TC-I Tidbits

You daily dose of headlines:

  • Health, Women and Mortality:The lack of inclusion of midwives within the National Rural Health Mission is highlighted as one of the main reasons for the high maternal mortality rate in India.
  • Education: Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) continued to push the government to pass the Right to Education Bill.
  • Public Awareness: Swagat Thorat, a freelance journalist, has started a new magazine in braille for the visually impaired.
  • CSR: The government is looking to establish a corporate affairs institute that will look at various practices, including corporate social responsibility. In related news, the government has awarded the Rural Electrification Corporation with the Navrtna award honoring its ongoing work in expanding access to electricity to the rural poor.
  • Microinsurance: IFFCO-TOKIO General Insurance Co. Ltd. (ITGI) has created a new microinsurance product that targets India’s low income rural population.

Midday Newsfeed

  • Technology: Although it is a hub for information technology, India is only #50 on the world’s most networked economies list, partly due to its poor ICT infrastructure.
  • Health: According to a survey, in the next decade, one in 20 female deaths in India between the ages 30 to 69 will be caused by smoking. (Source: India Today)
  • Citizen Advocacy: Indian citizens are submitting an open letter to the Prime Minister urging the reconsideration of a bill that would place restrictive regulations on civil society organizations receiving foreign contributions.
  • Business: New Ventures India launched a Coaches Network at the Green Investor Summit. The members of this network would devote time in nurturing seed and early stage green companies. (Source: Business Wire India)
  • Agriculture: Via the UN News Centre: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today bestowed its highest award, the Agricola Medal, on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his efforts to spur agricultural development and reduce hunger and poverty in India.

Reclaiming the Land

As brought to our attention by InfoChangeIndia, the phenomenon of urban migration is a multidimensional issue, with social and economic repercussions, both for rural and urban India. As described in an article entitled, “This Land is Ours!”, as a result of urban migration, women in rural communities are undergoing changes in terms of their roles within the family structure:

The village [Narsenahall, Karnataka] is part of a nationwide trend in agriculture, which over the last few years has seen huge changes. While more and more men are migrating to urban areas and large industrialised farms looking for paid work, women stay in the village and are increasingly taking over cultivating the land. According to estimates by Bina Agarwal, an academic researching and writing about women and land rights, almost half of the land in India is now farmed by women. The changes mean that in the rural areas the vast majority of women — around 85% — are now farmers.

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Op-Ed: Surrogate Wombs and Reproductive Outsourcing

Today, the NY Times published an article entitled, “India Nurtures Business of Surrogate Motherhood.” The article describes the rapidly expanding business of “reproductive outsourcing” to India, through which fertility clinics “provide surrogate mothers for foreigners.” The cost for the procedure comes to roughly $25,000 for the foreign couple, and pays the surrogate mother approximately $7,500. In order to regulate the enterprise and maintain ethical standards, the Indian Government is considering the passage of legislation to “govern surrogacy”, but both the content of the legislation, including enforcement mechanisms, remain unresolved.

In the meantime, there are only a few doctors providing this service in India, but the business is certain to expand as demand for surrogate mothers rises from foreign countries. Critics fear that the surrogacy business will fall prey to exploitation, victimizing underprivileged Indian women in the process. As of now, proponents of this new phenomenon contend that both parties stand to benefit from the transaction, but I do not believe it is quite as simple as that. More than market forces are at play here.

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we are speaking of transacting in lives, not goods. In fact, one could argue that the only reason this is possible is because the Indian women involved in this transaction are poor, and the foreigners are (comparatively speaking) wealthy. Would these women opt to be surrogate mothers if they were not poor? Most likely not. Are these surrogate mothers really making the choice (and this is a tricky word in this context) to be bear these children? My concern is that this isn’t truly a choice, because unfortunately, poverty speaks louder than anything else

This seems to be a blurry line. Effectively, what are we saying here? Are poor people in developing countries objects that their rich counterparts can rent out cheaply? Are their body parts for sale? Poor people’s body parts should not be bartered, rented, or sold to the highest bidder in a developed country. It speaks to a gross inequality – condoning this practice, to me, seems an implicit way of accepting global economic and social disparities. In a country like India, which has a bloated bureaucracy as it is, something like this would be very difficult to regulate, thereby potentially jeopardizing the lives of poor women.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this is the modern-day equivalent of imperialism. Developed countries may not be physically occupying poorer developing nations, but in this case, they are certainly occupying the wombs of its women.

But I have another, even greater concern. If women do decide to become surrogate mothers of their own free will, it is important to take into consideration the physical, emotional, psychological, and social dimensions to surrogate motherhood. There is the very real concern that having a child taken away from you (whether you agreed to it or not), is traumatizing. How do these fertility clinics account for traumatized women post-the transaction? Are there follow-ups with the woman to ensure that she is faring well, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and otherwise? Also, carrying around a baby for 9 months is not only expensive (because quite simply, she needs to eat more, and she needs to eat more nutritious foods), but there is also an opportunity cost involved. Either the woman can do less work (and thus get paid less on a daily basis), or continue to work (and thus endanger her health, and possibly that of the baby). With these questions in mind, how do these agencies care for the woman during the course of her pregnancy? Do they provide her with a nutritious diet and a stipend that accounts for her expenses? Do they compensate her for the work that she misses because of the pregnancy? What about complications? Do these organizations / individuals also pay for medical expenses incurred as a result of the pregnancy? And of course, there’s the social dimension – how do these women deal with the social stigma of carrying a fatherless baby? How does the agency work with the woman to minimize alienation? What if the woman loses her social network as a result of this work? Clearly, the agency / individual wouldn’t take responsibility for that, but what happens then?

These are all very real questions we need to be asking ourselves, because of first and foremost concern is the health and safety of the surrogate mother. In order for this business to be even minimally ethical, we must ensure that the surrogate mother is treated like a whole human being with needs (not just a uterus), both preceding, during, and following the pregnancy.

Headlines from the weekend

Here are some stories from various news sources:

Gender inequality and the lack of sanitation and drinking water are woven into a vicious trap. As women and their daughters spend hours collecting water, they cannot go to school, work and earn; while poor sanitation lead to ill health and loss of privacy. WaterAid is working to make women’s voices heard in the politics of water.

A National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), which will monitor and improve the health of 22 crore people living in urban slums in 429 cities and towns, will be launched in May.

Leading power equipment manufacturer, OSRAM, on Thursday announced that it had joined hands with the largest German power generation company RWE to launch their first energy efficiency project in India based on the Kyoto Protocol guidelines at a cost of 150 million Euros.

Inaugural ‘Google India Women in Engineering Award’ Held Over Weekend

In an effort to recognize women in the field of computer engineering and other technical fields, Google India created the ‘Google India Women in Engineering Award’ to showcase the accomplishments of standout females throughout India. The winners this year

include Shruti Prakash Mahambre, Sheetal Shah, Uma Sawant and Neha Singh from IIT Bombay; Garima Lahoti and Priya Gupta from IIT Delhi; Aditi Gupta and Snigdha Chaturvedi from IIT Kanpur; Arpita Patra and Vijaya Chamundeeswari from IIT Chennai; and Navneet Chahal from IIT Roorkee.

Other winners are Anusha R and Hariny Murli from Anna University (CEG); Meghana Nasre from IISc Bangalore; Sriparna Saha from ISI; and Vaibhavi Shamsundar from VJTI.

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