A new Canadian Medical Journal study suggests there is a preference for boys over girls among Indian-born parents that has resulted in a deficit of more than 4,400 girls over two decades. I have recently spoken on the moral and ethical ramifications of sex-selective abortion and shared the story of my grandmother asking my father to leave my mother because she was having too many girls.
It was tough realizing that circumstances could have been very different for me. I may have never been born. The situation with sex-selective abortions has escalated to the point where, in 2012, the B.C. government sent a directive to provincially funded ultrasound clinics stating that gender information should not be released to patients. Some Ontario hospitals have implemented similar policies.
First I want to say, I am pro-choice. I do not presume to know what goes on in a woman's mind before she undergoes a sex-selective abortion. I don't want anyone to tell me what to do with my body and therefore, I don't want to tell another woman what she should or should not do. I'm not in her shoes and neither is she in mine. Since I feel this way, I think that a woman who is making a decision about sex-selective abortion should receive counselling to ensure that the decision is hers alone and she knows her options. Sometimes these mothers have a cultural barrier where in-laws or husbands are making decisions for them, or language barriers where they may not understand all of their rights or what is going on.
What about women like me, who are Indo-Canadian and want to know the sex of the baby to plan for the birth, name their child and prepare to welcome a new person into their family? Don't we have the right to have that option? What often happens in these types of situations is the whole cultural group of South Asian women gets painted by the same brush which is inaccurate and dangerous. Just like all women, there are many different family dynamics at play that make this issue quite varied.
My manji asked my dad to leave my mom since she was having too many girls.
I come from a family of five girls and one boy. Four siblings were born in India while my younger sister and I were born in Canada. Almost like two families in one. Growing up I noticed how my manji (grandmother -- my father's mother) treated my mom, and that their relationship was strained. What I didn't know was their history.
When my family lived in India, everyone lived under the same roof. My family lived with my thaiyas (uncle -- father's older brother) family. There were three girls and a boy for us and three boys and a girl for my thaiya. Needless to say, my thaiyee (aunt) was favoured and treated much better than my mother since she had more sons.
It was well-known that the status of the daughters-in-law in the family hierarchy was dependent on having boys. In fact, my manji asked my dad to leave my mom since she was having too many girls. My father refused. When my father eventually left India for Canada, my mother was pregnant with my older brother Binder. Unfortunately he died when he was almost two years old from SIDS. My dad never saw met him since he was already in Canada.
We have all heard the gossip and stories about a family being upset over the birth of a baby girl. This was so prevalent that I'm sure that most people in the South Asian community know someone who has had this happen. But we live in Canada and we as a generation have a lot more say in how the future looks than we give ourselves credit. Speak up and say that we need to support those that don't have a voice, regardless of whether it is a distant cousin or sister or aunt. Why does it matter if it's a girl or a boy that is born? In Canada, all children are provided the same opportunities regardless of gender.
It was lovely to participate about a year ago in the Pink Ladoos campaign that Nach Balliyee held to commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child. That day we gave out gifts to all the new moms and their babies, regardless of gender. But I will never forget one of the mothers. She was alone in her room with her own mother -- three generations of women -- grandmother, mother and daughter. All happy, healthy and smiling. Her husband was in India and she said she couldn't wait to call him and tell him about all the presents, balloons, prayers, dancing and the celebration on the birth of her baby girl. And she said, "Only in Canada would there be so much joy on the birth of a girl."
I guess my mom was right. I was meant to speak up and make more of a mark on our community as a strong, independent South Asian woman. And I plan to do just that. I hope women stop tearing each other down through silence and condemnation and start building one another up instead. We as women should rise up to help, support, encourage and learn from one another. After all, we are the future and if we keep looking forward, we can build one where we can all find a place for everyone!
Author: Kulbinder Saran Caldwell is a life coach, born in Canada and raised by parents who immigrated from India, now married to a supportive Caucasian man. Through her website reallifewomen.ca, Kulbinder is also creating a community of strong, compassionate independent women who celebrate diversity and share her passion for equality.
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