An Exploration of Son Preference and the Treatment of Daughters among Punjabi Sikhs in Northern California
Sabherwal, Simran Kaur
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Background: Son preference is a phenomenon characterized by a greater valuation of male versus female children that can manifest through discriminatory behaviors in the prenatal or postnatal period. While the phenomenon is well-researched in India, limited research attention has been given to the persistence of son preference ideology among the growing Indian immigrant population in the U.S. This dissertation explores what the male and female perspectives of son preference and daughter neglect are among Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Northern California, and what professionals have encountered with regard to the phenomenon. Methods: This study utilized qualitative research methods to collect data from members of the Punjabi Sikh community residing in Northern California. In phase one of this project, key informant interviews were conducted with professionals in health, education, social services, and community organizing (n=17). In phase two, in-depth interviews were conducted with unmarried sons (n=11) and daughters (n=14) age 18-24 years who were born in the U.S. or migrated here at a young age, and married males (n=2) and females (n=6) who were born in North India, were age 21 and over, and had at least two children. An inductive thematic analysis was followed for data analysis that encompassed coding the data, combining codes into broader categories and themes, and then noting relationships among categories to make descriptive comparisons. Results: Son preference in Punjabi Sikh families continues to persist in both subtle and overt ways, most predominantly in the form of emotional abuse. While both males and females recognized instances of discriminatory treatment towards girls and women throughout the community, women and girls perceived more inequality in the home in various forms and described potential harmful influences to female mental health across the lifespan. Conclusion: The results indicate that efforts to better understand physical and psychological morbidities that stem from patriarchal structures and differential treatment in Punjabi Sikh family and community spaces are warranted. In addition, services that sensitively and confidentially allow for preventing, discussing, screening and addressing issues of gender and personal and family conflict would contribute greatly to self-image, relationship ideals and expectations, and family and community wellbeing.