, and a  12% decline in workforce participation. But with the increase in education, health and the space to make decisions, there is hope for the future. There are plenty of schemes like “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”, “Sukanya Samridhi Yojna” making this change possible.

There are plenty of example to show the flip side of son meta-preference. The tech industry clearly shows that the boom in the women workforce  is in complete contrast to norm that says men are better at tech than women.

It is important to see these small but vital changes. These ‘unwanted’ girls are well educated and bread earners of their families. They carry forward their family’s name. In any field we look at now, we can see the shift. Think of women like Mary Kom, P.V Sindhu, Nirmala Sita Raman. Think of women who are in the Panchayat; some even become Sarpanch. Women are everywhere: in the force, cinema, literature, education. Women are also opting for male dominated fields, they are becoming  truck and cab drivers and firefighters. Nowadays, in Delhi roads we also see women e-rickshaw drivers and bus conductors. They’ve all came out to break the norm. They are all here to bend the norms. They all survived, lived their life and most important, are loved by their parents. Just look around!

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