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Focal Theme 4


Feminist critiques of indiscriminate technologization of medical systems and practices have more often been interpreted as opposition to all technology. Feminists, nonetheless question the contexts and uses/abuses to which technologies are put to, very often with adverse consequences to certain segments of populations and to women in particular. Equally important is the concern that life-saving health care technologies are still not available to most women of the world.

At one level, people in countries of the South are doubly handicapped; even before these countries have been able to get over ‘old’ diseases related to poverty, poor hygiene, sanitation and deteriorating environments, they are being compelled to cope with ‘new’ life-style related diseases. Health care systems and health care delivery services in the South are not only poorly equipped to address these ‘old’ and ‘new’ diseases, but worse, their mainstream medical research and educational institutions do not have a concerted plan of action on the health and health care front. In addition, mainstream medical education and research pays scant attention to factoring gender issues, thereby distorting knowledge building, health service delivery and health education. Privatisation of health care and increased costs of medical education makes access to pertinent and essential health care almost impossible for the majority of people.

The 10th IWHM will grapple with the complexities and contradictions that the theme of medical technology, medical education and medical practices pose for health of populations in general and women in particular. Within the same countries, one finds under-medicalization and over-medicalization co-existing as in the case of the use of Caesarean sections during childbirth. The increasing privatization of health care means that economically discriminated segments of the population are excluded altogether from benefits of technology and/or forced to access services at tremendous costs. At another level, countries of the South, in India, for example – also depict scenarios such as the unholy alliance of modern technology and medieval practices manifested most starkly in the use of technology for pre-natal sex determination. The application of technology has class and eugenic biases too – for example, while infertility among the poor is ignored for reasons of cost, highly expensive new reproductive technologies such as IVF, surrogate motherhood and designer babies in a context of weak or non-existent policy and legal or ethical framework have become impending issues for the feminist movements of the South.

A global challenge to the women’s health movement revolving around issues of monitoring, accountability, medical practices and ethics lies in the manner in which new technologies are being introduced, used / abused, and even justified by employing the language of reproductive choice and procreative autonomy. For example: the Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis [PGD] technology. Despite the fact that, the use of this technology for purposes ‘other than medical’, has still not been sanctioned by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, clinics across the US perform the PGD for sex selection [rather ‘gender balancing’] in blatant disregard of policy. The international ramifications of unregulated growth and use of such technologies is going to be tremendous in the near future.

The 10th IWHM will:

  • Revisit international ethical guidelines and regulations for testing of new technologies in order to strategize for their effective implementation.
    Recover and bring centre-stage women friendly practices and knowledge in mainstream health care and those that repose with communities [including with indigenous people] and that can be tapped to promote women’s health in a holistic manner. These healing practices and therapies, though diverse in nature because of being based on fundamentally different understandings of the body, mind and self, are rooted in people’s knowledge and have evolved over a long period of time.
  • Emphasize the fact that recovering, promoting or mainstreaming alternate systems of medicine cannot be used to create or maintain a hierarchy of medical systems and thereby deny segments of population [practising these systems] access and resources to modern and universally accepted medical systems.
  • Question as to why basic and necessary technologies for safe childbirth, early detection of cancers, detection and treatment of resurging illnesses such as tuberculosis or affordable anti retroviral treatment are not still accessible and available to women.
  • Lay bare the structure and functioning of medical systems and technologies and their inability to challenge health and social inequalities.
  • Lay bare the structure and functioning of medical systems and technologies and their inability to challenge health and social inequalities.
  • Organize and strategize to recover feminist power to influence the direction of medical research and technology development.

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