|Integrating Girl Child Issues into Population Education - Volume 1 (PROAP - UNFPA, 1997, 44 p.)|
Discrimination on the basis of sex is prevalent in all societies, and often starts at the earliest stages of life. A woman's worth and status is considered to be lower than a man's, and therefore the girl child is devalued. Preference for sons operates at all levels of the society - rich or poor, urban or rural. The girl child, more often than not, comes into the world unwelcome and therefore she is neglected.
Gender bias in the outcome of a complex combination of cultural and social attitudes, traditional beliefs and practices based on patriarchy and often aggravated by economic circumstances.
In many societies, sons carry on the lineage and the family name, perform funeral or burial rites for parents and religions rituals for ancestors. Daughters whereas, are viewed as transient, to be given away in marriage. Her productivity and fertility would then benefit her husband and his family.
A girl child is disadvantaged from birth. Families make conscious or unconscious decisions on intra-family resource allocation. In the context of scarcity, they allocate their limited resources in a way that would give the best returns, viz. to sons. The daughters are discriminated against in access to food, clothing, health care and education.
Access to food
It is well known that mothers give more frequent breast feeding and pay more attention to male infants. Boys get a larger share of the food than do girls. Even in well-off families, boys get the best in terms of food, clothing, educational materials, toys, equipment for games, and other goods.
Access to medical attention
Girls have less access to medical attention, health care facilities and routine immunization. A sick girl child is often ignored and taken for medical treatment when her condition is serious. In the case of a boy child, parents seek medical attention more promptly.
Access to education
A girl child has lower chance of being educated. Investment in the education of girls is not considered to yield adequate returns. She may be enrolled in school, but when her work is needed at home to help in housework, to mind younger siblings or to fetch and carry fuel, fodder, water or food for the men working in the field, she is kept back from school. A boy child's education is taken more seriously.
Higher education and vocational education are often denied to girls, not always because of lack of resources, but more often because it may give her ideas of independence and make her unsuitable for marriage, or because higher education is not required to carry out housework or for her roles as wife and mother.
The work of the girl child in agriculture, in unorganized house based industry and in the informal sector in general, goes unnoticed, non-quantified, unrewarded and therefore undervalued by society.
Certain traditional practices are exploitative and harmful to the health and well-being of girls. Female genital mutilation, practiced in large parts of Africa and West Asia, has severe health implications and psychological trauma. Dowry demands at the time of marriage, place a great burden on the parents of the bride. Birth of a girl child is dreaded by the family partly because of the dowry implications. The custom of paying a bride price in several African societies, make a woman or a girl-bride a virtual property of her husband.
Gender bias starts even before birth. Foetal sex determination and abortion of female foetus is a growing menace in some countries. Infanticide of girl babies through deliberate neglect or withdrawal of food or by using some other means is not uncommon.
Girl children are vulnerable to sexual exploitation within the family and commercially. Incest and other forms of sexual exploitation of girls by family members go unnoticed and unpunished because these are covered up by the family. In large parts of the world, women and young girls have to carry the entire burden of family honour any deviation from the strictly defined norms, whether done willingly or under duress, is considered unacceptable. A girl who has brought dishonour, often loses her place in the family.
Increasing urbanization, loss of traditional means of livelihood, loss of extended family support, the social evils of urban slums and growing tourism, have contributed to widespread trafficking in children and child prostitution. Girls are often forced into prostitution under debt-bondage, sold by their poor parents. These minor girls are forced to work under exploitative, coercive and unhygienic conditions without any access to health care or protection against sexually communicable diseases.
The low value placed by society and family on the role of women, affect the self-image and self-esteem of the girl child.
Devalued as a child, denied equal access to education and often devoid of skills, she carries into her womanhood all the accumulated burdens of her past......1