The Sex-Selection Conundrum

The act of Sex Selection is linked to Gender Justice and needs to be understood within this framework. The ‘missing girl phenomenon’ pointed out by Amartya Sen in 2001 constitutes a spectrum from pre- natal selection to neglect, infanticide and neglect.

Many parts of India have historically been known to have adverse sex ratio; lack of technology did not hinder the death of a girl child. Thus, it is incorrect to be blaming technology for the given state of affairs. Girls being unwanted is a much deeper issue embedded in the socio-economic and political structures of the practicing society. Sex ratio imbalances are marked by cultural consistency and one needs to unpack and understand the dipping sex ratios found across established terrains of peasantry, ethnic groups, time and space. For instance in Haryana and Punjab much of the ideology around son preference is embedded in the agrarian nature of its economy, which has maintained and sustained a culture of discrimination against girls. Similarly, this society is also known to practice strict rules of caste endogamy, there is a lot of emphasis put on chastity of females which is seen attached to family honor. It is feared that she might bring disrespect to the family by marrying outside the caste (esp. lower caste), it is therefore thought better to avoid a female child than risk the family honor. Female deselection or dis-preference has to be seen in the larger context of discrimination against women and girls. It is neither new nor confined to particular regions, population or situations. Much of the interventions being made target technology or focus on legal apparatus, which are often victim-perpetrator targeted.

In more than 20 years of the PCPNDT law being in place, no progress has been witnessed in the child sex ratio of the country and according to the 2011 census child sex ratio further dropped to 919 girls from 927 (2001) for every 1000 boys. The 2011 census indicates the inadequacy of the existing approaches and underscore the need for a more nuanced and theoretical understanding of sociocultural and political processes, which bring about this phenomenon and legitimize it.

What needs to be understood here is that sex ratio is only one of the many dimensions of gender discrimination and should not be addressed in isolation. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development the world agreed that population is not about numbers, but about people and that every person counts. The ICPD also emphasized a positive correlation between empowerment of women and poverty eradication and stabilization of population growth. We like to believe that since ICPD this understanding has informed our policies and programs and we have moved beyond numbers, however when it comes to sex selection we are again increasingly focusing on numbers.

We need to consider that we are constantly obsessing over sex ratio and increasing the number of girls being born – but what about the quality of life of these girls once they are born? The neglect and discrimination these girls go through after being born? Are we able to provide for minimum standards for living for these girls?

In order to bring about a fundamental shift in the situation of “missing girls” a change in the societal fabric is critical and unless we start investing in building capacity of the girl child and creating an enabling environment no sustainable change is possible. We need to move away from glib empowerment approaches such as “Beti Bachao” and conditional cash transfer schemes and move towards working on women’s empowerment through a more holistic approach based on human rights, dignity, freedom of choice, gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights.

Law, coercive policy measures and criminalization may produce immediate tangible results but are not be the best route for sustainable social change. Law can be a means to an end but cannot become an end in itself.

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About Garima Shrivastava

Proud Feminist, researcher and activist and holds an MPhil in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Through her work, she has combined her theoretical understanding on gender issues with activism in the field of women rights. Garima has vast experience of working with youth groups and youth led campaigns and retains in-depth understanding of women’s health and reproductive rights, socio-political, economic and ecological issues affecting the sub-region.
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