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Law to cut sex-selective abortions in Armenia 'putting lives at risk'

Category: Gender in Caucasus 
2016-10-25

A new law designed to cut the high rate of sex-selective abortions in Armenia is inadequate, limiting women’s reproductive choices and putting lives at risk, according to women’s rights groups.

 

The ex-Soviet country, with a population of just under 3 million, has the third highest rate of abortion of female foetuses in the world, behind China and Azerbaijan.

 

In August, the government outlawed sex-selective terminations in response to pressure from the international community and the United Nations Population Fund (Unfpa), which warned of an impending demographic crisis because of the number of foetuses being aborted due to their gender.

 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union rates of sex-selection have risen in Armenia, meaning that while approximately 105 boys were born for every 100 girls (around the natural rate) in 1991, by 2015 the figure had changed to 115 boys for every 100 girls.

 

Under the new law, a woman seeking an abortion must attend a counselling session with her doctor and then wait for three days for the procedure. The government says this is to allow doctors to pass on information about the dangers of abortion.

 

But local women’s rights activists have criticised the new rules for keeping the burden of choice on the woman and warn that, instead of curbing the practice, the law could actually limit access to safe reproductive care and force women into choosing riskier forms of abortion.

 

Ani Jilozian at the Women’s Support Centre in the capital, Yerevan, says the law is a “band-aid solution” that focuses on reducing sex-selective abortions without addressing the causes: poor socio-economic conditions and patriarchal values.

 

“In traditional Armenian families, daughters-in-law move in with their husband’s family … [and] the eldest son is the one to care for the parents,” says Jilozian. In a country with almost no social security net, this tradition means boys remain the favoured offspring.

 


Soviet legacy

 

Armenia’s long history of easy access to abortion is one of the legacies of the Soviet Union, which was the first state to legalise the procedure in 1921. A widespread mistrust of contraception means abortion has remained the primary method of birth control.

 


Armenia’s birthrate has also dropped in the post-Soviet period: at present, 1.5 children are born per family, compared with 2.5 in the 1980s, according to birth registration figures collected by the UNFPA. And if a family plans to have only one or two children, there is more pressure to ensure one of them will be a boy, Jilozian explains.

 

Economic hardship and the arrival by the end of the 1990s of sonogram technology, which can predict a foetus’s sex , are also said to be contributing factors to the rise.

 

Such is the scale of the problem in Gegharkunik, a region in the east of the country, that the Women’s Resource Centre Armenia (WRCA) has instigated a campaign against gender-based violence, which included discussions on sex-selective abortion.

 

Women they spoke to described the pressure they were under to produce boys. One said that her first child was a daughter, but then she had four abortions before she conceived a son.

 

Another woman said she had paid 150,000 drams (£260), the average monthly salary in Armenia, for an illegal abortion. The current legal limit for a termination is 12 weeks, after which it is only allowed for certain “social” reasons, such as if the woman was raped or is a single mother.

 

Others claimed doctors asked pregnant woman if they wanted to abort their female foetus, and for a fee offered to perform the procedure at home.


Jilozian is dubious about whether a law on its own will help women like those the WRCA spoke to in Gegharkunik. Without an overhaul of the patriarchal social structures “women are going to continue to have sex-selective abortions at the same rate, but the risk of having unsafe abortions is a lot higher”, she argues.

 

Human rights lawyer Gabriel Armas-Cardona is also concerned that the mandatory waiting period in the bill is in contravention of human rights concerning access to healthcare. “UNFPA Armenia is adamant that something needs to be done to the point where they’ll even tolerate policies that violate human rights,” he says.

 

For Lara Aharonian, co-founder of the WRCA, the focus on the abortion procedure is misplaced. She believes sex-selective abortion should be seen as part of a broader problem with gender inequality in Armenia.

 

“If you really want to eradicate sex-selective abortion, you go to the core of the problem,” she says. “How boys and girls are raised differently, the gender roles, breaking gender stereotypes.”


Source 

Tags: sex-selective abortions Armenia

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