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Date [ 2013-03-28, 10:30 ]

There is change of gender preference and it harbours well for women.

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) – by Ramani Rathir = Some thirty years back if you asked women in Bangladesh whether they would like to have a boy or girl, the answer would invariably be ‘Boys,” This is the same as in the rest of South Asia - Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and across to China, the answer is the same. 

Thus in all these countries, the proportion of females to males is very much lower. In India, in some remote parts, it has given to wife sharing while in urban areas, women being raped and even murdered, is an everyday occurrence. The current court case in New Delhi, of a student being gang-raped in a bus and then thrown off it to her death has hit world headlines.

This preference for male off-springs is because they are thought of as old-age insurance by parents. But in Bangladesh there is now a preference for girls! A big surprise indeed! 

 A number of field researches have revealed in Bangladesh today, most women wanted to have fewer children and here is the crunch – they did not care whether it is male or female! A number of them went so far as to say they would rather have girls!

The key to this change in attitude is – education!  

Leading the vanguard in this are mothers! Almost all remember the sufferings of their marriages and in a lot of cases, the torture of the mothers-in-law. These women are aware of girls being married off at a very young age so that there would be one less mouth to feed at home. Many had to bear loads of housework and abuse at the hands of the in-laws.

“Which is why,” disclosed Mayesa,”I send my daughter to school. Once she graduates or at least passes middle school, she can get a good job. She will not have to depend on a husband completely like I had to, as she can stand on her own two feet.” Nabeele emphasised,” With education, they can now work and earn money.” Her friend, Adiba added,”My niece told her husband to get out as he was not bringing in much money for the family.” Another, Bilqis, commented,”Strange isn’t it. Just some years back we had to endure harsh treatment from our husbands. But now our value is higher than them and we can always tell them, ‘I am going to go on my own.” 

A study across Bangladesh has revealed that girls are very much more educated than during the days of their mothers. This has led to them earning incomes of a higher scale, thought of as impossible, just a few years back.

Where then is the money for these women? Bangladesh, with its preferred tariff rate accorded by the US, has become a major exporter of garments. Women are thus needed to sew! The country’s many social and economic problems have spawned a host of NGOs who need women for administrative and field work. Out in the rural areas, the Green Revolution created a bigger demand for women farm workers.  

Another unexpected ally of women power has been the media. Educated women now read and are aware of what is happening around the world. They may not know who Germaine Greer is nor have read her book, The Female Eunuch, but unknowingly they are advocating Greer’s

liberation of women.

Another aspect of the media, film and television also played a major part. Closeted at home, satellite television brought the world into their living room. International and local news, forums, talk shows and of course – the soap opera, plus Hindi films from across the border, jolted the minds of these women.

For long trapped and unaware where to turn to, Bangladeshi women before had to bear abuse, not only from their husbands, but also the real power source of the house – the mother-in-law!  Now they were given options on independence, employment, legal rights, romance and even on the taboo subject of sex. Many of the television dramas, documentaries and films had women as the central character, fighting injustice and building a life of their own. It was easy to relate to these celluloid heroines and make attempts to improve their own lives. 

With independence and economic power, wives became aware they were in a position to break the stranglehold of mothers-in-law. Bangladeshi is also experiencing another change. The diminishing of the extended family and the rise of the nuclear. This meant the focus was now on her own family, especially on that of her children. Therefore many young women are entering marriage on their own terms and will not hesitate to give an abusive on intolerable husband or in-laws, the boot.  

Another important reason for women power in Bangladesh is an insurance policy change! That is, parents no longer need to only depend on their sons in their old age. There always have been horror stories of parents being abandoned or mistreated by sons and daughters-in law. Now if this happens, they can turn to their OWN daughters.  

Blood is thicker than water? Whatever, daughters are recognised as having more compassion and love for their parents than sons. Durriyah was adamant that, “Daughters have more feelings for their mothers. They ask if one has eaten, what we are doing, are we alright and will look after you even after their marriage.” With their new found financial independence, more daughters have become the insurance policy holders against the vagaries of old age.

Aware of the sacrifices their mothers had made for them, daughters now insist , if need be, to support parents in their old age. What is more illuminating, they are adamant of doing so, with or without their husband’s approval. If this leads to a marriage breakdown, there is always their parents’ home to return to. Where instead of being looked upon as a burden, they will be regarded as the breadwinner. 

Perhaps what is most telling about this quiet domestic rebellion is the feeling that  Kwalah has. She revealed, ”If I had the choice of one child, I would choose without hesitation to have a daughter.”


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