|Year : 2007 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 173-174
Gender issues: Why I was not born as a son?
Arun K Aggarwal1, Neeru Gupta2
1 Department of Community Medicine, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India
2 Health Services, Haryana, India
|Date of Submission||22-Sep-2006|
|Date of Acceptance||14-Sep-2007|
Arun K Aggarwal
Department of Community Medicine, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh - 160 012
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Aggarwal AK, Gupta N. Gender issues: Why I was not born as a son?. Indian J Community Med 2007;32:173-4
Female foeticide and declining sex ratio indicate female oppression in India.  Will Legal Action or Public Health Education alone resolve the issue? or Is there need of additional support systems to address the problem?
Obsession for son is prevalent in all income groups, education groups irrespective of caste and creed. , Why there is obsession for son? Continuation of family lineage, performance of certain religious and social functions, performance of last rites, and expectation to provide financial, emotional and social support at old age are some of the factors.  Hard tasks like ploughing in fields are very difficult for females, and sons are important assets in such situations. Who will look after them when the parents loose their strength with age? Things are no different for service-class retired people in urban areas.
Gender disparities exist throughout the life cycle of the individual from birth to death. At the birth of boy, whole family is excited and jubilant, and sweets are distributed. Birth attendants get handsome rewards. Eunuchs come, dance and celebrate. But, at the birth of girl, even Eunuchs do not come to celebrate. There is overall atmosphere of gloom generally, especially if it is second or subsequent girl child. If the girl survives, then there is discrimination for nutrition, education, recreational activities and for getting medical aid. They play girlish games and perform girlish tasks within the family. Those from low socioeconomic families have to do domestic work to earn their livelihood. Unwanted girl children are left to die. Shehnaz (changed name), belonging a low socioeconomic family of rural area, had severe malnutrition. She was fourth in the birth order with two elder brothers and one sister. Mother did not take any action to feed the baby as she was an unwanted baby. Community volunteers fed Shehnaz twice a day to save her. However, there are many more Shehnazs who are dying everyday due to gender disparities. What can we do as a society and as a system to minimize this?
Marriage is next important milestone in life. To what an extent freedom is given to girls for match selection? Girl has to show up in different dresses, demonstrate her gait and exhibit her cooking and art/craft skills etc. Why all this is not applicable to boys? Boy may look ugly, may not have even good qualification, but if his parents have good money or property then it is sufficient qualification. For girls, all parameters are different. Many a times, the girl is rejected if she has no brother. It is said that in the absence of brother, who may look after the groom in in-laws house?
After marriages, plight of women's status is not better. Working ladies have to perform dual role - Job tasks and household chores. On reaching home from job, she is expected to entertain and serve the in-laws family, while others will sit/relax and have fun. She cannot afford to take rest even during illness. For seeking health care also, women have to seek permission from their family. They do not have any say in the financial matters of the family. Whatever they earn, they just handover it to their family. Moreover, this happens irrespective of the education status of women. A post-graduate lady doctor 'Ameena' (changed name) despite earning handsome salary in government job cannot spend money even for her own personal clothes. She has to perform housework in joint family and is not permitted to engage maids. Administration also keeps on rotating her duties at different time shifts and locations as there is shortage of medical officers in the state. Thus important question is that, what reforms can be introduced in the system to make work conditions conducive and comfortable for women?
Abuse and violence against women is another important dimension of this gender problem. The issues of marital disharmony, polygamy leading to divorce is becoming very common. Women suffer and tolerate tortures silently. In our society, the support system for such women is not very effective and accessible. Women do not take daring steps of divorce because husband's name matter a lot to protect them from the lusty eyes of society. Divorced or widowed lady is viewed as available to everyone. Ram Kali's (changed name) was married to a drunkard who had relation with some other women. She suffered all torments and tortures of her husband. She could not take divorce because of her girl child. Her daughter as well as her husband died. She forgoed her entitlement of job in place of her husband and got her son adjusted. Today her son and daughter-in-law are not willing to keep her despite the fact that she is economically independent and useful active member.
Thus gender disparities exist despite educational status and financial independence. Our system as a whole is inadequate and insufficient to deal with the problem . Greater economic independence may be associated with greater violence at least for short term.  It also reflects that our society is still culturally very conservative, as in the more culturally conservative area, higher individual-level women's autonomy and short-term income generation and saving activities were both associated with significantly elevated risks of violence. 
Agony continues in old age. Mr. Jain's (changed name) family is a physically handicapped family of three members. He can barely move within the house. Mrs. Jain developed paralysis, had speech impairment and became emotionally volatile. One daughter is Mongoloid and another one is married. This educated and well-aware family never attempted to beget a male child, an ideal situation all of us want to create. However, at this stage, they are financially, socially and emotionally deprived. Their monthly expense on various items like medical treatment (non-reimbursable), cost of 24-hour servant is 3-4 times the monthly pension that they get. They will not accept any financial help from her married daughter. How can this family bear huge monthly expense? All offices like Banks, Post offices, Pension offices demand that Mr. Jain should come personally for identification verifications. What will happen if they develop any problem at night, if daughter is living in a different city? None of them will be able to telephone even.!! They also require someone to talk to and share their feelings, as emotional volatility has created conflicts between husband and wife at this age and stage. What social, financial and administrative support is available to these elderly, who decided not to fall in rat race of son?
I will not be surprized therefore if Shehnaz, or Ameena or Ram Kali develop this feeling that 'Kash main ladka hoti?'(wish I was a boy!) or Mr. Jain develops this feeling at this stage that 'Kash mere ladka hota' (wish I had a son!)
Gender issues are therefore very deep rooted and affect all age groups and societal group. We have to perform gender analysis to systematically study the roles and relations, the processes that focus on the imbalance of power, wealth, workload opportunities and constraints as experienced by men and women, identify gender gaps and chalk out strategies to bridge the gaps. With education and legislation strong support systems should be in place. Otherwise people will keep on aspiring for son and gender gap will remain. Administration especially in urban areas should formulate area-specific integrated teams that is available and accessible to these elderly, can provide domiciliary routine health care services, facilitate in getting medicines etc., provide physiotherapy and rehabilitation services if required and most importantly talk to them for psycho-social counselling. Official procedures should be simplified so that elderly are not forced to move out for official verifications. Medical fraternity should be sensitized such that they understand the specific needs of women and elderly and provide them graceful official work atmosphere. Women empowerment should begin from home. We should stop distinguishing between the roles of girls and boys right from the beginning. Children observe parents for their interpersonal relationships and roles. If current generation of young parents get determined, they can bring change in the next generation by acting as role models. This all can supplement the practical implementation of PNDT act and educational efforts in terms of sensitizing the communities, and providing educational support to girls by providing uniforms, books and financial aid to girl children. Property rights to women can also go a long way in empowering women and would prove to be useful strategy in long term.
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