A harrowing reality of son preference

Published: 00:00, Feb 17,2020


A WOMAN killing her newborn girl shows the harrowing reality of gender inequality. In the face of unbearable torture and abuse from her husband and in-laws for giving birth to a girl three consecutive times, a woman in Rangpur on Saturday killed her 53-day-old daughter by drowning her in a water drum and landed in police custody. The incident made visible the preference for male child and unjust blame that women carry for carrying a girl child in patriarchal families. There are reported instances in which men have killed their wife or the girl for the same reason. In July 2017, a man in Narayanganj burnt his nine-month-old daughter alive as he wanted a son and was enraged at the birth of a girl. In 2019, a Dhaka University population science department study showed, while 60 per cent of married women wanted healthy child irrespective of gender, 28 per cent married women preferred a male child. A son preference may not be as prevalent as it is in other neighbouring countries, but it is still a reality that warrants government attention.

Rights activists and feminist scholars have seen ‘son preference’ as a clear affirmation of the fact that gender determines women’s economic worth or political significance in society. Men are seen as the provider of a household and protector of family inheritance. This patriarchal assumption that women are economically burdensome provides men with ideological ammunition to devalue girl child and blame women for carrying a girl child. Such scholarly pursuits are not empirically unfounded as women are still not granted equal share of inheritance. Marriage registration, rights to resources and property, guardianship and adoption are defined under separate family laws followed by separate religious communities. For example, Muslim women are entitled to inheritance although not as equally as their male counterparts are while Hindu women do not have any right to inheritance. As a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Bangladesh is bound to put the provisions into practice. But successive governments have maintained reservations about two CEDAW articles. The unequal laws create grounds for son preference and different forms of domestic violence. Without addressing the structural inequality that women face in society, it will not, therefore, be possible to end son preference.

It will be mistaken to consider the death of the child outside the larger structure of oppression against women. For any real chance at justice for the child in question, the government must attend to the legal and policy level inequality that views women as economically burdensome. In doing so, it must amend the inheritance law granting women equal access, abolish unequal wage for women in the informal sector and withdraw its reservations about the CEDAW articles to establish gender equality.

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