A Victory for Women’s Rights

Last week, in a year in which women’s rights have been eroded and challenged, we were able to celebrate a victory for women’s rights:  the Prenatal Non-discrimination Act, H.R. 3541 (PRENDA), an anti-choice legislation did not pass the US House of Representatives.

This bill sought to ban sex-selection based abortions through criminalizing doctors who performed sex-selective abortions and require them to report suspected cases where a woman may be seeking a sex selective abortion. Over Memorial Day weekend, Sakhi, along with SAALT, and Manavi, spearheaded an effort to gather signatures from South Asian Women’s Organizations across the United States against this proposed legislation.  We joined an effort that resulted in over 100 organizations, across communities and social justice movements, standing in opposition to this bill.

It is important to note that PRENDA was not just a ban that hurt women’s rights – it also attacked immigrants because it encouraged racial profiling in the doctor’s office.  In fear of facing jail time, doctors could subject any woman who appears Asian (or from a culture/community who is generally believed to engage in sex-selective practices) to questioning that other women would not have to endure, and may even deny care.  South Asians in particular would be vulnerable to this form of racial profiling.  This bill, along with the House-passed version of VAWA, which contains anti-immigrant language, show an unfortunate trend in our country of attacking and undermining immigrant rights and ability to access resources and services.  Undermining women’s health and choices undermines the strength of our families and our communities, as such, we need to stand together in opposition to these tactics.

Abortions on the basis of sex is not something we support or promote, and we recognize that son preference and sex-selection practices pose a huge problem in the world, particularly in South Asia.  However, lessons learned from the international context, as well as from our own expertise from over 20 years of doing our work in the US, is that the work that Sakhi does every day to promote gender equity, to promote the value of women and girls, to work with youth to challenge outmoded models of gender norms, and to change our community’s perception about gender roles and dynamics, does more to reduce son preference and gender disparities which lead to violence against women, unequal treatment of women and other forms of oppression based on gender, than any ban or restriction on women’s rights.  Bills like PRENDA only undermine women’s health, their body integrity and their stature as equal participants in society.

To truly end gender inequality, we need policies that have been shown to be effective in decreasing discrimination and improving the social standing of women and girls.  These include education, health care, pay equity, and supporting organizations like to Sakhi in their efforts to end violence against women in our communities.

We’ve helped to garner a huge victory – one that showed the strength of our South Asian network as well as the collective power of the bridges we are building across movements and communities to prevent violence and promote justice.

Many thanks to SAALT, Raksha, Maitri, Manavi, Apna Ghar, Arizona South Asians for Safe Families, Ashakiran, API Chaya, Daya, Inc., Jahajee Sisters, and Narika for their collective support!