How preference for male child fuels maternal morbidity, mortality

Mothers

• Results In Violence Against Women And Girls- UN-EU Spotlight

After five un-spaced pregnancies and childbirths, all through Caesarian Section (CS), 35-year-old Ngozi Egbu, a resident of Anambra State still got pregnant again because she was looking for a male child. 

During her sixth pregnancy, Egbu developed complications in the seventh month and now fighting for her life at the General Hospital Awka, Anambra State.

According to doctors, she developed high blood pressure and respiratory problems, while the previous CS stitches also got torn resulting in haematoma (blood collection in the body). The baby also became distressed due to a lack of oxygen and died in the womb. Despite losing her baby, Egbu also runs the risk of losing her life.

In a private hospital in Lagos State, 45-year-old Rashidat Balogun just died after suffering from sepsis and bleeding during the birth of her eight children. 

Despite being warned by doctors to stop getting pregnant because of her age and health condition, Rashidat’s husband continued to pressurise and threaten her with taking a second wife if she failed to give him a male child. But as Rashidat finally gave birth to a male child, she couldn’t live to see the child. 

Up North, specifically in Kano State, a 34-year-old mother of six girls, Saidat Ibrahim also just gave up the ghost while procuring an unsafe abortion. 

After finding out that she was pregnant with her seventh child, a scan revealed that she was carrying a baby girl.

Her husband had warned that he would leave her and get a younger wife who will give him a male child if she gave birth to another girl. 

Scared of losing her husband, Saidat got a quack to carry out the abortion, which cost her life in the process.

Each day in Nigeria, a woman is battling with her life and health as she tries to bring forth a baby boy just to please her husband. In most cases, these women go through immense physical and psychological torture in their marriages for not “producing a male child.” 

The culture of male child preference has resulted in all kinds of violence against women, and this is on the rise in the country, according to the European Union and the United Nations (EU-UN) Spotlight Initiative. 

Recently, the EU and the UN came together to form a global partnership called The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, and all harmful practises in support of the 2030 agenda on Sustainable Development Goals. 

In their statement, during a recent media briefing in Ibadan, Oyo State, they explained that “violence against women and girls remained a silent killer that has taken the lives of many. The health outcomes go beyond the direct result of physical, psychological or mental health issues.” 

According to them: “Violence against women and girls in Nigeria is against the law, and survivors do not usually receive full legal support, as they prefer to stay in abusive relationships rather than leave to face the ridicule of living outside relationships and, or wedlock. Women and girls subjected to violence are unwilling to lodge formal complaints due to a lack of trust in the Police force and stigmatisation in society.” 

Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate is still alarmingly high. Reports show that most women who are looking for male children go-ahead to have many children while refusing to space their pregnancies. This has led to more women dying during childbirth and some others developing dire health problems. 

According to experts, ending some cultural practises that encourage preference for the male child will help reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in the country. 

Latest figures from UNICEF show that women of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years of age) in Nigeria (about 40 million), suffer a disproportionally high level of health issues surrounding childbirth. The country currently contributes 10 per cent of global deaths for pregnant mothers, with the maternal mortality rate of 576 per 100, 000 live births, making it the fourth-highest globally.

Even though some of these women are fully aware of the benefits of family planning, and have been told that it would allow them rest between pregnancies in order to regain their health and strength, and enable them have healthy children, the quest for a male child has made them refuse family planning. 

Some socio-cultural practises in parts of the country and the continent, as well as in some parts of the world have led to the culture of male child preference.

In most cases, such traditions forbid women from inheriting their fathers’ property, from bearing their fathers’ name after marriage, and also require only males to perform certain cultural and religious rituals, such as burial rituals. 

According to a Legal Practitioner and the Chairperson, Child Right Protection Network, Cross River State, James Ibor: “One of the most challenging act of power imbalance between men and women in Nigeria is patriarchy. 

“Due to the patriarchal structure of the society, women and girls are usually the victims of sexual violence and other forms of violence in the country. Patriarchy is a violation of Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. 

“We have entrenched certain practices that make it natural for a man to acquire a woman, pay the bride prize, and maybe later in life begin to say things like, ‘you are too fat,’ and thereafter devalue her by divorcing her. There is also no law in Nigeria that says a woman should bear her husband’s name after marriage.” 

Underscoring the point that male child preference is a violation of the rights of women, Ibor in his presentation said that so many legislations in the country prohibit discrimination based on gender. 

“Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution and other legislation like the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP Act), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nigeria has ratified (even though we have not domesticated it), and other national and international treaties all prohibit discrimination against women. So, anybody who discriminates against a woman because she’s a woman and prefers a man has committed a crime and has violated the fundamental right of women. 

“Discrimination against women is a violation of the rights of a girl child as guaranteed in Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In Nigeria, when women are discriminated against, NGO’s, victims or the government can take up the case in a family court in states where family courts are established; Lagos and Cross River states for instance. The family court helps protect the rights of a child and the girl child, but unfortunately, the family court is not established in all states of the federation,” he said. 

Explaining the limitation of these laws, Ibor, noted that, “the non-adaptation of these laws by all states is part of the limitation that these laws face. When these laws are adapted by various states, it enables them to establish relevant institutions like family courts. 

Shedding more light on harmful practises such as a preference for a male child and how it leads to violence against women, the Eu-UN Spotlight Initiative statement said: “The social context of violence against women and girls is based on the traditional patriarchal structure that defines gender.

Speaking on who is to be blamed for the birth of a female child, Executive Director, Gender Perspective, Tammie Kammonke, in her presentation at the EU-UN Spotlight media briefing explained that gender is determined by male chromosomes. 

Science explains that: “Chromosomes are cells that carry genetic information. Men usually have one X and one Y chromosome, while women have two Xs. 

During fertilisation, the sperm cells race toward the mother-to-be’s egg cell. If a sperm with a Y chromosome beats all others, then the fetus will be XY and the pregnancy will result in a boy. But if a sperm with an X chromosome wins the race to the egg, then the fetus will be XX, and the parents will have a baby girl. Hence the sex of the baby depends on, which sperm gets to the egg first. So it’s actually men’s chromosomes that dictate the gender of the child.

“Unfortunately, women are blamed for the birth of a girl child. And discrimination against women and girls starts when the child is in the womb. Women and girls experience a life cycle of gender-based violence; from the pre-birth stage to the infancy and childhood. 

Some families use their girl child to make money, some are maltreated because they are girls; some are married off to older men, and the cycle continues, from adolescence to reproductive age…” Kammonke said. 

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