A model Asian neighbor

Does this sound familiar? It sounds like it could be many areas in India, including Punjab…

biopact_punjab_irrigation.jpg

The preference for boys here is centuries old and was rooted in part in an agrarian society that relied on sons to do the hard work on family farms…[A son’s]… elevated status came with certain perquisites men received their families inheritance but also responsibilities. Once the eldest son married, he and his wife went to live with his family; he was expected to support his parents financially while his wife was expected to care for them in their old age.

This sounds familiar too:

In the old days, when there was no adequate social safety net, parents regarded having a son as kind of making an investment for old age security, … It was common for married men to feel ashamed if they had no sons. Some went so far as to divorce wives who did not bear boys.

This NY Times article isn’t talking about India, …. it’s talking about South Korea, where an interesting reversal is taking place.

In South Korea, once one of Asias most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus.

Hmm… a reversal of son preference? How did that come about?

The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the countrys economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl.

After South Korea’s cultural revolution, sons left for cities where they could get higher-paying jobs while married daughters were able to provide financial and emotional support to their own, elderly parents.

girls-in-south-korea-fight.jpg

In restaurants and parks, when you see a large family out for a dinner or picnic, 9 out of 10, its the wife who brings the family together with her parents, not the husband with his parents, she said. To be practical, for an old Korean parent, having a daughter sometimes is much better than having a son.

The government played a part too…

After growing alarmed by the rise in sex-preference abortions, leaders mounted campaigns to change peoples attitudes, including one that featured the popular slogan One daughter raised well is worth 10 sons!

When I was last in India 2 years ago, I didn’t see the same commitment from the Central government to combat sex-selective abortions that South Korea’s may have had (though the Punjab government had definitely made it a priority). But since then, the issue has come to the forefront of international discussions with studies conducting by doctors from the US and UK, and maybe this international pressure has helped and will continue to put pressure on the central government to make the issue a priority.

It’s questionable whether the reversal of the trend in South Korea will translate to India, but it’s certainly up for discussion.

China and India are closely studying South Korea as a trendsetter in Asia, said Chung Woo-jin, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. They are curious whether the same social and economic changes can occur in their countries as fast as they did in South Koreas relatively small and densely populated society.

Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore are receiving similar influxes of sons as South Korean cities. Do you think opening the economy will lead to a great increase of women in the work force or are there factors that might mitigate this (ex: some families don’t want their daughters working in call centers because of the late hours required)?

And do you think having more women in the work-force will lead to a reversal of son preference in India or are there other factors at play?


bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark
tabs-top


14 Responses to “A model Asian neighbor”

  1. sizzle says:

    Yes and Yes. Throughout history (of not only South Korea), it seems that womens' rights have correlated with some level of industrialization and economic boom.

    I think the parallels to South Korea are interesting. However, as the last paraphrase pointed out, South Korea differs (dramatically) in size and population density. It also differs in timeline. South Korea went through its "industrial revolution" many years back, and is far ahead of the curve compared to India and China. On that logic alone, there is reason for hope as India continues to develop. I don't know much about South Korea or China, but I suspect that the Central (Federal) government has far more clout/respect/influence than in India. Specific states like Punjab might be working to curb female foeticide, and that seems a far better approach. Even better is to recruit religious and cultural figures to tow the same line…emphatically.

    (Relatedly, the SGPC recently passed some sort of edict prohibiting extravagent, outlandish Sikh weddings. I wonder if there has been a decline. It'd be a good way to guage their influence in such cultural matters – something of which I have no clue. If such weddings have declined, I think it is incumbent upon it to become far more involved and vocal about this issue.)

  2. sizzle says:

    Yes and Yes. Throughout history (of not only South Korea), it seems that womens’ rights have correlated with some level of industrialization and economic boom.

    I think the parallels to South Korea are interesting. However, as the last paraphrase pointed out, South Korea differs (dramatically) in size and population density. It also differs in timeline. South Korea went through its “industrial revolution” many years back, and is far ahead of the curve compared to India and China. On that logic alone, there is reason for hope as India continues to develop. I don’t know much about South Korea or China, but I suspect that the Central (Federal) government has far more clout/respect/influence than in India. Specific states like Punjab might be working to curb female foeticide, and that seems a far better approach. Even better is to recruit religious and cultural figures to tow the same line…emphatically.

    (Relatedly, the SGPC recently passed some sort of edict prohibiting extravagent, outlandish Sikh weddings. I wonder if there has been a decline. It’d be a good way to guage their influence in such cultural matters – something of which I have no clue. If such weddings have declined, I think it is incumbent upon it to become far more involved and vocal about this issue.)

  3. Ravi says:

    Very interesting comparison! I wonder if looking at the Diaspora populations would also bring insight into this issue. For example, were there large amounts of female feticide in the South Korean Diaspora as there are in the Punjabi Sikh Diaspora? If so, have they declined in the South Korean Diaspora as they have in South Korea? Economic circumstances can change and ,at times, lead to changes in social belief systems, but not always. I am wondering if there is a stronger and deeper socio-belief system that trumps the relationship between economics and social beliefs/practices?

  4. Ravi says:

    Very interesting comparison! I wonder if looking at the Diaspora populations would also bring insight into this issue. For example, were there large amounts of female feticide in the South Korean Diaspora as there are in the Punjabi Sikh Diaspora? If so, have they declined in the South Korean Diaspora as they have in South Korea? Economic circumstances can change and ,at times, lead to changes in social belief systems, but not always. I am wondering if there is a stronger and deeper socio-belief system that trumps the relationship between economics and social beliefs/practices?

  5. Ravi says:

    The reason I ask to look at the Diaspora is that many times the economic circumstances have changed for families once they have left their home-country. Many leave for economic opportunities. Furthermore, many women in the Diaspora enter the workforce to help with the resettlement process compared to women in their home-countries. Anecdotally, I have seen this happen to many Punjabi Sikh families.

  6. Ravi says:

    The reason I ask to look at the Diaspora is that many times the economic circumstances have changed for families once they have left their home-country. Many leave for economic opportunities. Furthermore, many women in the Diaspora enter the workforce to help with the resettlement process compared to women in their home-countries. Anecdotally, I have seen this happen to many Punjabi Sikh families.

  7. Simran says:

    Thanks for posting about this Reema, it's a very interesting parallel. Punjab has one of the highest rates of gender imbalance in India (793 girls for every 1000 boys) and this gender imbalance, in addition to an aging population and increased urbanization can most definitely be destabilizing for the area. Indian and even Punjabi society has traditionally preferred sons because they act as a social security system for their parents. Sons often stay at home with their parents while daughters are married and go to live with their husband's family. The article suggests that a change came about when more women entered the workforce but i am hesitant to draw a similar parallel to India. What the government needs to focus on is providing microfinance loans to women who may not be able to enter the labour force to encourage them to be economically dependent and provide for their families. There has to be a social security system in India so parents don't rely solely on their sons. Many Indian traditions mirror those seen in South Korean societies, however, there are also significant differences. The dowry system is deeply embedded into Indian society and I'm not sure how much this economic burden is also present in other Asian countries but it is a tradition that doesn't seem to be going away in India.

    The solution to this problem cannot only be economical, however. Governments have to promote equality if they are to see a reversal of trends. I find it troubling when it is suggested that a shortage of women in somehow advantageous in the sense that women get to be more "choosy" about their partners. There is no value in the gender imbalance seen in India and other Asian societies and in fact, it has been show that violent crimes (such as prostitution and human trafficking) against women actually increases.

    Getting back to Punjab… Recently, the SGPC announced that they would offer to adopt girls who would otherwise be deserted and aborted. Although this isn't a perfect solution to preventing girls from being aborted, I believe it does send a strong message that our daughters will not be deserted.

  8. Simran says:

    Thanks for posting about this Reema, it’s a very interesting parallel. Punjab has one of the highest rates of gender imbalance in India (793 girls for every 1000 boys) and this gender imbalance, in addition to an aging population and increased urbanization can most definitely be destabilizing for the area. Indian and even Punjabi society has traditionally preferred sons because they act as a social security system for their parents. Sons often stay at home with their parents while daughters are married and go to live with their husband’s family. The article suggests that a change came about when more women entered the workforce but i am hesitant to draw a similar parallel to India. What the government needs to focus on is providing microfinance loans to women who may not be able to enter the labour force to encourage them to be economically dependent and provide for their families. There has to be a social security system in India so parents don’t rely solely on their sons. Many Indian traditions mirror those seen in South Korean societies, however, there are also significant differences. The dowry system is deeply embedded into Indian society and I’m not sure how much this economic burden is also present in other Asian countries but it is a tradition that doesn’t seem to be going away in India.

    The solution to this problem cannot only be economical, however. Governments have to promote equality if they are to see a reversal of trends. I find it troubling when it is suggested that a shortage of women in somehow advantageous in the sense that women get to be more “choosy” about their partners. There is no value in the gender imbalance seen in India and other Asian societies and in fact, it has been show that violent crimes (such as prostitution and human trafficking) against women actually increases.

    Getting back to Punjab… Recently, the SGPC announced that they would offer to adopt girls who would otherwise be deserted and aborted. Although this isn’t a perfect solution to preventing girls from being aborted, I believe it does send a strong message that our daughters will not be deserted.

  9. Camille says:

    First, thanks so much for this, Reema! Second, I seriously doubt that women entering the work force is going to substantially change son-preference in India. We see that this doesn't happen in the diaspora, and I don't know that things will balance unless the gender imbalance poses a population threat (which, some would argue, is not necessarily a bad thing. Granted there is a eugenicist/Social Darwinist slant to that, but hmmm). While the solution is certainly not economic, many people use relatively vulgar language in discussing that women are being "raised" for someone else's family. I think this is a fundamentally flawed element underpinning people's ideas of familial ties, retirement/social security (vis-a-vis a son taking care of them), etc.

    Simran, do you think the SGPC will really make good on this, or do you think it will span a generation of female orphans?

  10. Camille says:

    First, thanks so much for this, Reema! Second, I seriously doubt that women entering the work force is going to substantially change son-preference in India. We see that this doesn’t happen in the diaspora, and I don’t know that things will balance unless the gender imbalance poses a population threat (which, some would argue, is not necessarily a bad thing. Granted there is a eugenicist/Social Darwinist slant to that, but hmmm). While the solution is certainly not economic, many people use relatively vulgar language in discussing that women are being “raised” for someone else’s family. I think this is a fundamentally flawed element underpinning people’s ideas of familial ties, retirement/social security (vis-a-vis a son taking care of them), etc.

    Simran, do you think the SGPC will really make good on this, or do you think it will span a generation of female orphans?

  11. Simran says:

    Camille, I think the SGPC has no choice but to make good on this. The gender imbalance has impacted Punjab in a very negative way and with Sikhism being the main religion of the region, it does not bode well for the SGPC to continue being apathetic to the problem.

    What I am concerned about is whether these Gurduwaras have the infrastructure to really look after these children and whether this will really prevent parents from aborting babies that are girls. For me, it makes more sense to focus on PREVENTING parents from wanting to give up daughters. So perhaps the SGPC should work on a campaign that educates the community on equality.

    I don't know if the SGPCs proposal will lead to a generation of female orphans, but you can see from other countries with large populations of orphans (such as AIDS orphans in South Africa) – that it adversely impacts entire communities and social systems that are already weak. And that further perpetuates the cycle.

  12. Simran says:

    Camille, I think the SGPC has no choice but to make good on this. The gender imbalance has impacted Punjab in a very negative way and with Sikhism being the main religion of the region, it does not bode well for the SGPC to continue being apathetic to the problem.

    What I am concerned about is whether these Gurduwaras have the infrastructure to really look after these children and whether this will really prevent parents from aborting babies that are girls. For me, it makes more sense to focus on PREVENTING parents from wanting to give up daughters. So perhaps the SGPC should work on a campaign that educates the community on equality.

    I don’t know if the SGPCs proposal will lead to a generation of female orphans, but you can see from other countries with large populations of orphans (such as AIDS orphans in South Africa) – that it adversely impacts entire communities and social systems that are already weak. And that further perpetuates the cycle.

  13. Ravi says:

    I agree that the SGPC has no choice but to do good on this issue of female feticide by making such a statement. I am doubtful of the effective and practical implementation of this decision to raise female orphans in Gurdwaras, although it is a noble alternative to just being killed. I doubt Gurdwaras in their current state are equipped to care for female orphans. With the politics, corruption, and financial issues that already riddle the management of Gurdwaras today, how are they going to establish an appropriate and stable infrastructure to raise female children? Also, as Simran and Camille mentioned, will we just have a large population of female orphans that does not solve, but perpetuates the cycle? I too would ask the SGPC to work on putting their resources, first, into educating the community on equality and really putting in the time, resources, and thought into doing so.

    There are strong beliefs about women and gender relationships that influence high rates of female feticide, aside from economic issues. For example, we know this problem occurs in wealthy families as it does in poor families, which to some degree makes me question the "social security" argument. I agree it has a role, but is it a force … I am doubtful.

    I keep thinking about the Sikh women who were prevented from doing Kirtan and Phalki Sahib seva at the Harminder Sahib. Yes, the SGPC finally made an official statement allowing Sikh women to perform these two forms of seva (http://www.sikhnet.com/s/SevaUpdates) after almost ten years of two women being denied the right to do so. It took them ten years to make an official statement allowing women to practice a right they were given by their Gurus centuries before. This length of time was just to make a statement … I wonder if Sikh women really feel safe and are realistically allowed to even do both forms of seva at the rate men do at the Harminder Sahib. We are equal in the eyes of Wahe Guru Ji, but when it comes to serving Wahe Guru Ji we are told we are too different to do what we know both genders are capable of doing. This disconnect I think carries into issues, such as female feticide.

  14. Ravi says:

    I agree that the SGPC has no choice but to do good on this issue of female feticide by making such a statement. I am doubtful of the effective and practical implementation of this decision to raise female orphans in Gurdwaras, although it is a noble alternative to just being killed. I doubt Gurdwaras in their current state are equipped to care for female orphans. With the politics, corruption, and financial issues that already riddle the management of Gurdwaras today, how are they going to establish an appropriate and stable infrastructure to raise female children? Also, as Simran and Camille mentioned, will we just have a large population of female orphans that does not solve, but perpetuates the cycle? I too would ask the SGPC to work on putting their resources, first, into educating the community on equality and really putting in the time, resources, and thought into doing so.

    There are strong beliefs about women and gender relationships that influence high rates of female feticide, aside from economic issues. For example, we know this problem occurs in wealthy families as it does in poor families, which to some degree makes me question the “social security” argument. I agree it has a role, but is it a force … I am doubtful.

    I keep thinking about the Sikh women who were prevented from doing Kirtan and Phalki Sahib seva at the Harminder Sahib. Yes, the SGPC finally made an official statement allowing Sikh women to perform these two forms of seva (http://www.sikhnet.com/s/SevaUpdates) after almost ten years of two women being denied the right to do so. It took them ten years to make an official statement allowing women to practice a right they were given by their Gurus centuries before. This length of time was just to make a statement … I wonder if Sikh women really feel safe and are realistically allowed to even do both forms of seva at the rate men do at the Harminder Sahib. We are equal in the eyes of Wahe Guru Ji, but when it comes to serving Wahe Guru Ji we are told we are too different to do what we know both genders are capable of doing. This disconnect I think carries into issues, such as female feticide.

Leave a Reply


We love hearing from our visitors, so please do leave your comments! No profanity, name calling, or discrimination, please - we try to keep The Langar Hall a clean, open, and hate-free zone. We reserve the right to edit or remove inappropriate comments.