From sworn virgins to unwanted female fetuses -- gender inequality in Montenegro

Statistics reveal that Montenegro is right up there with East and South Asia and the Caucasus, where imbalanced sex statistics indicate the practice of terminating pregnancies based on the predicted sex of the fetus.

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
From sworn virgins to unwanted female fetuses -- gender inequality in Montenegro - NewsMavens
A sworn virgin. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

“Dear Unwanted, your parents wanted a boy and that's why you didn't get a chance to be born. Forgive them. Yours, grieving Montenegro.”

This is the obituary published as part of the “Neželjena” (“Unwanted”) campaign against illegal prenatal gender tests and sex-selective abortions in Montenegro launched by the Women's Right Center a month ago.

The results of an online petition against abuse of prenatal tests, which is also part of the campaign, should be announced soon. In the meantime, Montenegrin women's rights activists met with the government to demand more stringent controls of hospitals and their medical procedures. Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Pažin said he fully supports the campaign.

Women in Montenegro have felt obliged to give birth to male children for centuries to avoid criticism from their families.

The goal of traditional Montenegrin families was to extend the family name, a task daughters could not carry out. Unless they developed a masculine identity and took over the role of a virtual son.

Last year, media reported about the last “sworn virgin” of Montenegro, one of many women born in mountain villages of Montenegro who had to become “men” in families with no male offspring. The pressure that patriarchal society puts on women is nowadays less radical but still very strong.

Statistics reveal that Montenegro goes hand in hand with countries of East and South Asia and the Caucasus, where misbalanced sex indicates the practice of terminating pregnancy based on predicted sex of the fetus.

According to the UNFPA, the standard global average of 104 to 106 boys to 100 girls is shifted in favor of boys in Balkans countries such as Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. In Montenegro, 100 girls were born for every 109 boys in average during the last twenty years. There was a standard ratio of 103 boys to 100 girls last year only.

The so called chorionic villus sampling (CVS) is a prenatal test that detects chromosomal disorders and the sex of fetuses. Performed early in the pregnancy, CVS test gives woman enough time to have an abortion while it is still legal.

In their recent article about illegal prenatal tests in Montenegro, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported that even though the test is potentially harmful to the fetus, many doctors and future mothers do not hesitate to do it.

BIRN also noted that the Ministry of Health will intensify checks on gynecologists’ offices.

Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Pažin promised the same to “Unwanted” campaigners.

“The success of this campaign would be a step forward in the emancipation of the Montenegrin society,” he told them.

It remains to be seen how much time it will take for the step to be made. Emancipation of a society which once forced daughters to pretend to be sons and now forces mothers to “unwant” their daughters seems to be a long way off.

Details from the story:

  • In September 2017, BIRN revealed that illegal gender tests in clinics in Serbia are easily available. Some women who find out they carry a female fetus, decide to terminate the pregnancy before the legal deadline for abortion expires. One of BIRN’s sources admitted she underwent a test when she was carrying her third child. She wanted a son to please her husband, she told BIRN.
  • Following BIRN's investigation, Montenegrin Women's Right Center started a campaign to point to the problem and urge governments to deal with it.
  • Although some oppose its moralizing tone, the campaign gained a lot of attention and sympathies in Montenegro and abroad.
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