“Son Preference and Gender Discrimination”- A Paper Presentation

On 3rd and 4th Feb 2016, Ms Prajakta Neelkanth attended a National Seminar entitled “Son Preference in India: A Patriarchal Legacy: Socio-Economic and Socio – Cultural Perspectives”, arranged by Women’s Studies Research Centre, University of Kolkata, and supported by ICSSR. She presented her paper on”SON PREFERENCE AND GENDER DISCRIMINATION”

In her paper, she discusses the relationship between son preference and extreme forms of gender discrimination. She talks about how various social institutions define these practices, and what are the implications of gender discrimination.


In terms of social institutions, she discusses home, education system, religion and media as being key to shaping these practices of son preference and gender discrimination.

1. Home is the first institution of our lives, and sons are preferred by the parents for various reasons. They are considered to be the carriers of family lineage. On the other hand girls are supposed to drain the family resources through dowry. Thus an advantage is given to the sons, in food, medical care and education, among other things. Traditionally this mentality has caused discrimination against girls, and their needs of nutrition, education and economic independence are often ignored.

2. Education of sons is supposed to be more important as they are considered to be the breadwinners. On the other hand the girls are supposed to learn the household chores, they are trained to be nurturers, care givers. In case of limited resources, the boys are send to better schools and colleges compromising girl’s education. Many times their education is altogether stopped to help their mothers who work outside to support family income.

3. In religious matters sons are the major stake holders in performing all religious rites and rituals followed by the family and community. Daughter’s position is considered to be less important and only secondary performer in religious matters. Girls and women are also termed to be inauspicious due to their monthly cycles. During this period they are not allowed to perform any rituals and prohibited to enter in the temple.

4. In modern life media plays an important role in influencing and shaping views of society on various matters. The electronic and print media have a wide reach in all corners of our country. Media informs, entertains, educates, influences people. On one hand, media is helping to create awareness and in building movement against gender discrimination. On the other hand, it indulges in commodification of women for selling products.

The paper also discusses the implications of these discriminatory notions on health, education and crime against women.

1. The dwindling sex ratio clearly indicate that son preference has caused elimination of millions of girls through sex selective abortions. Under nutrition and malnutrition in children is still a major issue in India, and girls suffer more owing to their monthly cycles, multiple pregnancies and number of hours they invest in hard labour. Early and forced marriages has been a major cause behind maternal deaths, stillborn children, malnourished children and severe stunting in children. High rates of early marriage among girls indicate the tendency of parents to get rid of the burden of their daughters. Women have lower BMIs and are more often than not anemic. All these health indicators expose a glaring truth that early marriages are taking a heavy toll on undernourished/malnourished young women and their children. Though there is steady decline in proportion of women (age 20-24) marrying before legal minimum age, this decline is very slow.

2. Even when educated, girls are usually not encouraged to go beyond secondary education. Dropout rates among girls become high due to various reasons like discrimination at school, distance of school from village, lack of sanitation in schools, sibling care, household chores, limited family resources, lack of mobility and social customs. Social security is a cause of concern for most of the parents. Girls are not sent to schools due to security reasons. Lack of higher education not only affects their financial independence and health but also on their abilities and their participation in decision making process.

3. Crime against women- Sex selective abortions, infanticides, eve teasing, domestic violence, rapes and sexual harassment at work place- all gender based crimes cast a heavy shadow on women’s lives. As per NCRB data 2014, out of total reported crimes, 56.3% are committed against women whereas charge sheets are filed in 91% cases and conviction rate is only 21.3%. Here acts of domestic violence are not considered. Domestic violence is the most common crime committed against women which is grossly underreported (64% women face it in their lifetime NFHS III). The low conviction rate, harassment at police stations and courts deters most of the women from reporting the crimes. The roots of such gender based violence are found in social conditioning, and the higher status given to boys and men. It has been estimated that by 2020 India will have an extra 28 million men of marriageable age. The social impact of such an imbalance is unprecedented.

The paper finally says that while the preference for sons is still there in the mind sets of people, the gender discrimination associated with it is certainly going down. It’s also observed that merely making policies focused on curbing sex selective abortions will not suffice. More efforts are needed on enforcing women’s reproductive rights. While we have succeeded in bringing down the maternal mortality rate at 167(2011-13) from 301(2001-03), continuous sex selective abortions and other complications go mostly undocumented. Addressing gender based sex selection requires collective and collaborative efforts. Similarly more men and boys should be engaged in bringing gender equality in society through their active involvement like taking overall responsibility of taking contraceptives, dissuading each other from sex detection, joint registration of property etc. Making 33% reservations for women in Parliament will bring more women at the top policy making body of the nation.

Ms Prajakta ends her paper by saying that the issue of son preference is a social issue and change in mind set is a slow process, which needs sustained efforts by all stakeholders.

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