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Sex-Selective Abortions as Part of Gender-Based Discrimination in Armenia: Study

Sex-selective abortions in Armenia are mainly associated with the essential need to carry on one's family line and name, writes researcher Anna Voskanyan in her study/report entitled “Sex-Selective Abortions as Part of Gender-Based Discrimination in Armenian Family.” The researcher conducted a survey among women and men in Yerevan, Vanadzor, and in the villages of Margahovit, Darpas, Arjut of Lori region, to understand what are the orientations toward reproductive rights, processes and sex-selective abortions (SSA), how people perceive SSAs and what influence they have on them. 

The first and main reason for SSAs, as stated by the author, is the need to carry on one's family lineage. “According to the respondents son preference is the only way to continue the surname because the child takes the father's surname so he 'belongs to the father's family'. It is noteworthy that in the groups with respondents with secondary education the father's surname is mostly passed when the father accepts the fatherhood. Children take the mother's surname when the woman is not married, which is 'kind of shameful',” Voskanyan writes.  

The second reason is that the son is the main future breadwinner for the parents, and it is somehow the main guarantee of being protected, cared for and supported in the future. According to the majority of respondents “even if the daughter wants to help her parents, she will be economically depended on her husband’s decisions and means, who, of course, will chose to help and support his own parents.”

Women with higher education, the researcher points out, mentioned that “nowadays, there are women who are independent and have their own income”, but the number of these women is little and in conditions of the current unemployment many women are  dependent on their husbands.

One of the respondents mentioned (citing): “Having a son is a happiness. Those who have a daughter keep their heads down. A daughter can’t care for the parents, and it is shameful for a good man to live with his wife’s parents after marriage.”

The third group of reasons is associated with the establishment of the man’s image, prestige, and self-appreciation in the society. Both in men’s and women’s groups the opinion was dominant that the man's “being a man” depends mostly on the fact whether he has a son or not. 

“Respondents mentioned cases when husbands had heartaches, and anger attacks upon finding out that the first or even second or third child was a girl. They also behaved badly towards their wives, left the home, etc. The emotional expressions of men are common in their friends’ environment. According to the respondents the attitude “a good man must have a son” is common in the society, and the man’s self-establishment and positive image is based on having a son,” the author writes.

According to one of the respondents “there are so many cases when people take pity on the couples whose first child is a girl. Instead of congratulating them, they say that it's fine, their second will be a son…” 

To illustrate this attitude, the researcher gives examples of statements made by the respondents:

“The family is incomplete without a son”

“The traditional Armenian mentality implies the existence of a son”

“I was sad that my first child was a girl, I didn't even approach and hug her. I was not 
comfortable about the second child, what would I do if it were a girl? I was relieved when my son was born”

“I was feeling uncomfortable with my friends because I didn't have a son yet”

“The son is the one who continues the family line”

“The son is the pride of the parent”

“The girl is the one who cries on the parent, and the son is the one who takes care 
of them”

Another reason which was mentioned in the villages was that the son is needed in the family as a workforce without whom the family can't keep the household and do farming. Another reason is associated with the problem of migration and working abroad. Men with secondary education mentioned that the father who migrates to work abroad tries to have a son to be sure that 'his family is protected while he is abroad'. 

SSAs are mainly carried out in cases of second or third pregnancy, but there are also cases when they happen with the first child as well. 

In addition, according to respondents, SSAs are often carried out not in the hospitals, but via drugs that cause miscarriage and in “home-based, popular, traditional” ways. Women mentioned 11 different ways of performing an abortion, starting from hormonal drugs to putting foreign object into the internal sex organs, for example pieces of rusty metals. At the same time, men introduced other ways, such as walking on the back of the pregnant woman, hitting her belly, etc. This shows hat SSAa can be implemented in ways and in places which are very dangerous for women.