Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Gender

One of the middle-school teachers—Christine—is pregnant, much to the excitement of the general Woodstock community which loves nothing more than small children to adore. We’ve got two right now, just a few weeks apart, but they’ll be growing into the walking and talking phase soon so everyone’s eager for a new small person to carry around and snuggle.

Talking with Christine about her doctor’s appointments paints a very informative picture of the typical Indian view of the relative importance of the two genders. Christine went in for her first ultrasound last week. All’s well, but what’s interesting is that in India they won’t tell you the gender of your baby before it’s born. They fear, and with good reason, that the majority of families who find themselves pregnant with girls will terminate the pregnancy. And my doctor friend has confirmed this. She’s the ob-gyn at the local hospital and one of the things she does with alarming frequency is sterilizations for women who’ve had as many children as they can support and too many abortions to go through any more. It’s really sad.

I also learned that at the hospital, the doctors have to be constantly vigilant against accusations of switched babies. Families will claim that the hospital switched their little boy for a little girl unless preventative measures are taken. These measures sometimes take the form of refusing to cut the umbilical cord until the family acknowledges that the child is a girl!

It’s absolutely astounding and just so heartbreaking. If that’s the value given to girls from birth, it’s no wonder by the time they get married their greatest worth is in their dowry and some men are perfectly willing to kill for it. The international visibility of bride-burning and other dowry killings has gone down in recent years, I think, as the government has been attempting to clamp down on it. But the problem isn’t gone and it seems to be just the most violent manifestation of a wide-spread cultural devaluation of women.