IWHC Young Leaders Tackle Thorny Issue of Outsourced Surrogacy

On July 29, 30 young people joined IWHC for our Young Leaders screening of Made in India, a documentary by Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha about surrogacy outsourcing in India. We were excited to have Vaishali in attendance to answer some of our lingering questions and to help us navigate this layered and complex practice that encompasses issues such as class, power, and exploitation; the commodification of women’s bodies and fertility; and reproductive rights.

Made in India tells the story from the perspectives of those involved: an infertile American couple and the Indian surrogate they hire to carry their child. The filmmakers’ neutral, unbiased lens allowed the audience to draw their own opinions and conclusions about the practice of outsourced surrogacy.

The young people in the audience, who predominantly represented graduate programs in International Affairs from the New School, New York University, and Columbia University, spent the evening dissecting the complexities of sexual and reproductive rights and autonomy as it relates to surrogacy.

One question that arose from the discussion was whether someone of low socioeconomic standing, like Aasia, the surrogate profiled in the film, can make a free and informed decision to become a surrogate, or whether she is compelled to do it as a result of her poverty. Sarah Gold, an IWHC Program Assistant, brought clarity to the discussion by using the International Conference on Population and Development’s definition of reproductive rights, particularly “the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.” Through this definition, we see Aasia as an autonomous agent who, despite her poverty, was able to make a free decision about her body.

But the concern, Sarah noted, is whether there are safeguards in place to fully protect the rights of surrogates. As depicted in the film, there are significant gaps in Indian law that can leave surrogates like Aasia open to exploitation. Our primary concern at IWHC is that the rights and health of any woman who chooses to be a surrogate are protected and that she is able to consensually enter into such a role freely and fully informed.

This means that there must be rights mechanisms in place for ensuring she isn’t coerced into making the decision to be a surrogate, that she has access to high quality medical care, that she fully understands any contract she signs, that she is compensated fairly, and that she doesn’t face discrimination for her choice to be a surrogate.

Sarah explained to attendees, “Addressing the root causes of poverty (including widespread and deeply rooted gender inequalities)—which give rise to the very conditions under which Aasia made her decision—is a fundamental aspect of our international policy work.”

IWHC’s Young Leaders are women and men between the ages of 18 to 35 who come together to network and share ideas, meet international experts working on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and take action to build safe and healthy communities for women and girls worldwide. Like IWHC on Facebook to learn more about upcoming Young Leaders events.

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