Male child preference: Society reinforces and females pay the price

A mother walks with her child in Syria (AP/Edited by Enab Baladi)

A mother walks with her child in Syria (AP/Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud

“Girls are a burden until death,” and “A daughter is either to be veiled or buried,” these are some of the folk proverbs that reflect the social culture regarding females in Syria, across different regions of influence. These sayings leave broad judgments that are offensive to females, showing their subjugation to male dominance, resulting from stereotypical ideas in Arab societies in general and in Syrian society in particular.

Cultural heritage plays an important role in creating and fostering the phenomenon of preferring male children over females for some men within the Syrian family. This preference is also reinforced by other factors such as wars and poor living conditions, as mentioned by Dr. Omar al-Nimr, a specialist in family therapy, to Enab Baladi.

For some families, the birth of a male child is an important and necessary matter, which may lead to a second marriage and the formation of another family in alignment with this desire. This casts negative effects on the first marital relationship and the wife affected by the decision, threatening her presence as it happened with Amal Daham Aloush, who faced her husband’s desire to father a male child throughout their more than two-decade-long marriage.


In Syrian society, some men see the presence of a male in the family as essential since he will “carry the father’s name” in the future and be nicknamed after him. He becomes the family’s reliance as the father grows older, according to prevailing social customs.

Amal’s husband, who is from al-Tah village in rural Idlib, could not resist his love for fathering male children, and his desire for a child to inherit his name outweighed the wife’s attempts to convince him to forgo the idea of marrying again, so he got remarried two years ago, despite his family’s support to his first wife.

Amal told Enab Baladi that she was blessed with five daughters and a male child after about more than a decade of marriage. However, the child was born with a myelomeningocele on his back, leading to the child’s paralysis due to a medical error during an attempt to remove it, causing him to be confined and unable to move.

The mother repeatedly noticed clear signs of disappointment and shock on her husband’s face with each daughter she gave birth to, until the arrival of her son, whom she had hoped would be her salvation from a problem that had followed her since her marriage about 23 years ago, until the child’s paralysis after seeking medical advice.

Amal (42 years old) continued saying that when she discovered the child’s illness years ago, she decided to give it another try, especially after several discussions with her husband, who held her responsible, believing that the birth of females is a problem related to the woman, and if he married another, he would father a son.

The inability to conceive again led to his marriage to a 30-year-old woman, who is currently pregnant, without Amal (the first wife) knowing the gender of the unborn child, as she has not met the new wife.

Regarding the effects of this kind of marriage, aimed at fathering male children, Dr. Omar al-Nimr believes that such cases leave negative social impacts on marital and family relationships, affecting the children at home, leading to family disintegration, and making the problem difficult to address wisely, according to the doctor.

Dr. al-Nimr pointed out in his conversation that societal ideas empower men to react by remarrying if his first wife does not bear a male child, leaving negative effects on the woman’s psyche, considering this behavior to stem from incorrect ideas, surrounding women in current or previous environments, if any.

Cultural heritage role

Blaming women for bearing only daughters and not sons forces some of them to succumb to reality if the woman does not possess the “luxury of objection,” by repeating the attempt more than once to bear a son and satisfy the husband’s desire, according to Dr. Omar al-Nimr, a specialist in family therapy.

The doctor continued that failing to quench the man’s thirst for a male child could lead to a new marriage and possibly divorce from the first wife, propositions and probabilities that do not serve family formation.

Among the primary factors contributing to the aggravation of the problem, according to al-Nimr, is society’s misunderstanding that it is the man, not the woman, who determines the sex of the offspring in the mother’s womb according to medicine.

According to the medical website “UpToDate“, the determination of the biological gender of the fetus results from the chromosome contributed by the father. Males have X and Y chromosomes, while females have corresponding chromosomes X and X. If the male contributes his Y chromosome, the fetus is fertilized to become male, and if he contributes an X chromosome, the fetus is fertilized to become female.

Al-Nimr believes that society plays the most significant role in reinforcing the idea that the male is more important in the family than the female. Cultural heritage in a given environment can reinforce discrimination between males and females, which is widespread and solidified by folk proverbs. As evidence, Dr. al-Nimr cited a popular saying “Girls are a burden until death.”

The lifestyle of the society, which maintains a relative connection for males with their families even after marriage, also contributes to consolidating this culture, whereas the situation is somewhat different with the marriage of females.

Discriminatory culture

Several factors also contribute to this discrimination between the offspring, including economic and social factors. Society’s reinforcement of male superiority over females is due to several reasons, among them the belief that the ability to work and support the family provider is limited to males, although females can also work. However, women’s work is also not a point of agreement in societies that adopt such viewpoints, meaning the male is a more economical and profitable investment for the family, according to Dr. al-Nimr.

The doctor also pointed out that wars and poor economic and critical social conditions also play a role in spreading the desire more among families for the presence of a male, especially with the previous hypothesis confirming that he is capable of assisting with life’s difficulties, which, on the other hand, increases the fear of birthing a female amidst wars and displacement.

Dr. al-Nimr emphasized the importance of spreading social awareness to mitigate the phenomenon of discrimination and preference for males over females, by clarifying to people the most important idea and cornerstone of the problem, which is that the woman is not responsible for the gender of the fetus. This is a primary step towards tackling the issue.

Among other measures, work must be done to change the discriminatory culture in society, explaining that the current era is different from prior eras that relied on male strength and muscles during wars. Today, we live in an era of progress and technology, and society needs the minds of both men and women in life, and is not complete with only one of them, al-Nimr said.


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