Recently my colleague found a sex-selection protestor’s poster on Facebook that mirrored posters used by anti-choice campaigners in the U.S, and in Europe: a graphic fetal image was juxtaposed with the slogan “Save Girls, Say No to Abortions.”
Ironically, the poster does not even mention sex-selection.
This poster is one more reason for us stress on the need to separate sex-selection from abortion. As Dr. Manisha Gupte told ASAP in an interview, several people in India heard of legal abortions only when the media began focusing on sex-selection in the 1990s. The two are therefore intricately connected in people’s minds.
However, this misperception is far from the truth. While it is true that abortions have been used for terminating pregnancies where the women knew it was a female fetus, the procedure is more often used to save the lives of women, preserve their mental and physical health, and to terminate unwanted pregnancies that may jeopardize a woman’s future.
Hundreds of years before ultrasound and safe abortion techniques were available, our societies were getting rid of unwanted girls children by burying them alive, drowning them or suffocating them. Clearly access to safe abortions is not the problem and hence restricting access cannot be the solution! All it will do is drive women to seek help from untrained providers and quacks, and result in their death or severe complications.
Therefore, this misguided move to vilify abortions has to be nipped in the bud. It is particularly important for organizations and individuals fighting sex-selection to appreciate this distinction while sharing their demands with millions of people on platforms like mass media and social networks.
Sex-selection, as we’ve highlighted before on this blog, is a symptom of a larger issue: gender discrimination. But then, selectively denying abortions to women is also a form of discrimination. Therefore it is important to identify and fight the real issue, rather than oppose a medical procedure, the absence of which can lead to the death of several women.
“Sex-selection,” as Dr. Gupte said in her interview “is the result of old, traditional values.” Daughters are considered a burden, and sons are preferred because of religious tenets that teach us to treat daughters as “property” meant to be given away, and sons as “inheritors.” Abortion, a modern medical procedure, is even embroiled in the issue only because it is being misused to satisfy this old, traditional greed for sons. As Dr. Gupte pointed out, if the real issue is not weeded out, a different medical technology will be misused widely soon. Rich families have already begun exploiting, in vitro fertilizations, which are originally meant to help women and men with infertility conceive.
So, to fight sex-selection, campaigners should instead focus on gender equality. If women are given equal education, equal pay, protected maternity leave, safe travel facilities; if their right to inherit and own property is better protected; if bans on dowry are better implemented; if severe action is taken against sexual abuse; if violence against women is prevented – in short, if the war on women is brought to a stop, sex-selection will also end.
So, to save girls, say no to discrimination!