The XX Factor, Part 2: The value of girls
A pregnant woman in Canada can currently go in for an ultrasound and not only check on her unborn child’s health, but she can also find out her baby’s gender.
It’s common practice, and for some soon-to-be moms and dads, an opportunity to prepare the nursery or start gathering boy- or girl-specific clothing.
But one Canadian doctor has proposed that the sex of an unborn child not be shared until late in a pregnancy, arguing there are parents who only want to know their unborn baby’s gender so they can choose whether to keep it.
Dr. Rajendra Kale, then interim editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, wrote last month that a fetus’s gender should not be revealed until after 30 weeks gestation.
He believes not disclosing what he calls such “medically irrelevant information” would help prevent the practice of female feticide – aborting a girl based on gender alone.
Kale (left) based his editorial on a 2009 study by Douglas Almond, which used 2001 and 2006 census data and concluded that there is “documented evidence of a clear son preference among South-East Asian immigrants to Canada.”
In Canada, it is not only legal to disclose the gender of a fetus, but abortions are available to women on demand. However, doctors rarely perform abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless there are dire circumstances such as the mother’s life being in danger or if the baby has a deadly abnormality.
Kale said clear direction from regulatory bodies would be “the most important step toward curbing female feticide in Canada.
“Postponing the time when such information is provided is a reasonable ethical compromise,” wrote Kale.
He acknowledges that while the problem of female feticide in Canada may be small compared to the situation in some Asian countries, it still must be addressed.
“If Canada cannot control this repugnant practice, what hope do India and China have of saving millions of women?” Kale wrote.
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While in no way condoning pregnancy termination based on non-medical reasons such as gender, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) believes the issue of female feticide isn’t something that can be fixed by simply withholding information from patients.
The answer, instead, lies in the value a family places on a female child.
The SOGC said it “feels strongly that it is the cultural values and norms in a specific segment of the Canadian population that must change to ensure that females are not confronted with procedures and intolerant environments before or after they are born.”
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) states in its position paper on sex selective abortions that while most people, including those in the pro-choice movement, are uncomfortable with gender-based abortions, “we cannot restrict a woman’s right to an abortion just because some women might make decisions we disagree with.”
Like the SOGC, the coalition also believes the issue is not so much about abortion as it is the value and respect – or lack thereof – that some sectors of society give to girls and women.
Others say restricting bans will just force women to get scans and abortions secretly, and perhaps unsafely. And as home tests become more advanced, anyone will soon be able to determine the gender of their fetus, conceivably without ever consulting a medical professional.
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Heightening awareness and educating people about equal rights is something to which Surrey’s Charan Gill has dedicated his life. For at least two decades, he’s campaigned to have early sex detection advertisements removed from Canadian newspapers.
But they persist. U.S. ultrasound clinics have long courted clients in Surrey and North Delta, placing print ads in local South Asian publications. A Surrey clinic advertising a “gender determination” special just this month also raised eyebrows because of the ongoing controversy in the community.
Gill (left) points to the obvious fact that women are necessary for reproduction.
“We’re not thinking at all. If you love your mom, if you love your sister, you wouldn’t do it.”
As the CEO of Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS), he agrees that ongoing education, and not restricting prenatal scans, is key. While some doctors used to be under great influence from the families of their female patients, they are now more autonomous, Gill says, and are opposed to the abortion of female fetuses.
PICS opened a clinic two years ago for immigrant women to get confidential health advice and referrals about sensitive issues such a sexual health – free of embarrassment, scorn or ridicule from family or community.
Other local organizations, such as the Surrey-based Mamta Foundation of Canada, also strive to raise awareness of equal rights for boys and girls. In the annual Vaisakhi parade that draws 100,000 people to the Surrey streets, Mamta enters a large pink float covered in posters reading “Say No to Female Feticide” and “Save Girl Child - Think of a world without us.” The foundation also supports an orphanage in India for abandoned girls.
And while the festival of Lohri, celebrated in January, traditionally welcomes the birth of baby boys, groups such as the Trinjan Society have sought to change the focus. Lohri marks the end of the coldest month of the year, welcoming warmer seasons and new beginnings. If a male child is born, families arrange feasts, and large get-togethers including dancing and music.
Surrey’s Amy Ghuman Sara, a longtime advocate for gender equality who’s helped organize many gender-neutral Lohri events, says all new life should be celebrated – male or female.
“Eliminating gender bias is something we should all strive for,” she says. “Life is precious, whether you are a boy or a girl.”
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Gill is confident that one day, female feticide will be a thing of the past, pointing to the fact that interracial marriages used to be frowned upon, but are now widely accepted.
Gill expects the same will happen – eventually – with attitudes towards gender.
“Social change doesn’t happen quickly. It’s a long haul.”
ON THURSDAY: Learn about an orphanage for abandoned girls in India and how a Surrey group is making a difference.