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The Story of the Unwanted

Margaret Michalak, Staff Writer

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Across the world and even in our own country, there are millions of people struggling to survive in more difficult situations than we could imagine. Young women in India are experiencing neglect at a great cost because of the poor way females are treated in India’s society; traditional societal values go back thousands of years, where men are more valued than women. India’s preference for the birth of sons over daughters has left millions of girls misplaced and alone. This hankering for male children has left as many as 21 million girls ‘unwanted,’ according to the 2017-18 Economic Survey. Infant girls are being cast out by their families, resulting in abounding numbers of orphans because of the need to have sons. In addition to this, it is becoming more and more common for families to buy into sex-selective surgeries, although they are illegal in India. This has caused the gender gap in India to sky rocket, leaving as many as 63 million girls essentially ‘left over.’ For every 100 females born there are 107 males born and in a country with a population of 1.3 billion people, that begins to rapidly affect society.

On top of the other problems having too many males brings, in India, arranged marriages are very common and many areas still have very rigid gender roles;  meaning that young girls are expected to grow up and get married. However, this gender gap is making that less and less possible which could mean many things for a young girl. If a daughter is not married, they are a disgrace to the family and are seen as not fulfilling their duty, thus adding them to the neglected population of unwanted girls. Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian said while progress had been made in some areas, the “deeper societal son-preference” was proving hard to shift. Some of this ingrained preference is due to the norms governing inheritance, the continued practice of paying a dowry for female children to be married and the tradition of “patrilocality” — women joining their husband’s households — and rituals which need to be performed by male children. In what is called the ‘Fertility Report,’ it was reported that 55% of families that have a daughter when they first conceive will try for another child and will keep trying until they have a boy. This is often referred to as the “stopping rule.” Subramanian said the decision to have more babies until there was a boy had offset the number of girls lost through sex-selection and the difference in mortality rates between male and female children. More females die than males in early childhood. “What this says is that even if you didn’t have all those things, you have fertility stopping rules, where people say, ‘if I have a (male) child we stop… and if we don’t we continue,'” Subramanian said.

It is also said that the poor treatment of women is another reason for the growing gender gap. People see how women are treated in these societies and do not want that to burden or harm their own family. In terms of economic participation and opportunity for females, India is one the worst countries — 139th — and similarly poorly in women’s health and mortality rates. It is also in the bottom third — 118th — for education of women and girls, according to a 2017 World Economic. There have been some efforts from the Indian government to close this gap by educating young women and encouraging different organizations in support of women to pop up. Despite these initiatives, India is still lagging in its hope to end the inequality. The deep rooted values of gender-bias are long standing and probably go back millennia. This problem is most present in urban cities, contrary to popular belief that it was affecting mostly rural areas. There is a city in India, Gujarat, that is considered the worst place for women and has the worst gender gap, with only 762 women for every 1,000 men. It is the hope that the ideals of this gender gap will soon be diminished but because India holds such traditions and values so deep at its core, it is most likely to become worse before it becomes better.

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