DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GIRLS IN SOUTH ASIA LESS WIDESPREAD THAN COMMONLY BELIEVED

"Sex Differentials in Childhood Feeding, Health Care, and Nutritional Status in India" by Vinod Mishra, T.K. Roy and Robert D. Retherford. Population and Development Review, Vol. 30 (2): 269-295. Free PDF file here

HONOLULU (June 15) -- Despite a strong preference for sons in South Asia, girls are not suffering from poorer health or nutrition compared to boys, according to the findings of a new study by two East-West Center specialists and an Indian researcher.

The study appears in the June 2004 issue of Population and Development Review.

"Discrimination does not appear to be as widespread as generally believed," said Vinod Mishra, a population and health research fellow at the East-West Center and the lead researcher for the study.

Mishra, Robert Retherford, an East-West Center senior fellow, and T.K. Roy, a director of the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, examined evidence of gender discrimination in several indicators of childhood feeding practices, preventive and curative health care, and nutrition. They found that discrimination against girls is determined by birth order and the sexes of older siblings. According to Mishra, "the discrimination against girls is limited to a small fraction of families where boys are in short supply, which is cancelled to some degree by discrimination against boys in families where girls are in short supply.

"Moreover, not all discrimination is necessarily harmful to girls," Mishra said. For example, boys are more likely than girls to be exclusively breastfed at 6-9 months of age, which is considered inadequate to meet infants' nutritional needs.

"Also, in populations with strong son preference, mothers are more likely to carry boys or keep them in the kitchen area while cooking, thereby inadvertently exposing them to higher levels of health-damaging air pollution," Mishra said.

"An important finding is that gender discrimination appears to be as common in south India as in the north, where son preference is generally much stronger."

The study is based on data from two large National Family Health Surveys in India conducted in 1992-1993 and 1998-99. The study looks at children under age 3.

Vinod Mishra can be contacted at (808) 944-7452 or mishrav@eastwestcenter.org.

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