Data is magic. Data is powerful. Data can change lives.
Yesterday, one of our funders asked for data from across the Foundation, segregated by project and by gender. Simply: how many girls and how many boys had accessed services at Chhota Gubbara, Gubbara, EIC and Karuna Vihar?
What we found was stunning.
At Chhota Gubbara, which caters to tiny newborns, we had 101 babies. 55 were boys. 46 were girls. Not bad! Especially considering that the sex ratio at birth in Uttarakhand is an alarming 886 girls to 1000 boys, our figures seem to indicate that parents are almost as likely to seek help for their newborn girls as for their newborn boys. Statistically, in fact, the difference was insignificant.
At Gubbara, which provides assessments for children with developmental disabilities from 0 to 8, we had a total of 1197 children attending. 796 were boys; 401 were girls. Nearly twice as many boys as girls were brought in for the 2-day program.
At the Early Intervention Centre, an intensive program for kids from 0 to 6 demanding parent attendance on a daily basis, the disparity was a bit starker: 49 boys to 23 girls. Of parents willing to make that long-term, daily commitment, more than half were parents of boys.
But it was at Karuna Vihar School and the Child Development Centre, where children range in age from 7 to 14, that the real story emerged: of 105 children, 80 were boys; 25 were girls. More than three times as many boys as girls.
By the age of 7, a girl with disability is three times as likely as a boy to have her parents give up on her.
Because she’s not worth the effort. She’s not important. She’s just not precious enough to bother about.
That’s one way to analyze the data.
But it’s not the only way. Data is powerful. It’s not just descriptive of a situation that we don’t like. It also offers a prescription for how to change it.
Remember the information from Chhota Gubbara, our project for tiny newborns. They are at high risk for a disability because of low birth weight, prematurity, trauma at delivery or a disabling condition at birth.
Remember the numbers! 55 boys. 46 girls. And remember the sex ratio at birth in Uttarakhand: 886:1000. So according to the data, there should be fewer girls coming in because fewer are born. According to our figures, then, parents are almost as likely to seek help for their newborn girls as for their newborn boys.
So that tells us we need to work doubly, triply hard for those little girls once we get them. We need to be their champions and to make their continued care our highest priority. We need to factor in the other voices parents are hearing when we are counseling them. We need to anticipate their tendency to drop out and slack off and we need to up the pressure on them to stay the course. We need to think of every possible creative way to keep these girls enrolled and attending.
When they are born, their parents are ready to do anything for them. That’s what parents do. As the girls get a little older – just a little older – the voices of patriarchy and bias and male supremacy get louder, drowning out the good, strong, perfect love of the ordinary parent.
Our voices need to be what they hear now. We have to speak with conviction and authority and promise. We need to drown out the voices of despair and loss and rejection with our voices of courage and hope and anticipation. We need to support these parents to do what they know all along is right.
Because at the beginning, when those little girls first arrived, their parents thought they were just as precious as their brothers. We have the data to prove it.
(Photo of the child and teacher courtesy Joe Gidjunis: Photo of the Moms courtesy Manik Mandal.)