The status of women in most 'third world' and developing countries remains a cause for concern. Why do we have such a preference for a male child? What is it that a male child provides parents with, that a female child cannot?
Many parents have a mistaken belief that the male child will be a support for parents in the old age. The government has tried to counter this mindset by providing more means of social security to the elderly, but such schemes only target the educated urban population, not the rural villager. Thus, parents still look upon their children as a main source of support in their old age. They fail to realise that daughters, if well brought up and educated, can also be a great support to their parents - not just financially, but emotionally as well. When parents fall ill, who is more likely to look after them? A daughter or a son? Who can parents expect more love and companionship from? A son, a daughter-in-law or a daughter? When a mother wants to go shopping, buy a sari, a salwar kameez or a jewellery item, who does she go with, her son or her daughter?
It is believed that a daughter is only yours till the day she gets married, because she leaves the home and goes away. The son, however, lives with the parents for his entire life, providing them with companionship and support in their old age. The fact is that the reverse is true: a son is a son till he gets a wife, a daughter is a daughter till the end of your life.
The bias against daughters arises largely because of economic reasons. Sons are viewed as "social security" in areas where resources are scarce, avenues for savings limited, and public support for the elderly non-existent. Daughters, on the other hand, require large dowry payments at the time of marriage. In fact, one of the direct causes of the preference for the birth of a male child and the increasing cases of female infanticide is the dowry system. It is imperative that we abolish this evil which can only be achieved through education.
The preference of a girl child is mostly seen in India and China, and in these countries female infanticide is practiced on a large scale. Female infanticide is prevalent amongst the uneducated rural population of India, who live in extreme poverty, and this brutal practice reflects the low status accorded to women - especially in those countries with dominant 'patriarchal' societies. However, the abortion of a female foetus is a common practice in upper middle-class and wealthy urban Indian families as well. It is shameful to know that no other country in the world prevents a doctor from disclosing the sex of an unborn foetus, except India. Why? Because once parents get to know that they are carrying a girl child, many opt for an abortion. Even more deep-rooted is the perception that the woman is inferior to the man. This is a perception which runs through the mind of every Indian - educated or not and it is visible in every aspects of our culture. When the well-meaning aunt of a groom laughs and jokingly says "Aakhir hum ladke waale hai!" (After all, we're from the boy's side), or when the proud grandmother gifts her daughter-in-law diamond solitaire earrings on the birth of her grandson and a simple gold pendant on the birth of a granddaughter.
The next time you as a daughter expect your parents to bow down to your husband's wishes, or as a husband, if you expect timely 'gifts' from your in-laws, remember that you are only contributing to further strengthen the roots of this accursed evil.