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Intersex, Women, Men and Nepal

Reading Time: 12 minutes

In the highly patriarchal and predominantly Hindu Society of Nepal, it’s no surprise that we value men so much more than women.

It’s no surprise then that families also value sons much more than daughters (read The Silenced…Go Silently for more on why and how) AND that the practice of sex-selective abortion is prevalent. (Click here, here, here, here or here for more on the subject.)

What is also not surprising is the fact that people “blame” the woman for giving birth to a girl-child if they expected a son, like when they only have had girls! It’s not unheard of for some men to marry a second wife because of that or worse to kick a wife/daughter-in-law out of the house for not “producing” a male heir!

Of course, scientifically, if someone, or a party, were to be blamed, it would be the man, yes the MAN!

The chromosome that determines the sex of a new-born is carried by the sperm! But how many in Nepal explain anything scientifically or accept a scientific explanation?! With a population comprising of about 7% with 12 or more years of education (see chart below), belief in fate and superstition still informs the attitudes and therefore guide the behaviors of a significant percentage of the population.

Earlier this month — on Sunday, February 4 to be precise — I attended a Yuwa Manthan session at Thames International College (see image at the top). At the session, a young intersex activist, Esan (aka Pabitra) Regmi, shared his life story and experiences of living as an intersex and as a LGBTQI-rights activist in the country. I learned a few new things at the session.

One was the routine way genital mutilation operations are performed on intersex children in Nepal. The operation is called Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM). 🙁

Another was the fact that in the very small instances of intersex births in Nepal, the woman is blamed for that!

She carries the stigma of giving birth to such a child as if the act determined the sex of the child! There are cases, apparently of husbands leaving wives giving birth to such children as well as the woman being stigmatized for life and so struggling to find a life partner following that.

In a country where economic independence of women, especially of rural women, is rare, that — being kicked out and abandoned and facing social obstructions to finding a partner for whatever reason — can be devastating!

Economic independence of a Nepali woman is rare for a number of reasons, some of which include inheritance law favoring men leading to a considerably lower level of fixed asset ownership by women (see image below), considerably lower education level of women (see second image below), considerably lower literacy rate of women (see third image below), and in general rampant gender-based discrimination in pretty much every sphere of life from domestic/family to social to professional to political…you name it.

Because of higher number of women in the population, it turns out that the actual number of women who can’t read and write is twice that of the men!

I posted parts of the above on Facebook on Monday, February 5, the day after the session.

A day or two later, I came across a Nepali article titled “These simple mistakes by parents result in the birth of an Intersex child.” It didn’t provide any scientific basis or evidence for most of the “mistakes”!

Here are the mistakes a woman during the first trimester of pregnancy might make which lead to the birth of an intersex child:

Here’s the translation:

The following reasons turns a fetus into an intersex child:

  1. Cold cough fever – If the pregnant woman is suffering from cold, cough and fever and takes some “heavy” medicine.
  2. “Medicines” – Taking any kind of medicine that might harm the fetus.
  3. “Toxic food” – Eating “toxic food” such as “chemically treated” and “pesticide fruit”
  4. Accident or ill – If within the first trimester the pregnant woman has any kind of accident or falls ill harming the fetus’ organs
  5. “genetic disorder” – 10-15% “genetic disorder” affects sex determination of a fetus [?!]. “T. Idiopathic” or unknown – Most of the reasons behind the birth of a “transgender” child is “idiopathic”, in other words, as long as time remains, determining the reasons behind such birth is not possible [?!]. [While this COULD have been the most sensible entry, it makes so sense as written, unless I am not reading and, therefore, translating it right!]
  6. Abortion medication – If the pregnant woman takes home-made abortion medication without consulting a doctor, an intersex child could be born!

Please note: Words and phrases within quotation marks in the above translation appear as their Nepali transliteration in the article.

On a side note, I don’t know why the journalist used those words and phrases in the article. Clearly, the article is aimed at Nepali language readers. Unless you have very good English language comprehension skills, you would struggle to understand those terms and phrases. On the other hand, if you are good in English, you would notice they don’t make any sense! I suspect the journalist used them to add weight to his statements — to raise the credibility of the reasons enumerated. If anything though, they actually make the article pretentious! Anyway…

As you can see, the article puts the blame of an intersex birth squarely on the woman!

It’s not like there is no information out there though!

Just a Google search for “Intersex” yielded many hits. One was an entry titled Intersex on the website Medicine Plus maintained by U.S. National Library of Medicine. It describes in detail the genetic basis for an intersex. It notes,

“In many children, the cause of intersex may remain undetermined, even with modern diagnostic techniques.”

And elsewhere it notes again,

“In most people with true gonadal intersex, the underlying cause is unknown, although in some animal studies it has been linked to exposure to common agricultural pesticides.”

A site maintained by the students of the University of California, Santa Barbara also has an entry titled Causes of Intersexuality. It provides a list of all the different intersex syndromes and conditions. But the syndromes aren’t the cause or the reason behind a new-born being born an intersex, of course. More importantly, the entry concedes,

“Some characteristics that are often associated with the development of intersex individuals include hormonal variations during pregnancy, genetic mutations, and environmental toxins.”

If indeed the journalist and the editor knew about all this but went ahead and published such a misleading article anyway, then we have a real problem there. If they are completely unaware and the article actually is a demonstration of the level of the journalist’s as well as the editor’s knowledge and understanding of the subject, we again have a real problem there!

What’s more, this kind of uninformed articles in Nepali papers are quite common!

Just recently, in “Super blue blood moon eclipse on January 31”, an article published in The Himalayan Times, the journalist quoting some “Former chairperson of Panchanga Committee Madhav Bhattarai” provides details of what people should or should not do before and during the lunar spectacle, NONE based on scientific reason or evidence! (See further reading below for more about the article as well as links to blog posts detailing other issues with Nepali journalism.)

Our politicians, leaders, and bureaucrats, as narrow-minded, greedy and morally bankrupt as they are, many are pretty much the same as such journalists and editors. According to a recent Op-Ed by Pramod Mishra, “Leaving behind the age of unreason,” Pushpa Kamal Dahal, one of the most — if not the most — powerful political figure in the country, recently

“warned his party’s relatively educated cadres against intellectuals like Baburam Bhattarai, who was once the public pillar of the Maoist party and whose intellectual girth won the people’s sympathy for the party, and Aahuti, who is probably the most insightful and articulate scholar of caste and the marginalisation caused by caste in Nepal[…][.]”

So, while the low-level, and low quality, of education of the population, in general, and that of women in particular, are a major issue for the country, journalists publishing such half-baked pieces with no objectively verifiable scientific evidence is a great disservice to the population among other things. It is also highly irresponsible for people in positions of influence (such as Bhattarai) to give such unscientific and half-baked advice.

And finally, it is highly irresponsible and very selfish for — and insidious of — someone (such as Dahal) with the power to shape how a significant proportion of the population think and behave to so flagrantly promote anti-intellectualism in a country where a vast majority of the population are lacking in the ability to think for themselves. Others might characterize it as political expediency or as being politically savvy etc.

But then again, the social, economic and political elite in a country — any country — benefit greatly from keeping the masses stupid, ignorant and uneducated. Keep the population uneducated, uninformed and even misinformed, the elite have an easier time distracting and exploiting them by, for example, sowing discord using propaganda. The masses naturally, unable to think for themselves, pitted against one another, squabble over non-issues or minor issues, unable to discern them for what they are.

What’s more, doing so — keeping the masses uneducated — also enables the elite to remain so unchallenged and able to justify remaining so using the following “fact”: “How can they move up in life?! Look how poorly educated and incapable they are!” That is, it feeds and supports a self-fulfilling prophesy! What they are so completely (intentionally?) blind to is the major structural issues the country faces.

And of course, the members of the Nepali elite are mostly men, hill high caste Hindu men, probably mostly narrow-minded, traditional and conservative too.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

Further Reading

Additional blog posts about how Nepali journalism is failing us:

  • Nepal Journalism: Atrociously Biased or Just Plain Lazy or Something Else? An example of a major failure and insidiousness of our journalism. The media outlets featured in the blog describing how they published a completely fabricated news report about an incident in the Southern plains to promote and further an unflattering and stereotypical image of the Madheshis, the Plains people, so as to be able to continue to justify their unfair treatment by the central government and the media.

  • Is Media in Kathmandu as One-sided as They Appear?…And What of the Nepalese People? National daily’s published in Kathmandu displaying outright bias in the way they covered protest activities of Nepalis in Washington DC.

  • Editor-in-Chief. Questioning and challenging, repeatedly, the integrity of his journalists and papers, I got blocked by Subhash Ghimire on Twitter, Editor-in-Chief of Republica. His publications (two of them My Republica and Nagarik) have regularly produced articles that are of poor quality, misogynistic, biased against religions other than Hinduism, biased against indigenous population etc. His publications have also been unethical (reproducing articles and info-graphs without crediting their sources). Here’s a twitter thread about just one of many examples of his publication’s questionable, but regular, practices:

Here’s another one.

 

Examples of how Nepalis, ordinary or otherwise, use, create and propagate misinformation to different ends:

  • Propaganda Vilifying Madhesis. Nepali Twitter users using images of abused Bangladheshi children to malign Madeshis (Nepalis indigenous to the plains) by ascribing the act to them instead.

  • Tell Me Where is Ethnicity-based Discrimination in Nepal. “When you were of school-going age you wasted your time playing marbles and other such games, smoking weed and cigarettes, teasing young girls and failing in several subjects and now you kick up a stink because you can’t get a high-ranking post in the government?”

  • You Can Lead a Horse, Even One With Blinders On, To Water…. A novelist and an activist on Twitter (with several thousand followers) as well as a contributor to Ghimire’s publication (My Republica), Shiwani Neupane, though educated at Ithaca College and Columbia University in US, either does not have a clear knowledge and understanding of the structural issues facing the country or her allegiance to her caste (hill high caste Hindus) trumps any public display, or acknowledgement, of that fact, as far as I can tell anyway. If she does have the necessary knowledge and understanding of structural issues plaguing the country but has chosen to NOT demonstrate them in debates and discussions with others on social media and/or in her writings (click here, here and here for three examples), she has chosen to compromise her intellectual integrity over caste allegiance, or over some other reason I can’t think of. In the blog post, I share the details of an exchanges others and I had with her on Twitter, in which she clearly displays her confusion between economic equality issues and (political) structural equality issues.

Examples of Nepalis displaying damaging degree of ignorance about different issues, and herd mentality:

  • Troll Nepal: Like Name, Like Post. Troll Nepal epitomizes the level of ignorance (and arrogance) on the part of us, Nepalese men.

  • Buddha Was Born… This an example of how Nepalis display herd mentality and in the process display a lack of ability to reason logically. While they want to take pride in Buddha being born in Nepal, in the plains to be precise, they vilify indeginous population of the south, completely ignoring the teaching of Buddha!

    When the controversy over where Buddha was born erupted again following a statement by the Dalai Lama in response to a question, Nepalis rose up in in arms, as it were, on social media!! Click here for my FB posted in response to the hue and cry. But what percentage of those who, following herd mentality, added their voice to and fueled the #TheLieLama campaign would have understood my post?

  • Wag The Dog. The blog contains examples of how easily the general ignorance and herd mentality is exploited by those in positions of power.

  • Kathmandu: Driving and Parking Nepal. About how those in positions of power are dividing and pitting the population against one another and how the population willing partake in it because of lack of awareness and understanding.

  • A Graph is Worth a Thousand Words…It Seems. A blog post laying bare the level of ignorance a number of social media users displayed about a chart showing the breakdown of different bodies by caste. (The chart shows that we have major structural issues, but not a single person reacting to is displayed any hint that they were aware of that.)

  • All for unity…Well Maybe Not…All. A satire poking fun at the level of ignorance displayed in a meme which shows support for the caste system, the system responsible for many of our social problems.

  • “Tell Me, Where is Ethnicity-based Discrimination in Nepal?!” A meme that uses flawed logic, gets the characterisation of fellow Nepalese so completely wrong and shows support for the caste system, has appealed to — and misinformed — a sizeable Nepalese Facebook users. The last time I checked, it had been shared over seven thousand times with a vast majority of them agreeing with it.

 

References

  • Aging.co.uk (Dec. 2015). Policy Brief: Evidence and Action for Reducing Sex. ‘Sex-selective abortion in Nepal is highly prevalent in some regions, with as many as 1 in 10 girls births “missing” in the last 5 years in some districts. It is very likely that the use of sex-selective abortion will continue to spread without intervention.’

  • NCBI (May 2013). Falling sex ratios and emerging evidence of sex-selective abortion in Nepal: evidence from nationally representative survey data. “The fall in CSRs [Conditional sex ratios] witnessed post-legalisation indicates that sex-selective abortion is becoming more common. This change is very likely driven by both supply and demand factors. Falling fertility has intensified the need to bear a son sooner, while legal abortion services have reduced the costs and risks associated with obtaining an abortion.”

  • Journal of Nepal Pedriatic Society (January-April 2016). Sex Ratio at Birth in a Tertiary Care Hospital in Western Nepal are the Trends Changing?
    The sex ratio at birth in hospital deliveries is unbalanced with inclination towards male, more so in women with high parity. Additional research exploring the reason for increase in male births is needed, so that potential programs which can reverse this trend can be implemented.”

  • University of Tampere, School of Health Sciences (Sept. 2016). Prevalence and Factors Associated With Abortion in Nepal: A National Cross-sectional Study. “Abortion among Nepalese women is still quite popular and among all the abortions performed many of them are unsafe. Various socio-demographic factors were found to be associated with prevalence of abortion and among them wealth of the women was one factor associated with both the total prevalence of abortion and unsafe abortion. Abortion service should be made accessible and safe in order to improve the maternal health of the Nepalese
    women.”

  • Center for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities (Sept. 2007). Sex Selection: Pervasiveness and Preparedness in Nepal. “Levels of the practice of pre-natal sex determination and sex-selective abortion are low in the study population. In the survey, only 3 per cent (74 women) of the ever-pregnant women had ever sought pre-natal sex-determination tests, and 14 per cent of the women who ever had an induced abortion had done so following pre-natal sex determination.”

  • Stop.genitalmutilation.org (May, 2016). STOP Intersex Genital Mutilations in Children’s Clinics!

  • News24Nepal (February 2018). आमा-बुबाको यस्तो सानो गल्तिले नै “तेस्रो लिङ्गी ” जन्मिनछन् ( “These simple mistakes by parents result in the birth of an Intersex child.”)

  • U.S. National Library of Medicine (last updated February, 2018 ). Intersex. “In many children, the cause of intersex may remain undetermined, even with modern diagnostic techniques.” “In most people with true gonadal intersex, the underlying cause is unknown, although in some animal studies it has been linked to exposure to common agricultural pesticides.”

  • Students from the University of California, Santa Barbara (last updated November 2015). Causes of Intersexuality. “Some characteristics that are often associated with the development of intersex individuals include hormonal variations during pregnancy, genetic mutations, and environmental toxins.”

  • The Himalayan Times (January 2018). Super blue blood moon eclipse on January 31.
    ‘Former chairperson of Panchanga Committee Madhav Bhattarai said people should not eat or sleep before nine hours of the eclipse [?!?!] and try to maintain good faith and keep positive attitude.

    He also said one must not take eclipses as a mere celestial event and acknowledge that these events can have serious impact on humans.

    “Our ancestors predicted about eclipses and other celestial activities centuries ago before the invention of any scientific technology and tools to predict such activities. Thus possible impact of such celestial activities cannot simply be ignored,” Madhav Bhattarai said.

    Bhattrai [sic] said that expect [sic], elderly, children and ailing people, everybody was advised not to eat, sleep and even use toilet during the time of [the almost three-and-a-half-hour long] eclipse [as well].’ [All emphases mine.]

  • The Kathmandu Post (February 2018). Leaving Behind the Age of Unreason.

References (added after the publication of the blog post)

  • A video NOT referenced in the blog but related to the topic. It’s about why rich Americans want to keep the rest dumb! [Added on March 5, 2018.]

  • Standford Medicine (Feb. 124, 2015). Sex biology redefined: Genes don’t indicate binary sexes. “New technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that chromosomal sex is a process, not an assignation.” […] “More than 25 genes that affect sex development have now been identified, and they have a wide range of variations that affect people in subtle ways.” [Added on March 11, 2018.]

  • Institute for New Economic Thinking (April 6, 2018). The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools. “Again and again, he found that corporate-backed lobbyists were able to subvert the clear preferences of the public and their elected representatives in both parties. Of all the areas these lobbyists were able to influence, the policy campaign that netted the most laws passed, featured the most big players, and boasted the most effective organizations was public education. For these U.S. corporations, undermining the public school system was the Holy Grail.” [Added on May 10, 2018.]

  • Kantipur (Aug. 7, 2018). दसौं सन्तानमा छोरा ! (“Tenth Child Finally a Son”). “‘सबैले छोरीमात्र जन्माई भनेर हेलाँ गर्थे, अब त सबैको मुख बन्द भएको छ,’ जिल्ला अस्पतालमा उनले भनिन्, ‘सुत्केरी हुँदाहुँदा ज्यान गले पनि घर परिवार र समाजका लागि छोरा जन्माएँ।’” (‘This has shut up everyone who used to look down on me saying “Gave birth to only daughters”‘ she said at the District Hospital. “In spite of my body suffering from regular pregnancy, I have given birth to a son for the sake of my family and society.”) Emphasis mine. Notice her choice of words! [Added on Aug. 8, 2018.]
  • AJ’s Newsbroke (Facebook video) with Francesca Fiorentini on “Why Americans hate intellectuals? By design it seems.” In other words, the rich in the US benefit from keeping the American population uneducated or poorly educated. [Added on Sept. 17, 2018.]

 

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