Gender selection in the South Asian Community
Surrey, Vancouver, Nov. 28, 2012
Recently, I was invited to participate in the South Asian Women’s Health Symposium: Health of Mothers and Babies, held at Langara College in Vancouver. The symposium was sponsored jointly by Vancouver Coastal Health, Mosaic and Langara College. The main purpose was to discuss recently released report by the BC Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Perry Kendall: Health and Well-being of Women in British Columbia. The report identified that South Asian parents have higher number of male births than parents from some other cultures. It implied that some of the communities, including South Asians, tend to choose boys over girls. Here, it must be emphasized that South Asian community is not the only one doing this. Other communities such as the Chinese, Filipinos and others also seem to practice it up to some extent. Furthermore, it needs to be clarified that a large number of South Asian families have no gender bias and welcome both boys and girls. It is only a small segment who may be tempted to choose one over the other.
The symposium had a panel of three very well qualified guest speakers .Raminder Dosanjh, one of the founding members of the India Mahila Association(IMA), gave a historical background of the struggle of women in general and the South Asian women in particular in this province. She stated that IMA had a very difficult time in changing people’s attitude towards women and gender selection. Eventually, her organization was able to forge alliances with other likeminded organizations and became an agent of change. Mrs. Dosanjh was followed by Dr. Meena Dawar, Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health.
Dr. Dawar, with an array of charts and graphs, summarized the report’s findings. She stated that the male birth ratio is higher for a number of populations in BC. Quoting from the report, Dr. Dawar mentioned that for families in which the country of origin is India, the sex ratio of newborns is the highest at 111 boys for 100 girls. This compares to 106 boys to 100 girls for BC totals. To provide some context, this ratio reflects annual average of 1,507 boy births and 1,358 girl births to parents of Indian origin. Referring back to the report, Dr. Dawar mentioned that there is ample evidence that some new immigrants from India have a strong preference for sons. This may be due to the social and cultural considerations. However, there is every indication that these attitudes are changing especially in case of second and third generation Canadians of Indian heritage.Dr. Dawar was followed by Langara Nurse Educator Suki Grewal.
Mrs. Grewal related her years of experience in this area. She gave a number of examples of gender selection in India and expressed hope that these attitudes seem to be changing there as well. She shared the concerns expressed in Dr. Kendall’s report. Presentations by the panel members were followed by a very lively question and answer period and small group discussions. This symposium has brought into focus one of the major issues that the South Asian community has been deeply concerned about.
To its credit, the Indo-Canadian media has been doing an excellent job in creating awareness about this issue. Also, various organizations like The Girl Child and Mamta Foundation have been working hard in conveying the message that boys and girls should be accepted and respected equally. Celebrations like Mundey Kurri Di Lohri have been very effective in creating much needed awareness in the community. We need to change with the times. Gender bias is something we need to put behind us and move on. As a very hard working, generous and progressive community, we must rise above these rather outdated thinking about gender bias.
Canada has an excellent social safety net. Furthermore, in many cases the daughters are equally, if not more, involved in looking after their aging parents and grandparents. Let’s not forget that a child, regardless of his/her sex is a gift from God. We should be thankful for that and do our best in making that child a productive citizen.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)