“Men are physically stronger often and larger, but what does that matter when we have machines? Even when we don’t have machines, when we must dig with shovel or carry on the back, the men may work faster-the big ones-but the women work longer….Often I have wished I was as tough as a woman.”-The Dispossessed Dispossessed is an award winning science fiction novel set on another planet, among an alien species. The questions it tackles are as important today as they were when the book was first published in 1974. Ursulak Le Guin explores the class system and feminism in this classic novel. The discrepancies among the genders are not as bad as they used to be. Women can do anything today that a man can. Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that we will be judged as an uncivilized species if the report is based on how we treat majority of the women on this planet. Half of the human species is discriminated against. And according to infanticide and feticide rates across the globe it is done even before birth.
India and China alone make up a fair chunk of the world population therefore any ills affecting these two societies have a worldwide impact. Major minority groups in British Columbia consist of these two Asian populations. Currently there are less females than males in India. This is no accident. Daily females babies are murdered both after and before birth.
“No, no child is innocent. Especially not a girl-child. Why, men of every colour and creed find blame in girls for rains that come and don’t come, but mostly, men blame girls for living.” –What the Body Remembers
Instead of just blaming the girls, the Indians are killing them even before they are born with the help of technologies such as the ultrasound. Abortion is legal in India. Family planning and promotion of three or less children has managed to decrease the rate of population growth. Preference of a male over a female child is very prevalent. Parents look upon female babies as a financial burden. Due to dowry practice, a girl child is often not good for family finances. Moreover the parents of girls are expected to pay for the marriage ceremony. Families have been known to go bankrupt in the process of getting their daughters married. Females who have experienced adversity themselves due to their gender, prefer to kill off their daughters than to let them suffer the same fate. Girl children are generally regarded as a curse in India. In a society where female goddesses are still worshiped the living female is regarded as a bane from God.
“I do not need to understand words to know that he is disappointed I am not a boy. Some things need no translation. And I know, because my body remembers without the benefit of words, that men who do not welcome girl-babies will not treasure me as I grow to woman –though he calls me princess just because the Gurus told him to. I have come so far, I have borne so much pain and emptiness! But men have not changed.” - What the Body Remembers
The practice of killing young girls has long been recognized as a problem in India and China. Both are strongly patriarchal societies. Female infant mortality rate is 40% higher than male mortality rate in India. It is noted that female infants die more often of preventable diseases than male infants and female infants are less often immunized than male infants in a research study conducted by Dr Jha, whose research into premature mortality is partly funded by Canada’s Global Health Research Initiative (GHRI), a cooperative venture of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian International Development Agency, Health Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
It is illegal in India to use ultrasound tests to determine the gender of the fetus. Recently, a doctor and his assistant were sentenced to two years in jail for revealing the sex of the female fetus and then agreeing to abort it. This was the first conviction of its kind since India made it illegal to abort fetus based on sex in 1994. It has been estimated that over 10 million female fetuses have been terminated in India in the past 20 years. National sex ratio in India is 960 women per 1000 men. In Punjab, the Indian state from which most of the Indian community in Canada stems from, there are 882 females per 1000 males. With only one other state, Uttar Pradesh, having a lower female to male ratio.
Many different factors (for example, hormonal changes, exposure to Hepatitis B, even the father’s occupation) have been proposed as explanations. But Dr Jha says those factors could not account for such a huge gap, leaving the misuse of medical technology as the only credible explanation. Extrapolating the average of the 1997 figure to cover the period from 1985 to 2005 when ultrasound became available, Dr Jha and his colleagues calculate a cumulative deficit of 10 million females over those two decades. Reporting on their findings in the medical journal The Lancet in January 2006, the researchers say the cultural pressure to have at least one son is most strongly indicated by declining female birth rates in families where previous children have been girls. For example, the sex ratio for a second birth when the first child had been female was 759 females per 1 males. The ratio fell even more dramatically — to 719 females per 1 male births — in the case of third births when the previous children were female. - Stephen Dale, India's Missing Daughters.
Doctors in India can only do so much. The pressure on the medical community is tremendous to abort female fetuses. There have been cases of home conducted abortions gone array with both the mother and the baby succumbing to death. The medical profession is not perfect. Medicine is riddled with doctors motivated more by monetary gain than ethics. Henceforth even with laws in place to ban feticide, they continue. Doctors in India are calling for international help to prevent two million abortions they say are carried out each year because the unborn babies are female. The Indian Medical Association is urging international colleagues at the World Medical Association to support a campaign against female feticide and female infanticide to rid India of what it calls "this social evil".
The international medical community is responding. There are laws in place right here in BC which prevent individuals belonging to the Indian or the Chinese community from knowing the sex of their fetus. These laws are in place for a reason. Just because the Indians or the Chinese have moved from their home countries does not mean that the social biases they carry have been left behind. Women are being pressured into having boy children right here in BC and are blamed by the in laws if they fail to produce one.
So even if you don’t plan to kill your unborn baby just because it is a girl remember that there are at least a billion people in this world who do.
Even if you cannot plan the nursery décor because they didn’t tell you the sex of your unborn child, remember that some girls were given a chance at life because their parents were not told their sex.
Right here in Canada. Right here on East of Main.
M. Rao. 2005. The way the wind blows: population policies in India. In Gangolli, L.V.; Duggal, R.; and Shukla, A., ed. Review of Healthcare in India. (Mombai, India: Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes), pp 117-125.