Devaki Monani Ghansham Women's Studies Research Unit, School of Social Work, University of Melbourne
Townsville International Women’s Conference - AUSTRALIA
3 - 7 July 2002 ~ James Cook University “Poverty, Violence and Women’s Rights: ...Setting a Global Agenda” This international conference is for all who care passionately about improving women’s position in the world, who demand justice and full human rights for women everywhere and who believe that a feminist analysis is essential to defining a fairer globalised world.
FEMALE FOETICIDE AND THE DOWRY SYSTEM IN INDIA Devaki Monani Ghansham Women's Studies Research Unit, School of Social Work University of Melbourne Prepared for Townsville International Women's Conference July 2002 Introduction The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in India (2001) was a great achievement in the history of Indian women’s human rights. It refers to many aspects of women’s lives, and includes assurances that: ‘Measures will be adopted that take into account the reproductive rights of women to enable them to exercise informed choices.’ (6.2) And ‘All forms of discrimination against the girl child and violation of her rights shall be eliminated by undertaking strong measures both preventive and punitive within and outside the family. These would relate specifically to strict enforcement of laws against prenatal sex selection and the practices of female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse and child prostitution etc.’ (8.1)
Yet, gender bias is traditional in India, with some states noted for female infanticides and female foeticides. The incidence of female foeticide is rising. I wish to argue that both are due to traditional son preference and intrinsically linked to the dowry system, which has technically been illegal since 1961 (The Dowry prohibition Act, 1961).
The dowry system effectively commodified women, so they came to be seen as expensive, as well as less powerful in the economic exchange within the joint family system.
As part of the development of women’s rights, women now have the right to choose abortion, yet attitudes of expectant mothers continue to be influenced by the dowry system. Women themselves get caught up in under-valuing girl children. Women often prefer not to have girl children, because they will cost the family too much. On the one hand women
are blamed for having abortions, yet they participate in sex-selection related abortions because girls are less valued.
When daughters ARE born, families must hold back on economic resources to save for gifts to the woman’s future husband and his family. For example, Girls are denied the right to education, since expenses on their education is not considered to be an investment of higher returns. According to Janice Raymond (1994, p24) girls are breastfed for a shorter period of time, which denies their right to adequate health and nutrition. Girls are also not immunized, failure of which leads to poor health and sickness. There is suggestion that this can be a deliberate attempt to limit their lives.
Early marriages are favoured in some Indian states like Rajahsthan, because families favour younger brides. The biological family no longer has to support the girl. The husband’s family may view her as cheap labour in the household and fields, and more accommodating, in that they do not question their husband’s family. Trafficking in India is rising, and sometimes this, too, is driven by the value of dowry. Some of the girls who have been trafficked are from Nepal. They marry Indian men in exchange for dowry. The young wife might then be sold in to brothels as child-sex workers across India. The paper will briefly discuss the status of women in India; the dowry system and the rising use of sex-selection technologies in female foeticide, to further develop my argument. Women in Indian Society India is a democratic...