project . 2017 - 2022 . Closed

Son preference and sex selection against females in the UK: Evidence, causes, trends and implications

UK Research and Innovation
Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: ES/N01877X/1
Funded under: ESRC Funder Contribution: 661,740 GBP
Status: Closed
31 May 2017 (Started) 29 Sep 2022 (Ended)

Son preference and the increasing availability of prenatal sex selection procedures since the 1980s have shaped reproductive practices and contributed to an estimated 100 million missing girls in Asia. Son preference motivated family-making decisions have also been evidenced among Asian communities in the UK, the USA, and Canada, and is of considerable concern for the communities involved, women's groups, the health sector, policy makers and society at large. The overarching aim of this proposal is to evaluate gender preferences through reproductive decision-making and practice among Asian communities in the UK and gain a contextual understanding of the dynamic factors at play that will inform an ethically founded and gender justice policy framework and interventions aiming to address son preference and potential practices of selective reproduction. The project speaks to demands for research on policy development with regard to son preference and its potential translation into sex-selection in the UK, Europe and Asia (see for instance Serious Crime Act 2015, section 84 (UK); resolution 1829 of the Council of Europe; the interagency statement 'Preventing gender-biased sex selection' of the OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO). To coherently tackle the multifaceted aspects of the topic, the project brings together expertise on reproduction, family dynamics, son preference and its manifestations that will enable qualitative and quantitative approaches relevant for informed policy. Using available demographic data from various sources,, we will analyse quantitatively gender-based childbearing practices (e.g. the stopping rule), sex ratio at birth (SRB), trends and intergenerational changes, providing novel and robust evidence of demographic manifestations of son preference, and also clarifying potential evidence of prenatal sex-selection (PSS) in recent years in the UK. Son-preference, though rooted in traditional patriarchy is changing in character. While the quantitative work will bring novel insights into reproductive practices in relation to son-preference, an extensive qualitative analysis will interrogate inter-generational family dynamics within the Asian communities of contextualised practices of gender preferences and factors of changes in son preference and related patriarchal ideologies. An in-depth understanding of the interdependencies between factors underpinning gender preferences provides a rare opportunity to contribute to theories of gender inequality. This work will investigate the pervasiveness of the gendered social order and shifting patriarchal cultures within Asian communities and also the dynamic interrelation of differently gendered social systems. This will help understanding the intersection of class, age and race/ethnicity qualify gender embeddedness within the changing social fabric of contemporary British society, inform the potential diversity of complex gendered experiences including how this is challenging (or not) the very idea of gender norms. The proposed work will also provide a rich case study to advance transnational theories. Outcomes are likely to support informed policy interventions aimed at normative, cultural and behavioural changes. We will conduct an ethical analysis within a gender justice framework combined with a policy framing analysis, to also inform best practice of potential interventions and support communication. Throughout, a variety of stakeholders (academics, medical professionals, women's groups/NGOs, policy makers) will be engaged in this multi-disciplinary project, including the Department of Health (partner), to provide the best evidence-based knowledge on son preference and related childbearing practices, which is of direct relevance to the women concerned, their family, community-based women's organisations, the medical sector, and of importance to inform policies promoting gender equality in the UK and beyond.

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