The anti-abortion movement has jumped upon the opportunity to restrict womenʼs rights over their bodies through the particular issue of sex selection. South Asian women in particular are targeted in this skirmish of the abortion war because South Asian cultures are perceived to engage in or condone sex-selective abortion and female infanticide.
The federal Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) bill purports to advance womenʼs rights by ensuring that fetuses are not aborted solely because of their gender, but in reality it is a racialized attack on immigrant women. The bill undermines their health by compromising their relationship with their doctors, increasing already-existing health disparities and barriers for Asian immigrant women, and increasing risk for domestic violence survivors by giving batterers an additional tool to exhibit control. In May 2012, Sakhi participated in a national coalition-building effort which defeated PRENDA. Despite this defeat, state-based versions of PRENDA continue to be proposed and passed throughout the country, and attention continues to increase around sex-selective practices and reproductive rights of immigrant women in the US. Just recently, the Sakhi founder Mallika Dutt spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee around sex selective practices in India.
Sakhi has also engaged in work to uncover the specter of reproductive violence amongst the survivors of domestic violence with whom we work. We have learned through our direct services expertise, and specific focus groups, that the women we serve face reproductive coercion and increased violence during pregnancy, all arising from the fact that they have no body integrity. Most of these women never before disclosed reproductive violence, because they had no sense that this behavior was unacceptable. The devaluation of women and girls in South Asian society lies at the root of violence and discrimination against women. While we cannot deny the fact that there is son preference in the South Asian community, we need to acknowledge and own the complexity of our experience. Sakhiʼs goal is to identify the points of resilience – the ways in which we are changing our culture ourselves and to engage our community to take more active, vocal stances around promoting the status of women and girls.