“Armenia has one of the most imbalanced sex ratios at birth in the world.” (UNFPA)
In Armenia, World Vision is working with men, women, and youth in the promotion of gender equality and prevention of prenatal sex selection.
Yeva Avakyan, our senior advisor for gender and formerly on staff with our office in Armenia, describes prenatal sex selection and how World Vision addresses this issue.
Prenatal sex selection—choosing to continue or terminate a pregnancy based on the baby’s sex—is one of the most blatant forms of gender-based violence (GBV). Like other forms of GBV, prenatal sex selection is complex. It is rooted in patriarchy—where men receive unearned rights and privileges over women, cultural preference for sons, and harmful, strict ideas about the roles and responsibilities that men and women can fulfill in society.
Research shows that three preconditions must be met in order for prenatal sex selection to occur: first, a preference for having boys as opposed to girls, second, access and use of prenatal sex determination technology (example: sonograms), and third, a declining birth rate. In Armenia, all of these preconditions are met. (C.Z. Guilmoto)
Sex ratio at birth is considered to be skewed when it exceeds the biological norm of 104-106 male births per 100 female births. Unequal sex ratios at birth were first documented in South and East Asian countries in the 1980s and have been on the rise in the South Caucasus since the 1990s. The current sex ratio at birth in Armenia remains at the shockingly high level of 114 male births per 100 female births—one of the most imbalanced sex ratios at birth in the world. (UNFPA)
Every year, more than 1,400 girls are unborn in Armenia because of this practice. If the country’s prenatal sex selection rates remain unchanged, 93,000 women will be missing by 2060. (UNFPA) For a small country with a population of just over 3 million, this can have a serious and negative impact.
In other countries, prenatal sex selection has led to bitter consequences, including forced prostitution, trafficking for the purposes of marriage or sexual exploitation and other human rights violations, overall increase in crime, and a rising migration of men looking for female partners.
Global evidence shows that social norms related to higher male authority and female obedience strongly correlate to the levels of GBV. The intensity of traditional patriarchal norms in a society is linked with higher level of male births, varying between regions even within one country. (CEPED)
While decades of socialism in Armenia promoted some forms of gender equality, like universal access to education and employment, it did little to reduce inequalities within the family. So, what are families’ reasons for preferring sons?
In World Vision’s research, Armenian men and women strongly emphasize the role of a male offspring in continuing family’s lineage, as provider of income for the household, and as a supportive resource for aging parents. Sons are viewed as assets and pillars of the household, whereas daughters are often considered liabilities who cease to belong to their native family after marriage.
To combat prenatal sex selection, World Vision’s work in Armenia focuses on examining and challenging harmful gender attitudes and practices that support son preference. In partnership with Promundo, World Vision works with men, women, and youth to examine, question, and transform social norms.
Through a series of carefully structured group sessions, participants find space for personal reflection, respectful dialogue, and group work that challenges harmful beliefs about gender and power, promotes shared decision-making between couples, and encourages men’s engagement in caregiving. In these sessions, participants are also encouraged to discuss what they have learned with their family members and peer groups, further spreading the positive messages promoted from within the group setting.
Prenatal sex selection is harmful for men and women, hindering progress toward gender equality and contributing to human rights violations. To shift attitudes, change behaviors, and reverse this trend, it is key to thoughtfully involve men and women in examining, questioning, and changing norms that contribute to this discriminatory practice.
Additional reporting by Jane Kato-Wallace, Program Officer at Promundo.
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