Female infanticide: it’s getting worse, not better

From day one, there is a comparative moroseness about a female child. It is seen in many societies as a burden while a son is seen as a gift


Bikram Vohra | November 27, 2014

GN Photo

Ever seen an eagle turf an eaglet out of the nest purely because it was of the feminine gender? Heard of a cheetah who refused to teach his daughter how to run and hunt because he was too busy teaching his sons? Perhaps Lassie refusing the female puppies in her litter a bone because the boys have first shot at it. Think about it. It deserves thought. No other living species makes a sexist difference in the privileges it accords to its progeny or dispenses these on two separate planes depending on whether the offspring is male or female. Only the human race. You think Mummy Salmon and Dad look at their thirty thousand eggs and hope that 95 percent of them are males.

The animal world has no time for such prejudice. Birds, bees, insects, none of them make any differentiation at all in the growing process. The human social order seems to demand it. Distinct priorities are established from the day of birth, even if it is just pink and blue booties. But things get a lot more insidious down the line or up the years, as the system gives more than just a leading edge to the male sibling.

From day one, there is a comparative moroseness about a female child. It is seen in many societies as a burden while a son is seen as a gift.

The irony is that several surveys done show the daughter is more likely to care and be there for ageing parents than the son but even that evidence does not seem to matter.

Even today, in this hi-tech age people tend to mumble an apology if you say you have only daughters and no sons. There is a kind of an embarrassed pause as the person tries to recover lost ground.

Taking it a step further the parents of the daughters now have to mumble back their defence as if a defence is required. But we are creatures of habit and the convoluted explanation of how delighted they are with girls is often a giveaway and rather pathetic.

Men have been good teachers and have taught women well the pleasures of self-denial. Which is why most of the time men so easily presume they know much better what is good for the woman than she does for herself.

Let’s start at the very beginning. That is a good place to start. This is a Unicef report. “Where there is a clear economic or cultural preference for sons, the misuse of [pregnancy diagnostic tools] can facilitate female feticide.” This means that in parts of the world, like China, parents will abort their child or put the child up for adoption on the basis that it’s a girl. In India a girl child’s birth is met with stony silence and despair because it is a financial burden and no one whispers congratulations. It is common for men to abandon wives who produce only daughters. So insidious is the brainwashing that there are parents of fairly middle class origin who think educating women is wasteful.

It is so blatant that one is not even shocked when you read official reports like this one from the World Bank: As high as 70% of 1.2 billion people living in poverty are women. Women do most of the work in the world, yet they own less than 1% of the world’s property and are taken advantage of daily. 

A global report called from ‘Cradle to CEO’ talks about gender discrimination with rare eloquence. Studies show that teachers still give more time and attention in math and science to boys, while giving more to girls in language arts. Since math and science are vital skills for many male-dominated professions, like medicine, engineering, and architecture, does this encourage little girls to focus on other areas of learning? The divergence in academic path girls and boys choose after elementary would seem to indicate, yes. In middle and high school, girls are more likely than boys to be discouraged from participating in sports, and clubs like debate, math, and science. But girls are more likely to be encouraged to participate in after school volunteer work, social programs, and more passive activities.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon made this observation in 2009 at the Oneworld conference in Rio (not that many people heard him): “In too many countries, women are still not seen as equals in the eye of the law or the minds of men and boys. No country and no culture has fully escaped this prejudice. Men must teach each others that real men do not violate or oppress women – and that a woman’s place is not just in the home or the field, but in schools and offices and boardrooms.”

How many of us know that in 2007 a global campaign was launched for an eight-year period and is still on with a simple charter: UNite to End Violence against Women” campaign – a multi-year effort aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

Stretching from 2008 to 2015, the campaign calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system to work to end this global scourge.

Does all this mean we have to accept that the animal and insect world is more sophisticated than we are in that it has a higher order of development and acceptance when it comes to the sex of the progeny?

For many societies the end goal for a girl is marriage. That event is seen as a lifting of the burden even if the thinly disguised bribe of dowry means a life of debt.

That relief is now replaced by male prejudice. How many marriages have taken the strain of both partners being successful in their work, even when the disciplines are non-competitive? They try, they work hard and what happens? The training of infancy manifests itself and the male cannot easily absorb what he sees as a threat. The moment the mother/wife role gets blurred, the male loses his perspective. He has no point of reference and becomes a bigger victim of the bias of child than the woman. He cannot yet accept his wife soaring higher than him. He cannot allow his ego to be so bruised. Women are threatening if they are successful.

The eagle does not have that problem. Neither does the rabbit, the elephant or the crocodile. And in most primates the smaller sized female is the dominant partner.

Hmmmmmm, now that is a thought.



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