This quarter I’m enrolled in a class that focuses on the “girl child” – a term deemed back in the 90’s to explain the vulnerability of being a girl in this world. The class studies the statistics of female children around the world to better understand their vulnerability due both to their sex and their age. Much of what the class focuses on aligns with what I saw in India – it’s proving to be a good time to unpack what I’ve learned. Here’s a nice summary from a book I recently read that I thought I would post here for those of you that would like to learn more about this somewhat odd sounding term… the girl child.
In both developing and developed countries it is found that girls are proportionally fewer than boys. This can be attributed to a higher demand for boys over girls, better health care and upbringing for boys rather than girls, and the abortion of girl babies due to ultrasounds. This disproportionate ratio encourages the question of “why”. The girl child is vulnerable for reasons that Sohoni explores in her book “The Burden of Girlhood”.
There are many reasons as to why girls are not as sought after as boys, contributing to the skewed ratio. They cause distinct limitations and disadvantages for the family. They do not earn as much money as a boy, they do not carry on the family line, their marriages are often expensive and hard to arrange, and stigma surrounding the female gender can lower the status of the family in some cultures.
This preference towards boys positions the girl child to not receive the attention that boys get. In areas of poverty the girl child is at even greater risk than she would be in a western setting or more developed country. Not only is she discriminated against because of her gender, but also because of her age. Primarily in developing countries, girls receive less health care than boys, and face limited nutritional intake in comparison to the favored boy child. Globally it is found that families prefer having boy children over girl children, and statistics have proven that parents will continue conceiving longer than normal if they do not have boy children. It is estimated that in developing countries about three fourths of children not receiving education are girls.
Attention began to be drawn to women’s rights in the 1970’s, but the impact of this is questionable. While the rights of women were publicly acknowledged, it was left up to the women to actually move forward and initiate change. Paralleling this issue, it was found that when the women attended classes, trainings, etc. that were offered in response to women empowerment, it meant that these women were leaving their young children at home, and the work load with them. The daughters of these mothers were then found to be taking on the domestic load that their mothers had left behind. In result, the daughters began dropping out of school in order to complete these tasks so that their mothers could continue to participate.
There is also a health care discrepancy between boys and girls. Boys receive better health care than girl, and it’s even been found in certain countries that men actually receive more hospital attention than girls, even though due to pregnancy, it would seem natural that women would need more. This varies between families depending on their wealth, but commonly women suffer from malnutrition and lack of medical care during their pregnancies, which affects the health of the baby.
Malnutrition has been found to be the most common cause of death amongst young children in poor communities. Nutrition of a child is related to the gender of the child in that boys receive priority over the girl. Therefore when you compare nutrition values between boys and girls, the malnourished are always a higher percent of girls. Education is the same. Boys receive more education, while girls are the first to be pulled from school because they take on the majority of the housework duties. Even amongst the educated, women still have a harder time finding high paying jobs than men. In poorer communities, women find themselves working lower status jobs, such as domestic servitude or prostitution.