Have you ever wondered why some people have an inkling towards sons as compared to daughters? I know it hurts. So today, I have decided to throw some light on some of the reasons for son preference in South Asia.
In most developing countries, parents have a preference for sons over daughters. This is known as Son’s Preference. The birth of a son is welcomed with celebration as an asset. Whereas a girl is seen as a liability, an economic drain.
According to an Asian proverb,” bringing up girls is like watering a neighbor’s garden”. Most societies show some degree of preference to sons though it is virtually undetectable. However, it has a very strong hold in East and South Asia and can be seen as a result of female mortality.
Let’s have a birds-eye view regarding the reasons for son preference. So let’s start.
The first reason for son preference is Economic reasons. The sons are perceived to have a higher net value as they can help on farms, provide support in old age, and offer economic help.
Whereas daughters have much less to offer and are believed to be an economic drain on the family. Factors that control this issue are poverty, dowry, and the need for support in old age.
In South Asia, the participation of women in the labor force is not only underestimated but they are also paid less thus increasing son preference.
Research indicates that this practice of discrimination is more common among the poor as compared to the rich. The hypothesis being that sharper resource constraint forces the poor to allocate more resources to the valued males.
In India, it has been revealed that the higher castes have more unbalance,sex ratios as compared to the lower castes.
Wars, famines raise the ratio of discrimination. People impoverished by crop failure, stress, loans,and poverty discriminate more heavily against girls.
The second reason for son preference is religious reasons. Religion too can at times lead to Gender discrimination. The sons perform religious duties. Islam is a moderate religion and has given many rights to women.
Yet, the role and position of a man are superior in Islam. The laws of inheritance, laws of Evidence, the Hudood Laws all indicate this fact.
Men in Pakistani society are allowed to participate in the Namaz-e- Janazah of an individual. This gives rise to the desire of having a son who will shoulder the Janazah of the parents. This practice applies to the Muslims in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh.
In India, all religious duties are performed by males. The burning of the deceased is also carried out by the firstborn son. Therefore religion plays a predominant role in son preference in South Asia.
The third reason for son preference in South Asia is Social reasons. The social position of women in the household in many families is of a vessel of procreation and the contribution to a domestic worker.
The value of the daughter who is added to the husband’s family is always considered low to the parents. Though an adult woman has a great deal of hight value. Although the living condition of adult women has improved yet the female mortality is at high risk as parents want sons.
Thus the social pressure for having a son is immense on the childbearing women. A young women’s standing in the husband’s family is mainly as the mother of future men of the family. It is common for a woman to be mistreated if she doesn’t bear a son.
The husband might take to drinking or womanizing and parents might stress on a second marriage for a son. For women, there is always a fear of rejection and ill-treatment at the hands of the husband and his family for not bearing a son. And even the fear of the woman that the second wife may bear a son for her husband.
For husbands/men, they have social pressures as well. As it is a problem of lineage and the fear of being unattended in religious rituals. There is a public humiliation as well for men who don’t have a son.
It is believed in many families that by having a son, the man has fulfilled his critical role in social reproduction.
The fourth reason for son’s preference is a cultural reason. In South Asia, there is a kinship system that is rigidly patrilineal. This means that the main assets are passed on to the sons while daughters are given movable items in the form of dowry or inheritance.
So, if a man does not have a son, he has to adopt one from the male kins or take another wife. The main drive behind this is to keep the family line intact. This kinship system is at the root of discrimination against daughters.
In other words, men constitute the social order where women are only means to reproduction. The child acquires the name, and identity of the father. Men are the fixed points and women are the moving points because lineages are strictly exogamous.
However, in South Asia, there are bilateral kinship systems where relationships through both males and females are recognized and women are freer to maintain a mutually supportive relationship with their parents after marriage.
Therefore, the less rigid construction of gender in kinship in South Asia makes it easier for women to act as independent social and legal entities in some families.
Lastly, the emotional desire and norms are there to add to the son’s preference in South Asia. The norms dictate that the daughters are supposed to get married and leave their parent’s house. There is little room for girls at her birth’s place.
They are merely treated as guests when they come to visit her parent’s place. Due to social pressures, parents are burdened to marry them off.
In the end, I would like to say that now forces of change can be seen at a subtle level due to urbanization, industrialization, and due to the role, the media is playing. However, there is a dire need for policies and strategies to give more value to the girls.
Fortunately, much can be done to accelerate the process of reducing the son’s preference through legislation, social movements, and mass media. Think about it. Until next time, stay safe and healthy.