Ending gender discrimination starts at birth
Published: Apr 14, 2017 05:03 AM

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT

Boy or girl? At nearly five months pregnant, my husband and I have become more and more curious over the gender of our baby. We have been trying to guess what we are having based on all the old wives' tales and also discussed whether we should find out our baby's gender ahead of childbirth.

Prenatal sex determination is banned in China to prevent gender-selective abortions. However, there are other ways to know the sex of the fetus.

One of my friends, who is also pregnant, advised me to go to a private hospital, do a four-dimensional color ultrasound, and then ask the doctor about the gender of the baby. My friend said some private hospitals would not give explicit answers, but could tacitly offer some hints. For example, "it's the apple of father's eye" means it's a girl while "you have to prepare it a house" means it's a boy, as Chinese parents traditionally are supposed to buy a house for their son before his marriage.

Besides, some also resort to illegal practices such as smuggling fetal blood samples to countries and regions like Hong Kong where sex identification is legal for gender testing.

Why? Does gender of an unborn baby really matter? Unfortunately, for some families in China, especially in the rural areas, it does.

My mother recently told me a sad story that happened in my hometown, a village in Shandong Province where a strong preference for sons is still widespread. A woman refused a caesarean operation when she was having a difficult birth despite doctors' suggestions and warnings. The reason why she risked the baby's life is simply that she thought the child is a girl and she hoped her body could recover quickly for a second child. However, the baby turned out to be a boy, not a girl. But, it has brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation due to overly long delivery time.

Should she blame the misleading sex identification? No, she had nothing to blame but her entrenched traditional preference for a son. In Chinese society, boys are traditionally valued over girls. It is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. Men could pass on the families' bloodline while women would "marry out," just like water that has been poured - she doesn't belong to her parents.

True, with the advancement of society and Chinese becoming more open, preference for a boy is not as strong as before. But even in cities, we cannot assert that boys and girls are viewed as equals. China has relaxed its one-child policy to deal with the aging of population and gender imbalance. But according to surveys, families who have a girl as their first child is more willing to have a second child than those who already have a son.

For those parents-to-be who loves boys and girls the same, their desire and curiosity to know their unborn babies' gender ahead of delivery is understandable. They want to be prepared to give the best to their beloved child. This is nothing reproachable. But in China, where the centuries-long preference for a son still has a strong influence on the people's awareness of gender equality, it's still necessary to strengthen crackdown on illegal gender determination practices and more efforts to promote gender equality are required. 

I finally decided not to find out my baby's gender, because I believe the moment of "it's a boy" or "It's a girl" would be the greatest surprise of life. I don't want to miss the chance to experience such a surprise. What's more important, no matter it's a she or he, I would love it all the same. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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