Women aren’t to blame for a child’s gender
The preference for a boy child over a girl, is an ill-informed practice that still persists all over the world and amongst the worst perpetrators below China, India and Egypt and also Nigeria.
The existing socio-cultural practices in Nigerian society that cause the prevalence of male child preference among couples are wide-ranging and distressing. The small inheritance rights given to women and the tradition that forbids women from bearing their fathers’ name after marrying has lead to a cultural preference for males over females as families want financial security and to continue the family line.
Equally, some traditions require that only sons can perform certain functions under religious and cultural traditions such as death rituals for parents. For instance, among the Igbos, the first son (Opara) by tradition inherits the Ofo title – the symbol of family authority and representative of the family in religious matters. Also a male child serves as widowhood insurance for his mother, because a widow’s claim on her deceased husband’s properties is given increased social legitimacy if she has a male child.
A study was done in 2016 on couples in Ilorin investigating the factors behind Nigeria’s preference for male children. 70% opined that boys are more important than girls, while 30% discarded the assertion that boys are more important than the girl child. This preference for boys has lead to a disdain for girl children. And when a child not of the desired sex is born, the blame is often placed on women.
Nigerian women who have “too many” girls or “not enough” sons typically have to endure harassment from in laws and family members and domestic violence. Furthermore, when the marriage fails to produce sons, men might resort to polygamy in the hopes that other women will give them their desired results.
To avoid being divorced, most women give birth to many children, jeopardizing their health. This practice is one of those observed issues that have contributed to high rate of maternal deaths in Africa and increase in Nigeria’s population growth rate.
Gender is determined by chromosomes. Chromosomes are cells that carry genetic information. They act as a blueprint for other cells and determines how the human body is formed. Sex chromosomes determine gender. Both men and women have sex chromosomes. Men usually have one X and one Y chromosome, while women have two X’s. The XY chromosome regulates male development eg. the development of testosterone and testicles while the XX chromosomes controls female development. When an egg or sperm is made, it only gets one of the sex chromosomes from the parent. This means that women can only make eggs with an X chromosome. However, men can make either X or Y sperm.
During fertilization, the sperm cells race toward the mother-to-be’s egg cell. If a sperm with a Y beats all others, then the fetus will be XY and the pregnancy will result in a boy. But if a sperm with an X wins the race to the egg, then the fetus will be XX. and the parents will have a baby girl. 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.
Nigeria’s misogynistic socio-cultural climate results in women being punished for several things that are out of their control. Infertility, miscarriages and even violence acted against them such as rape, is considered all their fault.
Proving these hateful perceptions wrong is an uphill battle that society is yet to win-but biology doesn’t lie. It seems even nature agrees it takes two to tango. And maybe someday, when we increase literacy, the rest of the country will agree too.