Sneha Banerjea, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
Wombs to-let: Subversive 'work' or exploitation under capitalist patriarchy?
Surrogacy refers to the phenomenon where a woman bears a child for an intending mother who is unable to do it herself. The moral apprehensions surrounding surrogacy were mitigated to a large extent with technologies like In-vitro Fertilization (IVF), a form of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) that compartmentalised reproduction in distinct components, each potentially transnationally commodifiable – egg and/or sperm donation, conception in laboratory, and gestation in a surrogate womb – leading to an emerging market of „infertility treatment‟ with avenues of making money by ART clinics, egg/sperm donors and women who agree to be surrogates – commercial gestational surrogates. Importantly, most countries in the global North have stringent regulations around commercial surrogacy. As is the case with other multi-national enterprises, stricter laws and regulations gave rise to a trend of outsourcing. India has witnessed an emerging trend of “reproductive tourism” for availing ARTs especially services of a commercial gestational surrogate. Arguably, there are at least three reasons for this – quality low-cost ART services provided by largely English-speaking doctors; cheap availability of women willing to be surrogates; and, permissive laws. However, laws lack clarity and have led to legal complications like the Japanese Baby Manji case or the ongoing German twins‟ case; and there is a legislation in the pipeline.
With globalization and heightened marketization previously „non-economic‟ activities have become commodified and it is in this context that commercial surrogacy can be seen as an issue of political economy where even the act of reproduction itself, removed from the terrain of „love‟ and „family‟ assumes the form of a remunerative work. It compels thinking about the ethics of commercialization of women‟s reproductive labour. Drawing from feminist understandings of international political economy (IPE), this paper seeks to explore the phenomenon of commercial surrogacy and its implications for the way women‟s reproductive work is conceptualized when it is remunerated and implications for women‟s agency.