Trading on the Female Body

This week, women from all over the globe will gather at the United Nations for the 61st Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). CSW’s stated goal is to support gender equality and empowerment for all women of the world. This year’s them at CSW is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

One very important part of that conversation will we be making in New York at our “Trading on the Female Body” event is this: renting your womb or selling your eggs is not work, it is not economic empowerment, but is rather the exploitation of women and children. If one looks at many of the laws in Europe, or recent changes in laws in the Global South, the laws either prohibit these practices altogether (e.g. France, Germany, Sweden) or have greatly moved to limit and restrict people coming into their countries (India, Thailand) to exploit women and harm children. There are many who suggest that women should be paid, and paid handsomely, to sell their eggs and rent out their womb because after all, this is just another form of work and that it is empowering for women to have the choice to sell or rent their bodies. But it is in fact really trading on and profiting off of the female body when you dig deeper and look closer at the known and unknown risks these women assume in order to help another.

Speakers will gather at Trading on the Female body to expose this myth and give a clearer picture that they were not left economically empowered. You will meet women and hear their first-hand accounts of how they suffered as a result of their decision. One woman, a three-time commercial gestational surrogate, has been left with thousands of dollars of unpaid medical bills. Bills which should have been paid by the commissioning parents who are now happily back in Spain with their twins born, literally at the expense of the surrogate mother. Another American woman will tell of her selling her eggs to a couple in Canada, where money is forbidden to be paid to Canadian women for their eggs, and how she literally almost died from the procedure and had to pursue legal action in order to make some restitution for her massive health crisis.

Feminists, activists, experts and academics will report on the Global Trading on the Female Body. An international problem demands an international solution to stop the reproductive tourism we see growing year after year into the tens of billions of dollars.

Why do we gather and what do we hope to accomplish? We gather to tell the full story. The true story. To present the stories and facts that this growing industry doesn’t want the world to know.

Egg donation and surrogacy often is coercive, offering much needed money to low income and poor women. How is it economically empowering to women to ask them to do something for money that may not be in their own best interest?

Egg donation and surrogacy is risky to the health of women. A surrogate pregnant with donor eggs (always the case in gestational surrogacy) confers additional risks to the pregnant woman and to the child. Egg donors and surrogate mothers have died doing something risky to their health when they will not benefit on bit. How can something risky to a woman’s health be seen as empowering?

Egg donation and surrogacy is risky to the mental and psychological health of women as women naturally bond to the children they carry and egg donors often wonder and worry about the children born of their eggs. These women often feel guilty or stupid when things go wrong, telling themselves it is all their fault and often the industry does reinforce this by telling these women it is their fault because of something they did or didn’t do. These are not the feelings of an empowered woman.

As we anticipate the work we have to do in New York next week, let’s focus on work that truly economically empowers women and doesn’t exploit, marginalize and trade on their bodies for another’s economic gain.

Jennifer Lahl, president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture
Julie Bindel, freelance journalist with The Guardian, TruthDigs

Both Jennifer and Julie are original signers of the international StopSurrogacyNow Campaign