Maya Unnithan

42428The Politics of Reproductive Rights and Desires: Female Selective Abortion in India and the UK

There is an emerging global discourse on female selective abortion (FSA) as the UK joins several Asian countries in seeking legislation to criminalise the practice amongst its British Asian communities. Although based on reliable national, demographic surveys on the increasing imbalance in sex ratios in favour of boys in these countries, little is understood about FSA as either a desired or contested practice of family making in the contexts in which it is practiced. Drawing on ethnographic research of parents and providers on the right to determine the sex composition of the family via new reproductive technologies in India (Unnithan, 2010), this paper examines the complex legal, political and ethical paradoxes that surround the regulation of FSA in India and the lessons it provides for the regulation of gender selective abortion in the UK (Unnithan and Dubuc, 2017). It shows how, in one sense, women’s resort to FSA can be taken as an example of their reproductive agency in the face of patriarchal control, where their actions represent their attempt to protect themselves and their daughters from social discrimination. In another sense, their resort to FSA could be viewed as symbolic of their further subordination to those very gender ideologies that discriminate against their sex. In this second sense, their choice to undergo FSA is not an autonomous choice at all. How are we to incorporate these lived experiences within legal regulation and discourse on reproductive rights? In the paper I argue that research on the intersectional, contextual, processual and experiential nature of FSA should constitute an important form of evidence to inform effective policy interventions.

Maya Unnithan is Professor of Anthropology at University of Sussex. Maya Unnithan received a Ph.D (1991) in Social Anthropology from Cambridge Universityand holds degrees in Sociology (MA) and Economics (BA Hons). She has taught at Sussex since 1991. Maya is director of the Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health (CORTH) which she helped establish in the School of Global Studies.