In India, Villages Of “Womb-less Women” Are Having Hysterectomies So That Periods Won’t Stop Them Going To Work

Employers are giving them advances in wages to undergo the surgery, say worrying new reports

A woman works at a sugar cane field

by Zoe Beaty |
Updated on

For women in India, menstruation has long been a issue weighed down by stigma and dense taboo. While awareness and activism have helped to make life a little easier in recent years, once a month, for many women living in India, life often becomes... difficult. It's not uncommon for girls to skip school during their periods, or for women to be shunned from places of worship. Now, another worrying precedent has emerged in one region – women who are undergoing hysterectomies, just so that they can go to work. Some reports estimate that up to 50% of women in Vanjarwadi, in Maharashtra State in India, have undergone the drastic surgery, which they say is fast becoming the "norm". In Maharashtra, work comes from cane-cutting in the so-called sugar belt. Women are fined for taking days off for periods, which employers say "hinder work". Contractors are reportedly even paying the women an advance for the surgery, and then recovering the money from their wages after the event.

“After a hysterectomy, there is no chance of menstrual periods. So, there is no question of taking a break during cane cutting. We cannot afford to lose even a rupee,” Satya Bhama, a cane-cutter, told The Hindu Business Line. Both men and women migrate from areas like Beed, Osmanabad, Sangli and Solapur districts to work on the sugar belt during the cane cutting season from October and March. It's rigorous and exhaustive work with hard-to-reach targets. Couples are employed as one unit – and if either of them takes a break, they are fined.

Employers insist that they are not "forcing" women to have a hysterectomy, rather that families make the decision themselves. Usually the women, likely in their 20s, have married young and already have two to three children. And it is not a simple surgery, nor one without complications.

In fact, having a hysterectomy can develop hormone imbalances and physical issues like weight gain. Of course, it can have a huge effect on a woman's mental health and it's a risky surgery. Not to mention the fact that it's irreversible – a huge decision that should be taken for the consideration of a woman's health, not her ability to work and maintain a livelihood. Rather than being given the opportunity to care for their health, they are plainly being exploited at the cost of their health.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the women undergoing this surgery are from poorer families – women with little education and little control over their lives, the BBC reports. Further to this, they say, "because of the poor hygienic conditions, many women catch infections". "Activists working in the region say unscrupulous doctors encourage them to undergo unnecessary surgery even if they visit for a minor gynaecological problem which can be treated with medicine," the report continues.

As a result, they say, many villages are filled with "womb-less women". Unless fair measures and just employment rights are put in place, it's unlikely that will change any time soon.

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