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Abortions and Gender Oppression in South Asia

Updated: May 29, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

Although March 8th is National Women’s Day, women all over the world should be celebrated daily. However, many women in South Asian countries continue to suffer abuse at the hands of the men in their lives. Women who live in poverty often find themselves in a system they can never beat, as seen by the issue of abortions in South Asia. The stigma that surrounds abortions originate from and continue to perpetuate the gender oppression women face. As an Indian teenager myself, I am appalled when I see South Asian girls my age married and pregnant. It is crucial to bring awareness and break down the patriarchy dominating our nations. I hope to touch Asian youth, especially our dear Asian girls, and remind them that our fight for gender equality must stand strong in the face of repression.

Before looking at abortions in South Asia, one must compare it to that of a developed socio-economic hub: the United States of America. On April 2, 2019, the Human Life Protection Act was signed in the state of Alabama, which worked to ban abortions at any stage of pregnancy. The act also delivered criminal charges for doctors who perform the procedure, except for cases of a medical emergency. With the Human Life Protection Act, even a rape victim would be denied access to an abortion during any trimester. Although U.S. District Judge, Myron Thompson, issued a preliminary injunction that prevented the act from entering into effect, just the proposal of such a legislation proves the fragility in a woman's right to choose.

At first glance, abortions in Asia do not seem like a problem one would consider prevalent, as abortions are widely legal in most of the continent. However, after further analysis, the social stigma that comes with the procedure is unmatched. In most, if not all South Asian countries, gender inequality is kept alive by both patriarchal values and the opposition of women in places of power. In South Asia, children are nurtured from birth to take on traditional roles: girls are raised to be submissive and to keep their mouths shut, while boys are told to fight for dominance and be the caregiver of the family. In children's books I've read, the husbands becomes angry whenever their wife has a daughter, as males are supposedly the only “worthy” sex. Subsequently, young girls are brought up under the belief that they exist to submit themselves to men.

According to Unicef, 1 in 2 girls are married before the age of 18. Countries like Bangladesh and India have child marriage rates over 50%. As India is one of the most populated countries in the world, it is not difficult to connect India’s skyrocketing population to the number of child marriages. Due to South Asia’s recent industrialization, South Asia "has the second-highest number of maternal deaths worldwide". The health service is still in a state of disarray due to the divide between South Asian regions and classes. Many girls, therefore, become pregnant at a young age, but are incapable of raising children as they are children themselves. However, many young women in South Asia cannot access these safe abortions that they desperately need and when they do, the environment is far from sterile. Additionally, women who live in regions of poverty are not allowed to choose to have an abortion—if one is available to them, the male would make the ultimate decision.

The real issue here is not the legality of abortions in South Asia, but the lack of quality and the stigma surrounding abortions. In too many South Asian countries, abortions are seen as taboo —a procedure that “must be kept a secret." How are women expected to live happily when they are not given the right to voice their opinions on matters that concern their own wellbeing and body? South Asian women are forced to endure this constant cycle of repression.

For the voices of these women to be heard, they must first have the right to speak. Organizations like Unicef give South Asian women the education that they need to be self aware. Unicef has provided these women with paid school tuitions and other assets to fortify them for the future. While high levels of oppression continue to exist in South Asian countries today, feminists are actively fighting against it. Women worldwide are finally standing up to tell their stories and fight for their natural rights to, ultimately, have complete control over their bodies.

- Prerna Kulkarni


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