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She's a Person, Not a Uterus
Senior Airman Lauren Main / U.S. Air Force / Flickr

She's a Person, Not a Uterus


Mar 8 2013
Fighting women's global health disparities with dignity.

Across the globe, it's far too easy to find cases of women who are exploited, mistreated, harmed, and even killed as they bear children.

Premila, 30, gave birth to her third child, a son, in a hospital in western India. She saw him briefly before she died. The little boy did not go home to be with Premila's husband and two children, but with Helen, a woman from the United States who had paid Premila to carry her baby.

Just a few weeks earlier, over a thousand miles away in southeast India, another woman died just because she was carrying a baby nobody wanted. Munni was beaten to make her abort her child for the third time. A local religious leader predicted she would not have a male child until her seventh pregnancy, and this was only her sixth. She was carrying a girl. Both she and her daughter were killed.

In Rwanda, Christine's husband abandoned her after she gave birth. Her difficult labor caused a chronic illness called obstetric fistula, leaving Christine incontinent, smelly, and isolated. Her baby was stillborn.

The discrimination against women and girls in healthcare extends beyond the high-profile issues such as abortion, gendercide, and sex trafficking. It isn't limited to poor countries or certain procedures, but extends broadly across a healthcare system that too often reduces women to their reproductive capabilities, objectifies their bodies, and doesn't get them the care they need and deserve.

Right here in the U.S., female veterans face traumatic experiences in VA hospitals and the callous treatment of sexual trauma in the military. And, in the UK, a "dearth of gender-biased clinical research" fails to evaluate drug risks or to adequately recognize conditions that disproportionately affect women, such as coronary artery disease. Girls in India get subjected to medical testing without their consent.

Commodification treats the body as a commodity, a medical resource for meeting a personal need. In the most literal sense, body parts can be sold, a kidney for an organ transplant or eggs to create an embryo via in vitro fertilization. As our sensibilities become numbed to the many ways women and girls have been commodified—their bodies exploited and viewed in market terms—Scott Altman, in "(Com)Modifying Experience," suggests that we, too, have been commodified.

Objectification begins at home, where tabloids evaluate and critique our appearances (just ask puffy-faced Ashley Judd), and the "beauty culture" blasphemes our bodies. Exploitation takes harmful views of the female body much further, allowing others to profit from the sale of body parts or services. Premila, who sold the use of her womb for nine months, was exploited because of her extreme poverty. Guna Ponraj, who sold a kidney on the black market in India, was swindled out of payment, maimed by the removal, and subsequently left unable to work.

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