On the day she gave birth, we were all excited and a bit tense. iSanctuary Founder Stephanie Pollaro and India staff member Alex waited with Ana’s husband at the hospital, but as is common in India, Ana wasn't permitted to have anyone with her for support.
The iSanctuary ladies were gathering for lunch when the final text we were waiting for arrived: "It's a girl!" I called out. The room erupted in loud, joyful cheers. Sangeeta* began shaking hands, offering everyone congratulations in her usual joking style. Everyone was smiling, clapping, and hugging.
As a society, India deeply values family and children, yet this happy occasion was bittersweet. The birth of a baby girl is viewed by some as a misfortune; while a thankfully dwindling number of people believe boys are more worthy, many more simply fear what a girl may endure in her life.
The sex of Ana’s baby was a surprise because prenatal gender determination is illegal in India. The Indian government passed this protective law in response to the increasingly uneven ratio of male to female babies as ultrasound and IVF technologies became available. Yet, sexism still permeates the culture, as it does in various forms worldwide.
While poverty is a major cause of exploitation, for women like iSanctuary's participants, sexism has played an equally large role. Most Indian families would condemn the selective termination of a female fetus as unjust, yet some still might sell their daughters out of financial desperation and ignorance, as though a girl’s primary worth is as a commodity.
While this is an uncommon practice, other damaging attitudes are not. When a girl is given less food or attention than her brothers, required to prioritize housework over education, or pressured to marry young, she is taught- however inadvertently- that she is an object. She is shown at a young age that her future and individual personhood don’t matter. In turn, young girls can become susceptible to exploitation by others.
iSanctuary’s goal in empowering young women is to help show that every girl’s life matters. There will no longer be fear in bringing a baby girl into the world because she can have a bright future. The joy of welcoming another daughter into the iSanctuary family is proof that hope is winning.
I spoke with Ana a few weeks before her baby was born about her hopes for the future. She said: “I didn’t get much good for myself, so I will make sure my child gets the best I can give.” We have no doubt that she will.
Written by: Alyson Emory Holsclaw, Program Development Specialist
*Name has been changed