Another look at scientific and technological progress
By Dafne Sabanes Plou
BANGKOK, THAILAND, 07 November 2005
For the Women’s Media Pool (WMP) by Dafne Sabanes Plou, from WNSP
It is interesting that during this new Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) Forum that is being held in Bangkok, Thailand, numerous workshops and even an intervention at the plenary have been on scientific and technological advances, which are bringing along great changes regarding nature and the conception of human life. There were however also interventions on the modification of life that can seem aggressive and once again oppressive for women.
The genetic revolution brings along serious questions on human security and human rights. The great concern is whether these advances are being made in favour of public welfare or if instead the only matter of interest is property rights over this knowledge, with which power and money will be accumulated.
Many of these issues such as the creation of genetically modified seeds, their patents, the pressure on countries to increase their income through foreign trade, the acceptance of these modifications to increase productivity, have become matters of public discussion. Conversely, there are other subjects that are almost left unaddressed. These include the tendency to privatise life and the appropriation of reproductive rights – including those of human beings.
In the two workshops presented by the Center for Genetics and Society and Our Bodies Ourselves, both from the United States, great concerns arose relating to genetic testing, choosing the sex of babies, selective abortion rendered possible thanks to ultrasound technology, and the technology to select sperm to produce boys or girls.
The women’s and feminist movement is well aware of the selective abortion policies in countries like India and China. In studies carried out by women and feminist organisations the high number of abortions of female foetuses was not the only important number to know, but also the violence exerted, by families as well as husbands, on women that leads to these abortions. Furthermore, the imbalance between the sexes that this generates causes problems that will have to be solved by decisive interventions.
In a village in India, its population boasts that in 20 years there has not been a single female birth. In China, the government prohibited foetal sex selection because it predicted that in 10 years there will be between 60 to 80 million women less than men in the country. With whom will their young men pair off? With women “imported” from other parts of the world or other countries? What effect does this have in terms of human trafficking, in terms of the “purchase” of brides and other practices that can lead to increased violence against women? Years ago, a scientist ventured to predict that with the birth of fewer women, women would be more respected and receive higher status in society. Can this nonsense endure?
Perhaps the greatest concern at the moment lies in the existence of businesses dedicated to the production of apparatus and technologies that enable these studies to know the sex of the babies during the first weeks of pregnancy. They have begun to publicise their products in western countries, primarily the United States, and engulf their publicity with progressive language. “You have the opportunity to choose the sex of your baby,” “You have the opportunity of having a balanced family”. What is this? What is a balanced family? And if the family isn’t balanced, then what is it? These warnings unconsciously lead to selective abortions by appealing to cultural issues, economic factors, notions of choice and freedom, and easy access to advanced technology.
These businesses are also offering doctors in countries like India – where the practice of selective abortion is in place - ultrasonic apparatus that allow the early detection of the sex of the foetus during the first weeks of pregnancy, at reduced prices and interest free,
Women should not remain out of the discussion and action should be taken immediately. Activists groups that are already working on these issues propose to prohibit the business of selecting the sex of babies, both before and during pregnancy. They also request a prohibition on the exportation of apparatus and techniques. They consider that these subjects should become matters of public order and should not be contingent on individual choice.