Vancouver Coastal Health and local community groups are using an annual winter Indian festival to kick-start a candid conversation on the controversial topic of sex selection.
The move comes amid evidence that the practice is continuing within some Indo-Canadian communities in BC.
Deesh Sekhon is behind an organization called GirlKind, which is against gendercide and helps girls left abandoned in India. Vancouver Desi.com
Lohri, a winter festival celebrated predominantly in the Punjab region of India, traditionally privileges the birth of boys, a practice that perpetuates ideas of gender inequality, explained Ninu Kang, the director of communications with MOSAIC, a local non-profit group.
Kang said the annual celebration, which typically falls on January 13, provides an ideal venue to promote gender balance within local Indo-Canadian communities by acknowledging that the day has historically been one that discriminates against girls.
“The South asian community in the Lower Mainland have been using that event to educate the community on the discrimination between boys and girls,” she said.
“So there have been many functions over the years, many groups have started to have lohri parties for girls. And some have said lohri is for boys and girls kind of a thing to make sure that all children are celebrated equally.“
According to statistics provided by Vancouver Coastal Health released on Monday, the ratio of boys to girls born to first-generation Indo-Canadian in BC parents in 20 of the past 24 years has been the highest among other demographics.
The ratio stated, “cannot be attributed to chance alone.” The stats were taken from a 2011 report by provincial health officer Dr Perry Kendall, titled The Health and Well-Being of Women in British Columbia.
The average ratio for newborns in BC. is 106 boys to every 100 girls. But for Indo-Canadian families, the report found, the ratio is considerably higher at 111 boys to every 100 girls, suggesting that some parents are seeking abortions based on sex, the release said.
The birth order also matters. If the first-born is a boy, then the sex ratio is in line with the overall BC. average, 106 boys to 100 girls. If the first-born is a girl, however, then the second child is more likely to be a boy — 134 boys to 100 girls, according to the 2011 report.
“So for the first pregnancy, parents are open to whatever child appears in their family, but if they have had a girl, then a small proportion of parents, and I think the percentage is about five per cent of pregnancies, then parents will work harder to have a boy,” said Dr. Meena Dawar, a medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health.
“And this is of course a concern to us, and a concern to me as a professional and as a community member and as a woman — we all believe the girls should be valued as equally as boys so we were really concerned by this finding.”What do you think?
The issue of sex-selective abortions has been a hot topic for several years. In 2012, the CBC aired an investigation that showed some fertility clinics, including one in B.C., were offering early sex-selection screenings and abortion options.
Also in 2012, a Surrey-based ethnic newspaper was widely criticized for running advertisements for a gender-selection clinic in Washington state.
In BC, prenatal testing for the sole purpose of determining gender is not covered by medicare. It is, however, available in private clinics, and expecting parents don’t have to provide a reason if they choose to terminate a pregnancy.
“You go in behind closed door, no one knows your business,” said Deesh Sekhon, the founder of the GirlKIND Foundation, an organization that seeks to combat gender discrimination and “gendercide.”
“The issue definitely exists.”
But there is also a strong sense from within the communities that things need to change, Sekhon said.
“And that is what we are all about — changing that cultural thought process about how a girl is valued,” she said.