Secret Daughter Exposes Gender Discrimination

This month’s Amnesty International Book Club pick, Secret Daughter, is a touching story of three women, worlds apart but entwined through circumstance, loss and love.  In telling these stories, author Shilpi Somaya Gowda sheds light upon gender discrimination and its shocking impact upon the women whose rights are ignored.

Gender discrimination

Secret Daughter offers powerful insights into how Indian society values women and girls. In a culture that favors sons, minutes after the birth, Kavita’s husband takes her first born daughter away. Kavita dares not ask what happened to her baby; whether she was drowned, buried or simply left to starve. She only hoped the death came quickly. In the home she shared with her husband’s family she was given scornful glances and uninvited counsel on how to conceive a boy the next time.

Kavita saves the life of her second daughter by secretly giving the infant up for adoption. Her husband has made it clear that they cannot afford to raise a girl. During her third pregnancy, Kavita is made to undergo an ultrasound to determine the sex of her unborn child. Should it be a girl, she could be forced to have an abortion, or be cast out of her husband’s home and left to raise the child alone as an outcast.

Kavita’s story may be fiction, but it derives comes from a reality facing too many women worldwide. Honour, morals and values too often lead family members to make decisions about a woman’s body and her life. Women should be empowered to make their own decisions guided by rights, not morality.

My Bodies, My Rights

Although women and girls make up more than 50 percent of the world’s population, in far too many countries they are treated like second class citizens, denied the rights that men and boys in their societies enjoy. Like India, in the West African country of Burkina Faso, many young girls are forced into early marriage and give birth to children when they themselves are almost children. 

While gender equality is protected under Burkina Faso’s constitution and law, in practice, female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage and domestic violence are widespread. Women and girls told Amnesty International that decisions about pregnancy and marriage are often taken by male family members. 

Burkina Faso has the sixth highest rate of early marriage in Africa, with 52 percent of girls married by the age of 18 and nearly half already mothers at that age. Burkina Faso has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use among women (17 percent) and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

It is very common for men to prevent their wives from using contraception with threats of violence. Therese, a 23 year old fruit seller and mother of three told Amnesty International, “Since I gave birth to a second child, I hide to take my contraceptive pills, which are also cheaper for me than other methods. My husband does not know about contraception. He thinks that it brings diseases and he threatens to lock me up if I fall ill because of it.”

Join us for a conversation around human rights and good books over with the Amnesty International Book Club.  When you join the book club, you become part of the conversation on human rights. We’ll email you webinar announcements where acclaimed authors reflect upon their works, you’ll have access to giveaways, and you’ll also receive a discussion guide for each new book pick, sharing the novels and the human rights issues such as you have just read. To find the discussion guide for Secret Daughter, click here

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