How many times have we overheard this type of conversation taking place among friends and relatives of new mothers? The arrival of a male offspring often brings joy to the parents and relatives of said child, but on the flip side, there is still a palpable sense of disappointment when the newborn turns out to be female. You might think that times have changed and in today’s modern world, gender does not or should not have as much bearing as it did in the past. Sadly, this is not the case, as is made obvious by the various acts of gender discrimination that is prevalent in lot of places, particularly in countries like Nepal.
Generally, if a family already has a son or sons, they are not as concerned about the sex of the newborn, whereas if they have a girl or girls, then they are mostly anxious for a boy. As unfortunate as this is, this is the reality of the disparate values attributed to males and females in our culture.
This strong society-induced desire to have sons often leads women to opt for abortions after determining the sex of the fetus—that is, if it turns out to be a girl. The practice of terminating early pregnancy on the basis of the sex of the fetus is known as sex-selective abortion. It is invariably the female gender that is unwanted and eliminated in this process. This is more common in places like India, China, Vietnam and Nepal where society is staunchly patriarchal. In Nepal, it was following the legalisation of abortion in 2002 that sex-selective abortions seem to be rising in number.
Many factors such as economic, social, cultural and religious practices deem male offsprings to be more desirable than female ones in the traditional Nepali mindset. Men are considered to have more career opportunities, thereby believed to go on to be more financially stable than women in the future. Daughters, on the other hand, are treated as financial burdens, destined as they are to leave the parents’ house after marriage, sometimes even taking a dowry with them. And because sons are expected to carry on the family name and lineage, couples without a male offspring are often pressurised by family and society to produce a son. Many cultural traditions as well grant more authority to males. Poverty and illiteracy also contribute to this general discriminatory attitude.
The practice of gender selection and abortion of fetuses based on their sex should not be encouraged. However, this cannot be stopped just by making sex-selective termination illegal but by uprooting the cause of seeking such drastic action. Discrimination against female can only be put to a stop by revolutionising the structure of our society and the attitudes of the people around us. Males and females should be accepted as equals; women should be given equal opportunities in life such as equal employment, the same chances for education as men, which will ultimately raise the status of women to become at par with men. And at an individual level, parents should not be biased against female children; they should respect their right to be born just the same as male children.
Sex-selective abortion is one of the most controversial and challenging topics in
reproductive health. No doubt women should have the right to choose when and how
many children they have, but to undergo an abortion on the basis of gender is a different issue altogether.