Son worshippersIt is sad when women have to achieve recognition by having a male child
The desire to have sons continues to influence fertility behaviour in the developing countries. And Nepal is no exception. Women with fewer sons or no sons at all are more likely to continue bearing children one after another.
The story of Dalli Shahi from Salyan is no different. She was married at 16, and had given birth to nine girls before she recently gave birth to a boy, at the age of 40.
Now Dalli is glad that she won’t have to go through another pregnancy. But more than that, she is relieved to know that she will no longer have to face the stigma and humiliation from society for not producing a male child.
It is sad when a woman has to achieve recognition and status by having at least one male child. Perceived relative benefits of male children as potential custodians of identity and lineage is still a defining demographic feature of our society. Such values are more evident in rural areas. According to experts, continuity of the family name, religious rituals, ancestral worship and so on are among the major reasons for preferring a male child to a female child; in other words—patriarchy.
Regrettably, such a patriarchal mindset interferes with safe motherhood and issues of reproductive rights. Dalli recounts how she did not want to have so many babies, but had to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth repeatedly, risking her body, only to prove something to society.
In recent years, there have been numerous cases of women dying and suffering debilitating disease and injury during pregnancy and childbirth because they bleed to death or acquire infections.
Safe motherhood and reproductive rights advocacy calls for women to be able to choose whether, and when, to become pregnant. It also helps to shape women’s socioeconomic and health trajectories. But patriarchal societies put women under pressure. Ironically, the family or even society decides when a woman should give birth or how many children she should have, thereby restricting her control over her body.
A patriarchal culture sees women merely as instruments of reproduction where gender discrimination is a constant feature. Male child preference, unfortunately, remains among the most lasting cultures of Nepali society. Such practices further continue to devalue girls and women. Changing this will be possible only when both men and women change their mindsets. Providing education and raising public awareness about gender equality are some ways to do that. The current societal structures and prejudices need some upgrading. It’s high time we begin now.