Girl Power

I have, at various times, felt discouraged, enraged, inquisitive, and baffled by the attitude of many Indian cultures towards girls. Being the second girl in a first generation Punjabi family gave me some firsthand experience in this matter. I used to resent the fact that I was without baby pictures for the first months of my infancy, because my family was just not happy with yet another female in the family. They were in contrast so extremely happy when my younger brother was born. But today I realize that this process of unhappiness and disappointment at the birth of a female is spread throughout our culture- it wasn`t personal, it was societal. I feel slightly vindicated today when my mom expresses how proud she is of all of her children, and of how liberal her views have grown in favour of female strength and rights. Yet she is still the first person to comment on how she hopes my married cousin in India would give birth to a boy first, because it would make her life easier in her family. Sometimes she tells me it`s ok if I only have girls in my future, everything will still be ok. Leaving me thinking- why does that even need to be said? Why does a family who has all female children even need reassurance? Like it`s some kind of stigma that we are trying to get over, slowly and surely.

Even in this enlightened age and country where women have equality and rights in the eyes of the law and government our culture has a stronger influence about the way we view women in a family than all of the historical and current evidence that shows women are just as strong, intelligent, successful, and able as men- if not more. The argument used to be that a son was more favorable than a daughter, simply because a son had opportunities for employment, income, and rights within society to protect and nurture their family, which a daughter did not have. But in today`s day and age women have these opportunities as well- whether they are allowed to accept or even acknowledge them is a whole different issue. But it doesn`t seem to matter. There is also the fear of dowry, a system which I can only hope is close to extinction here in North America but although it is illegal in India it still occurs. There is a declining sex ratio (929 women for every 1000 men) in India (Karlekar, M., 1995) but still families continue to conduct foeticide and gendercide against girls. I ask myself why it is so difficult for Indian families to recognize the value of a female when it seems so apparent to me. Why are mothers still crying when they find out they are pregnant or have delivered a girl? Why are couples getting ultrasounds to determine the sex of their child, only to decide on an abortion when they see it is a girl? And then I realize that perhaps the solution lies within our women.

I see mothers suppressing daughters more often than I see fathers doing it. Mothers are the ones teaching daughters how to behave- how to be appropriate in society, how to deal with conflict, how to be a `good girl`. Mothers are the first to cry about a female pregnancy, and to tell their pregnant daughters or daughters-in-law how important sons are for the family, to carry the family name forward. Perhaps they are trying to protect future girls from the lives they have had to live, full of repression and lower standings within society. Or perhaps they are viewing the worth of a female from their own limited perspectives which are largely influenced by how they have lived within and been treated by their generation. They don`t understand the full potential of `girl power` because they have never recognized their own. If there were more education, more visible examples and more open dialogue about the consequences of gendercide, the success of females in our society and more empowerment of our older generations, could these women`s attitudes be changed? Could they then by proxy change the attitudes of the world? I think if we truly believe in girl power, the only answer to the latter questions can be yes.

p.s. For a compelling read on gendercide and foeticide see: Malavika Karlekar, "The girl child in India: does she have any rights?," Canadian Woman Studies, March 1995.