Darling, Reproductive Rights Gives India A Bad Name
I am always struck by the diversity of languages, cultures, perspectives, and ideas from around the world that I have experienced and studied. But there is one tragic commonality in many of these: the systematic humiliation and degradation of female-identified people and children. From equal pay in the United States to genital mutilation in Africa to sexual trafficking in Southeast Asia and beyond, the widespread abuse of women in political, social, and economic arenas is not uncommon.
India, a rising developing nation with numerous grave women’s rights violations of its own, has made its way into the news yet again. On November 12th, over 80 women, mostly from the state of Chhattisgarh’s poor, lower caste communities, underwent government-sponsored sterilization, which resulted in the deaths of 11 and illness of 60 of them. Women’s rights advocates blame the monetary incentives—1,400 rupees or approximately $20 US—given to these women by the state to undergo these operations.
In this diverse, burgeoning nation, where over 2/3rds of the population is under 35, sectors such as natural resources or the job market will begin to experience strain. Unlike its autocratic, communist neighbor, this democratic nation does not have a demographic policy to curtail population growth. While many grassroots initiatives started by scholarly institutions and advocacy organizations have attempted to build conversations and dialogues around family planning and contraceptives, issues such as sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, and continued poverty as a result of lack of education abound.
India is no stranger to being exposed in the news about methods to slow birth rates, often with disastrous results. The most popular method is providing monetary incentives for sterilization procedures. Health rights advocates have criticized this approach for putting the onus on the woman and thereby seriously limiting their family planning birth control options. It also doesn’t help that the former Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is known for making controversial statements, such as advocating banning comprehensive sex education in favor of practicing yoga.
Accordingly to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, India stands at 105 out of 135 countries surveyed on women’s political, social, and economic empowerment. In health and survival, they are second to last, only ahead of Azerbaijan. India suffers from high rates of maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity, with violence against pregnant women regularly exercised. This will severely affect not only the way that India develops in the future, but also its reputation on the international stage.
To be clear, the United States is no stranger to the “war on women;” an increasing number of states have closed down abortion clinics and state representatives have made inexcusable, medically inaccurate comments about rape and pregnancy. Women’s access to reproductive care, especially for ethnic and racial minorities, continues to be an obstacle due to the rise of right wing rhetoric. However, India, unlike the United States, is still trying to prove itself to the world that it will not be “the power that could have been.” Understandably so, reproductive health and economic growth are invariably tied. While its obsession with economic and job market success is not unfounded, India needs to address women’s rights in the context of reproductive health in order to be legitimized as a future powerhouse.
- Anjana Sreedhar