The Gender Beat: Kerala Paper's 'Scientific' Tips on Conceiving Boys; Three Women Named to Top UN Jobs

A round-up of what’s happening in the worlds of gender and sexuality.

Kerala newspaper offers ‘scientific’ advice for conceiving boys

Indian society has long had a preference for sons. As a result, sex-selective abortion and female foeticide have led to the country having one of the world’s most skewed sex ratios; according to the Census 2011, there were 914 girls to every 1,000 boys in India for children up to the age of six.

A Hindu report pointed to the fact that in the absence of prenatal sex selection, several families resort to repeated pregnancies in their quest for a male child and data has shown that at every family size, there were more boys born than girls.

Several women in the country even pin their hopes for a male offspring on what are known as sex-selection drugs. These drugs are taken six to ten weeks after conception, but as a report in The Guardian indicates, women are consuming the harmful drugs ­– linked to birth defects and stillbirths – without realising that the sex of a child cannot be altered in the womb.

Fuelling the country’s obsession with sons, a newspaper in Kerala last week offered “scientifically proven” advice on how to conceive a boy. Among the gems offered by Mangalam are eating plenty of mutton, never skipping breakfast and always sleeping with your face turned leftwards.

The column did admit its methods are not guaranteed to work, as a report in The Guardian points out, but also suggested that those looking to have a male offspring need to increase their food intake in general and eat more dry grapes and salty food in particular.

The checklist in the Malayalam daily’s column – translated by Ladies Finger – also includes tips for men like avoiding food items that have high acidic content.

Ranjana Kumari, an activist against female foeticide, told The Guardian that in order to change the long-standing preference for sons, there is a need to first change “the image of girls in our society.” She suggests “Showing that girls can be educated, employed [and] take care of their families.”

Gita Aravamudan, author of Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide, told the BBC that the article in the Kerala daily just goes to show that gender selection is widespread, “despite initiatives taken by the Indian government, NGOs and health workers. The message isn’t going through: people still value boys more than girls.”


While it isn’t advisable to rely on the so-called scientific evidence presented by Mangalam, if you were looking for some actual science news and analysis, I would highly recommend following (and if you do enjoy it, even subscribing) to my colleague Vasudevan Mukunth’s science newsletter Infinite in All Directions. He has a brilliant knack of simplifying the world of science that continues to mystify me.


Incoming UN chief names three women to top jobs 

Amid a push for gender parity in the United Nations, incoming secretary-general Antonio Guterres named three women to key leadership roles.

According to a report in The Guardian, Guterres has made achieving gender parity at the UN a priority of his tenure. He announced last week that Nigeria’s environment minister, Amina Mohammed, will be his deputy, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, a senior Brazilian foreign ministry official, will serve as his chief of staff and Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea will take the position of special adviser on policy.

“I am happy to count on the efforts of these three highly competent women, whom I have chosen for their strong backgrounds in global affairs, development, diplomacy, human rights and humanitarian action,” he said in a statement on Thursday, according to Newsweek.

After taking the oath of office Guterres asserted that “gender parity is a must” and “will become a clear priority from top to bottom in the UN.”


As Guterres takes steps towards achieving gender parity in the world body where women currently fill less than one in four leadership positions, I would suggest reading Nehmat Kaur’s commentary on how the world views women, especially those in power. You can also subscribe to her weekly column Name-Place-Animal-Thing that focuses on everything cultural.


Kochi to get country’s first transgender school

In marking a milestone in the journey towards a greater acceptance of the transgender community, India is set to inaugurate its first residential transgender school in Kochi on December 30.

Sahaj International School in Kochi will initially accommodate ten transgenders who will study under the national open school system, according to The Indian Express, and will be led by six transgenders who are working with the TransIndia Foundation.

All ten students have been selected from different sections of the transgender community and includes a person with disability and a migrant.

Gender-sensitive education can help eradicate inequality, says study

A study conducted in the schools of Ranchi and Khunti districts of Jharkhand has found that gender equality education is needed in educational institutions in order to abolish gender inequality.

An Indian Express report states that after such education, nearly a quarter of female students in Jharkhand came out to support fellow female students witnessing violence.

The report, which has been released by the Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS), claims that after just three months of gender sensitisation education, about 72% of girl students protested or reported to their teachers or parents any kind of physical violence against them – an increase from 47.9%.

According to an Outlook report, the study says that before the education, 18% of the girl students either remained mute spectators or even enjoyed the physical violence against other girl students. This number has now, however, reduced to 13.4%.

Even in the case of male students, the percentage who reported sexual violence against them has increased by 20% after gender sensitisation education.


While the study released by GEMS points to a clear need for gender-sensitive education across the country, there also exist other fascinating studies in the field of social science, which my colleague Jahnavi Sen explores in her engaging weekly column Collidoscope. If you enjoy reading her take on high-risk feminism or how different people view police differently, do consider subscribing.


UN member-states reject African bid to block UN LGBT expert 

The UN General Assembly for the second time on Monday rejected an attempt by the African countries to block the appointment of the first-ever UN expert to help investigate violence and discrimination against LGBT minorities.

According to the Daily Mail, the measure was defeated by a vote of 84 against to 77 in favour, with 16 abstentions, a month after the African states made a similar unsuccessful move in the General Assembly’s third committee.

The position was created by the 47-member UN Human Rights Council in June and in September, and Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international law professor from Thailand, was appointed to investigate cases of discrimination and violence against LGBT people worldwide.

The African countries have argued that there was no legal basis for the mandate and for the international recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights, Daily Mail reported.

According to Reuters, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that the bid by the African states was “rooted in a real disagreement over whether people of a certain sexual orientation and gender identity are in fact entitled to equal rights.”

“And it is being driven by a group of UN member states that believe it is acceptable to treat people differently because of who they are or who they love.”

According to the UN, being gay is a crime in at least 73 countries – 40% of all 193 UN members – and in Africa alone, 33 countries have anti-gay laws including Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan and Mauritania.


If you are looking to engage more with the developments in the world of human rights, do consider following and subscribing to Titash Sen’s weekly column Freedom Under Fire where she looks at innovative ways to educate disempowered youth, at the relationship between legislation and rights and more.


That’s it for this week! If you liked what you read, please consider subscribing to this weekly newsletter.

If you have any comments or suggestions on what could be carried in this column, write to me at [email protected]

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