The political economy and legal regulation of transnational commercial surrogate labor.

Author:Choudhury, Cyra Akila
Position:III. The Political Economy of Surrogate Lives in a Developmentalist and Antinatalist State B. The Domestic Economy of the Indian Surrogate's Family through Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 30-65
  1. The Domestic Economy of the Indian Surrogate's Family

    In order to comprehend the impact of the compensation and benefits earned through surrogacy, the economic circumstances of the majority of poor women must also be understood. The development literature from South Asia provides an excellent background that demonstrates that surrogacy, though dangerous and even exploitative, can nevertheless be a rational and preferable economic choice. The vast majority of women who work in the home are not considered "productive" members of the family in the remunerative sense--that is, their labor is not waged--but rather occupy traditional homemaking roles. (121) The division of labor in the home for most poor Indian women is, therefore, the typical breadmaker/breadwinner dichotomy, with women doing housework and childrearing while husbands are expected to earn a wage outside the home. Women living in extended families may be subordinated to the husband and his family, including mother-in-law, father-in-law, and siblings-in-law. The form of subordination can vary within households, but from the development literature, it is well established that poor women who are primarily engaged in domestic work and reproduction eat fewer calories than their husbands, sometimes forgoing food to feed their children. (122) They may work several more hours at tedious work than men who work outside the house. They are expected to supplement the household income if they can through home crafts, foraging, and growing food in kitchen gardens. The burdens of domestic labor are also borne unequally by girl children, who are required to do labor in the household while brothers may be schooled or put to work outside the home. (123)

    Because the work that is done within the home produces little if any money, women lack control over household income or decision making about its distribution. Whatever is earned is often aggregated into the income of the male, and its allocation is then decided by the "head" of the household. This reality has been well documented and theorized by development economists. (124) Countering the received wisdom that families work altruistically to distribute resources, feminist economists have shown convincingly that the power dynamics within a traditional gendered household that positions the man as the head of the household more often than not results in the disenfranchisement of women from decision making about those resources, (125) The allocations are not arrived at through consensus but are imposed by the male who controls wages and other earnings. This explains why women consume fewer calories than men while doing more labor, why girl children are often not schooled in favor of boys, and why women and girls perform longer hours of labor than males. (126) This is not to suggest that women have no power within the family. It is to suggest that their power is contingent and subject to that of their husbands in the vast majority of traditional families. The literature shows that circumstances vary with the degree of education and independent wealth of the wife and whether she commands a decent wage of her own. Unlike in industrialized nations, there has been less advancement in understanding work in the home as "work" per se that deserves to be taken into account as material contribution to the family or remuneration at divorce. (127) Rather, these forms of labor that allow for husbands to work and that result in the reproduction of the labor force continue to be undervalued in India. (128)

    The benefits of work, wage earnings, and property have been the focus of gender and development studies for the last three decades, and a number of insights from that work are relevant to the surrogacy context. First, there is a well-documented literature that shows women who are able to bring wages or property into a family are better off in terms of household decision making and power than women who are entirely dependent on their spouses or extended families. (129) Doing work that has a market-determined value serves to elevate women's status in their households by giving them access to money that can be controlled and allocated by them. That decisional power is important in the home hierarchy. Second, women who bring property to a marriage similarly enjoy greater status and power within their households. (130) Property ownership has also been shown as protective against domestic violence and divorce; that is, women with property are less likely to face violence in the home or to be divorced by their spouses. (131) Thus, women who either bring property or are able to acquire property of their own exercise greater power in the household with regard to both their spouses as well as their in-laws. Finally, women who are able to earn wages or have property in their own right have greater decision-making power over not only their own lives but also the lives of their children. (132)

    Those who choose to become surrogates are very much a part of this majority of Indian women. They are primarily housewives or menial workers such as housecleaners and domestic workers. A few are college graduates with pink-collar jobs (bank teller, secretary) but this is the exception rather than the norm. (133) Upper-class women with college degrees and professional jobs are not generally engaged in the business of surrogacy; rather, the field in general is populated by women whose access to meaningful and well-remunerated work is severely limited or nonexistent. (134) Even where the surrogate works, that work is paid at such a low rate that accumulation of wealth is rare. (135) The supplemental wage of the woman worker is what is needed to stave off severe poverty and is a necessity rather than a choice, let alone a surplus. Literally, the families are living from payday to payday. In sum, the work that women do, even if waged, is not remunerative enough to improve the wealth of the family significantly enough to allow for saving. (136)

    The questions that then arise are, what is the economic impact of surrogacy on the families and the position of the surrogate? Does surrogacy change the dynamic in the family by giving women a better bargaining position? From the ethnographies conducted by Pande, Sama, and Sandoval, it can be surmised that these questions have no easy answers. The lived experience of Indian surrogates varies. (137) Different factors such as education, family form, and class status combine to complicate women's position in their family. (138) And these factors, along with prior experience with surrogacy, make a difference to the ability of surrogates to bargain for the optimal surrogacy contract and their ability to control payments, which then have a direct impact on their economic position, at least in the short term. (139)

    The economic impact of surrogacy on surrogate's families must be analyzed in the same manner as other waged labor. (140) The significance of this cannot be understated, particularly given that the wage that can be earned within the surrogacy contract period is approximately five years' worth of family income. But there are considerations other than just the money that are also important to take into consideration. Some of these are surprising given the prevailing view that surrogacy is a highly exploitative form of labor. From the ethnographic work, it appears that there is not a straightforward narrative of exploitation that can be given; it is interwoven with narratives of agency, choice, and opportunity. (141)

    For instance, because the women are poor, their own pregnancies were not attended with the kind of health care they receive as a surrogate. Their lives during their own pregnancy remained fairly routine, in that they were expected to do whatever housework and other chores they normally did. While a surrogate, they were in effect paid to rest. (142) Some of the women received little to no pre- or postnatal care in their own pregnancies but were able to get both during their surrogacy. One woman was able to negotiate a six-month paid recovery period after giving birth. (143) Others hired domestic workers to take care of the household, a luxury that they would be unable to afford ordinarily. (144) Undoubtedly, these perks are only available because the surrogate is carrying the child/children of upper class families who have an interest in making sure that the surrogate is healthy and comfortable. Moreover, the women are secondary to the child. (145) As a result, a majority of the women undergo cesarean sections rather than birthing naturally in spite of the fact that there have been perfectly normal live births in their past and there is no medical reason for the operation. Nevertheless, depending on the ability to make decisions and negotiate, surrogates are treated quite well while performing their contract.

    A number of women entered into surrogacy to ensure the education of their children, including daughters. (146) This generational impact of economic empowerment should not be missed. From the interviews conducted, some of these benefits can be seen for women who have already completed one surrogacy. (147) Further, although the existing class and educational backgrounds of the women made a difference to their ability to control and determine the uses of their earning, in some cases, the earnings themselves gave women leverage in the home to achieve greater autonomy and status. (148)

    As Sandoval's and Pande's field research shows, a large number of women entered surrogacy to save money for their children's education, to renovate, build, or buy their own home, to start a business, or to pay down debt. A lump-sum payment for surrogacy enabled women to contribute to these projects in a way that they would never have been able to otherwise. Within the family, surrogacy elevated women from merely "reproductive" workers to productive workers. (150) Most women experienced a sense of increase in...

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