“It’s okay if I don’t have a son. My daughters are my sons!”
These were the words of a teary-eyed Samina, the housemaid in my grandparents’ home in Pakistan. Samina is a spirited young mother of two beautiful girls. Her husband disowned her and their daughters to remarry, as Samina was unable to “give him a son.”
When Samina gave birth to her second daughter, she was threatened by her husband and the rest of her family to give the baby girl away, in an attempt to salvage her marriage. Infuriated by this suggestion, she blatantly refused, telling them she was not distributing daughters out for free.
This attitude gained her the wrath of her in-laws, along with abandonment from her husband.
Samina was not allowed to complete her education beyond elementary school and was married off at a very young age to her much older husband. Following desertion from her husband, she was left with no choice but to work as a laborer for a minimum wage to provide for her children.
Her husband sold all her valuables and stole every penny she saved for her daughters, only to spend the money on his son from his second marriage.
Unfortunately, not only Pakistan, but all of South Asia is abundant with women like Samina, but perhaps there are even more people like her husband.
An extremely common misconception is when the woman is blamed for the child’s sex, but biologically, the male parent is the primary determinant of the sex. Unfortunately, this misconception is not limited to the uneducated, as numerous educated people consider the woman is to “blame” when she is carrying a daughter instead of a son.
Oftentimes, women carrying a son are cared for a lot more, in comparison to women pregnant with a daughter.
Now, in the case in which a woman gives birth to multiple daughters, like Samina, she often fears mistreatment from her husband and her in-laws, and in various cases, the remarriage of her husband and divorce. In some cases, women are also brutally murdered for giving birth to a girl child.
Even in contemporary society, female infanticide and sex-specific abortions are outrageously common in various parts of the world, such as China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, even if the female children are not killed, they are often neglected, leading to a rise in their mortality. The United Nations Development Programme in 2007 reported 6.1 million missing women in Pakistan, 3.2 million in Bangladesh and 42.7 million in India.
The term “missing women” is given to females who have died due to the discriminative distribution of health resources.
More recently, in 2012, the United Nations declared India was the deadliest country for the girl child.
In fact, until recently, in India, there were several billboards with statements like, “pay 500 rupees now rather than 500,000 later.” Hence, encouraging expectant parents to opt female feticide, rather than having to pay a costly dowry later on.
Likewise, in Pakistan, the Edhi Foundation reported that out of the thousands of unwanted children who were killed and dumped into the trash, left only to be mutilated by wild animals, the majority of them were baby girls.
Why is there such an obsession with the male child in South Asia?
Why is the birth of a male child celebrated with pride, but the birth of a girl child is considered a curse to the family?
According to the director of Plan India, Bhagyashri Dengle, “Girls are seen as property which belongs to somebody else. So people see that as a waste of money investing in the education of a girl and when the girl gets married, the families have to pay heavy dowry.”
Generally, there is a belief that whereas sons are a financial asset which will provide for the parents in their old age, daughters are a financial liability. This pattern of male preference is not solely limited to the rural areas and is also prevalent in urban societies. This patriarchal mentality is deeply embedded in our society, and this mentality is toxic.
Samina is just one of the millions of girls who fall victim to this mentality.
It is commendable, however, that the governments of the South Asian countries have launched several programs, in an attempt to bring attention to this issue, as well as to empower women.
There has been significant improvement, but we still have an incredibly long way to go. We need to work to empower, educate and protect women.
To Samina, all I want to say is, no!
Your daughters are not your sons. They’re your daughters and they are as equal a blessing as a son. Their extra X chromosome doesn’t diminish their worth. I believe if we don’t raise our voice against the problem, we become a part of the problem.
Every woman has the potential to do incredible things, if given an opportunity, an equal opportunity, to do so.