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Sex discrimination begins in the womb

Written by | 3 May 2013 | All Medical News

World Health Matters (INDIA) by Gary Finnegan – Women in India are more likely to avail of prenatal care when pregnant with boys, according to ground-breaking research that has implications for girls’ survival, health and economic prospects.

Researchers examined national health-survey data of more than 30,000 Indian pregnancies to explore whether prenatal care differed for women pregnant with boys compared to women expecting girls.

The study found that women pregnant with boys were more likely to go to prenatal medical appointments, take iron supplements, deliver the baby in a healthcare facility – as opposed to the home – and receive tetanus shots.

Tetanus is the leading cause of neonatal deaths in India. According to the study, children whose mothers had not received a tetanus vaccination were more likely to be born underweight or die shortly after birth.

The study, conducted by Prashant Bharadwaj of the University of California, San Diego, and Leah Lakdawala of Michigan State University, implies that male-dominated societies put females at a disadvantage from before they are born. “It paints a pretty dire picture of what’s happening,” said Dr Lakdawala, MSU assistant professor of economics.

The researchers are the first to study sex discrimination in prenatal care. They also looked at smaller data sets from other countries to test their theory that sexism begins early.

They found that in nations considered to be patriarchal – China, Bangladesh and Pakistan – evidence of sex-discrimination in the women was evident. But in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Ghana – which the researchers do not consider to be male-dominated – no such evidence existed.

Dr Lakdawala said that while doctors in India are prohibited from revealing the sex of an unborn baby and it is illegal to have an abortion based on the baby’s sex, both practices are common.

“The type of discrimination we are seeing during pregnancy, while not as severe as sex-selective abortion, is very important for children’s health and well-being,” she said.

Given that previous research has linked early childhood health to later health and economic outcomes, sex discrimination in prenatal care might also have long-term effects.

“We know that children born at higher birth weights go to school for longer periods and have higher wages as adults, so the future implications here are pretty serious,” Dr Lakdawala said.






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