Laali was alone at home when she realised her legs were drenched in blood. The bleeding did not stop for eight hours. As she fell unconscious, the 25-year-old thought she would die alongside the foetus she was losing.
She had been three months pregnant when she was taken for prenatal sex determination. “When I learned it was a girl, I started feeling as though I was suffocating,” she says.
An abortion pill was forced down her throat, without a doctor’s supervision, and subsequent complications led to hospitalisation. The night she was released, Laali cried herself to sleep – and in the morning returned to her work in the fields.
Laali’s unborn daughter is among India’s estimated 46 million “missing females” over a period of 50 years, ten times the female population of London. A deepening gender bias, breeding rampant sex-selective abortions and female infanticides, means that India accounts for nearly half of global missing female births.
“The traditional pattern of marriage and customs dictate an inferior position to women in Indian societies,” says Prem Chowdhry, a gender activist and retired professor at the University of Delhi. Since girls leave their birth family after marriage, she says, the dowry and cost of raising a girl is considered an unwelcome obligation, and sex-selective abortions are common.
Prenatal sex determination was criminalised in 1994, but it is a widely flouted law. The practice has thrived with medical advancements, spread to more regions, and is still easily accessible in privately run clinics.
Surrounded by vast sugar cane fields, Laali’s village is 40 miles from Delhi. Social health activists who run an unregistered support group for women here estimate that “every third house in the village” has aborted a foetus because of the sex.
“Families want a son at any cost. Any cost!” Laali says. “If I die, my husband will remarry tomorrow morning, hoping the next woman will give birth to a son.”
Laali was 19 when her marriage was arranged with a farmer in 2009. In the next three years, she gave birth to two daughters. During her second pregnancy, she was regularly drugged by traditional and faith healers in order to “make” a boy.
When her baby girl was born, no one from her family came to see them in the hospital. Returning home was worse. “My mother-in-law refused to see my daughter’s face,” Laali said. “She refused to take care of me, saying: ‘you are giving birth to girl after girl. How far can I take care of you?’”
Every night, as she sat down for dinner after a day of labour in the field, someone would toss in a taunt. “When anyone had a son in the village, it was a nightmare for me,” she recalls. “My family abused me in front of my girls.”
The government of India appears unwilling to act. A recent government survey hailed the fact that there are more women than men for the first time. However, activists on the ground and experts are sceptical of the data. “The main objective of the survey was to look into data on reproductive health and family welfare indicators and not on the population sex ratio,” said Sabu George, a researcher and activist based in Delhi. “All state-wise trends show a different picture.”
Dr Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto, who led India’s Million Death Study, agrees: “The UN Population Division, the most careful demographic work, estimates the number of ‘excess men’ in India is growing.”
India’s own registrar general’s estimate suggests a similar trend.
A 2021 Lancet research paper, co-authored by Jha, claimed that the situation has worsened, with missing female births increasing from 3.5 million in 1987–96 to 5.5 million in 2007–16.
The male child bias has cut through class and geographical divisions. In August, a 40-year-old woman from a wealthy upper-class Mumbai family said she was forced to abort eight times to satisfy the family’s desire for a son. She was given more than 1,500 hormonal and steroid injections before she lodged a police complaint. Last year, in southern India’s Karnataka, a 28-year-old woman died after complications during a third forced abortion.
Endless harassment pushed Laali to seek psychiatric help, and she is currently on medication. Two abortions and a surgery later, doctors have advised her to not get pregnant again. “My womb has weakened and my body cannot bear another child,” she said.
Family interference can cause huge stress for women. Bhavna Joshi, 39, from Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, had eight pregnancies in her 11 years of marriage, and finds her experience so painful to talk about that she only wants to share the basic facts: she was taken to “uncountable” numbers of traditional healers, had three abortions and lost two infants as babies. It didn’t stop until she finally gave birth to a son, now aged five.
After two abortions, Laali wishes for a boy too. “I want this to end. They are drugging me and I cannot eat or drink for days,” she said. “I just want out of it, badly.”
Over the past two decades, trends in sex-selective abortions have shifted. The Lancet research found that as more families in India become nuclear, abortions are more common with the third pregnancy. “Families let nature decide twice, but then – for the third time – they make sure it is a boy,” said Jha. “Violence against women is a cultural thing in India. The problem is going to get much worse before it might get better.”
After having two daughters, 36-year-old Meenakshi was taken by her in-laws for a prenatal sex test when she fell pregnant for the third time. “The area was completely deserted and hidden,” she says, hiding in another home for the interview. “I was scared. It wasn’t a normal clinic.”
Meenakshi, currently seven months pregnant, wasn’t directly told the result. “My husband and his mother looked happy so I understood it was going to be a boy,” she said. “Otherwise, they would have killed it [before the birth].”
In India’s deeply patriarchal society, women’s full sexual and reproductive rights are still a distant dream. Women like Meenakshi are fighting for acceptability in the family. Meenakshi’s parents raised her to expect freedom after marriage. But everything is worse, she says, sobbing.
For Laali, harassment is part of her daily life. By the time she was 15, her mother had aborted two female foetuses, and her younger sister has aborted at least three.
“You are brought up in an environment where this violence against women is completely acceptable and normalised,” says George. “The question is: how do you resist this on the ground? And that’s frightening.”
Both Laali and Meenakshi were isolated in society, lacking any emotional support. Talking of their experiences, hidden inside their rooms, makes them cry, and their daughters, all in their teens, console them with hugs. Laali and Meenakshi are desparately worried they will not be able to protect their daughters from similar trauma, but for now the girls are mostly oblivious.
Meenakshi’s eldest daughter jumps with joy as she sees a plane passing over their heads. “She wants to be a pilot,” says Meenakshi, wiping her tears. “When I cry, she tells me: ‘Mamma, it’ll get better, and one day we’ll fly together, in a plane that I’ll pilot.’”
The British government presented a vehemently anti-abortion former US envoy with an award for his services to freedom of religion just days before watering down a statement on gender equality to remove commitments to reproductive rights.
Sam Brownback, a former governor of Kansas who targeted abortion rights while in office and then became Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was given the award during the international ministerial conference for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) held in London last month.
Organised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and opened by the Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss, the gathering has since become engulfed in controversy after a statement signed by more than 20 countries was quietly removed from the FCDO website and significantly edited.
It has now emerged that a number of participants to the conference, which Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising, are known for their strong anti-abortion views.
Three, including one speaker, were from ADF International, the global wing of a US legal advocacy organisation considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors extremist groups in the US.
Founded by leaders of the Christian right, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has long opposed abortion. It writes on its website: “In 2022, the pro-life movement achieved what was thought impossible by many: the overturning of Roe v Wade. But there’s more work to be done.”
Other participants were from the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a rightwing thinktank based in Washington DC, which, alongside the ADF, is pushing for more laws protecting anti-choice medics from performing “procedures in violation of their conscience”, from abortion to gender transition surgery.
Ján Figel, a former EU special envoy for FoRB, was among the speakers. Figel’s mandate was not renewed in 2020 after a group of pro-choice MEPs complained he had “undermined [the mandate’s] credibility … by showing highly problematic acquaintances with organisations opposing women’s sexual rights and LGBTI people’s rights.”
Figel said the MEPs’ criticism had been rooted in “false arguments … based on lies”, and added that he had nothing to do with the statement.
It is understood that Brownback, who received warm applause at the London conference, was given the award by the UK government in conjunction with the Dutch special envoy for FoRB, Jos Douma, in recognition of their work on FoRB around the world.
While in office, Brownback signed a number of pieces of anti-choice legislation. Last week, he bemoaned the decisive victory of pro-choice campaigners in a Kansas referendum on abortion, adding: “We fight on defending all life, mother and child, from beginning to end.”
According to one participant at the London conference, who requested anonymity: “The UK government says it advocates ‘freedom of religion or belief for all’. But some of those featured and celebrated at the ministerial don’t support this. What they do instead is use their ‘religious freedom’ as an excuse to trample the rights and freedoms of others. People like Sam Brownback and the ADF, who seek to take away others’ freedom of choice in this way, should be challenged, not celebrated.”
The conference is an annual gathering that began in the US during Trump’s presidency. This year it was held on 5-6 July.
Its agenda was centred on how to “protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally”, with topics ranging from the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China to the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria discussed by academics, analysts, politicians and faith leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
But its aftermath has been controversial, since it emerged that its statement on FoRB and gender equality had been edited to remove commitments to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy”. The FCDO initially said it had made the changes to focus on key FoRB issues and to achieve a broader consensus of signatories.
Tariq Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister and former FoRB special envoy, said last week the statement had been edited to become “more inclusive of all perspectives and views” and “to allow for a constructive exchange of views on all issues”.
However, the watering-down of the statement, which had been painstakingly worked on and signed by more than 20 countries, provoked anger in a number of governments, many of which are refusing to sign the modified version. It currently has eight signatories, including Malta, where abortion is illegal, and the UK.
It is understood that the pushback on the gender equality statement began the day after the conference, at a “next steps” meeting at Lancaster House, convened by Bruce. Among those present were Jim Shannon, of the Democratic Unionist party, and David Alton, a crossbench peer, who were also conference speakers.
Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the vast majority of British people saw through the “fiction” that there was significant opposition in the UK to abortion rights. But words mattered, she added, which was why there was concern over the conference statement.
“I think what we’ve really seen when it comes to abortion rights is the power of words and the power of the direction that governments are moving [in] … I think what we really are concerned about seeing is any indication from this government or the next government that they are valuing women’s reproductive rights as less than where they are currently,” she said.
Clarke added that, with Bruce as special envoy, it would have been hard for the government to put out a statement on freedom of belief that was not inclusive of “incredibly anti-abortion views”. “[Bruce] is the most anti-abortion MP in the House of Commons.”
A spokesperson for Brownback said he had no involvement in drafting the conference statement or in organising the event. Brownback was “proud to be pro-life”, a stance that is “immaterial to his support for freedom of religion or belief”, he added.
“Ambassador Brownback has not tried to connect his support of unborn human life to the issue of religious freedom … Ambassador Brownback believes that anyone can support FoRB regardless of their position on abortion. At a time when people are being killed and persecuted for what they choose to believe, Ambassador Brownback believes that the FoRB movement best moves forward by focusing on FoRB and not diverging into non-FoRB issues.”
The ADF denies the accusation it espouses hate, accusing the SPLC of besmirching “huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America” in that categorisation of its beliefs.
A spokesperson said: “As the world’s largest organisation committed to protecting religious freedom, ADF International were proud to take part in the ministerial. Our current projects include defending girls in south-east Asia who have been abducted, forcibly married, and ‘converted’ from their faith; challenging the Russian authorities for prohibiting church communities from gathering to worship; and supporting those on death row for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan to escape to safety in Europe. We believe in the equality and dignity of all people.”
Nathan Berkeley, communications director of the RFI, said the thinktank worked to advance religious freedom throughout the globe and to defend those of all faiths who were persecuted.
An FCDO spokesperson said: “We invited experts and representatives from a wide range of different fields and beliefs to the conference in the spirit of fostering positive discussion and collaboration on issues of freedom of religion or belief.”
Bruce, Alton and Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year. Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.
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On Monday, the FBI, for the first time in history, conducted a search of the home of a former president, which took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. After the raid, Trump issued a statement denouncing the incident and accusing the US court system of using it as a weapon against him.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.
And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.
But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year.
Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.
A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.
Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.
Political meddling is just one of the many headaches that Western automakers endure in China. In July, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares blamed interference by the Chinese government for the cancellation of the Jeep-maker’s joint venture in the world’s largest auto market. But local car manufacturers may pose a bigger threat to foreign companies as they continue to grab a larger share of the Chinese market.
For decades, the world’s large car manufacturers had to establish onerous joint ventures with local companies to establish a foothold in China. Beijing hoped that this strategy would transform inefficient local partners into industry leaders. But the policy failed – the local companies failed to develop export markets, and even the most patriotic Chinese consumers preferred to buy cars made by Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen. By 2000, the German company had claimed more than 50% of the Chinese market.
Now, as China relaxes its international joint venture requirements, local competitors are stepping on the gas. In 2021, foreign automakers saw their combined share of the Chinese auto market shrink to 45.6%, and Volkswagen’s market share dropped to 15.5% in the first half of 2022.
Two factors are driving the growing competitiveness of Chinese automakers. The growing pool of domestic technical talent has fed the growth of thriving, privately-owned vehicle manufacturers such as BYD, Geely (which owns Volvo) and Great Wall Motor. China now has a competent group of manufacturers of conventional, mid-range passenger vehicles that can lure foreign designers away from the likes of BMW and the Italian design firm, Pininfarina.
The second factor is Beijing’s push to outpace the West in manufacturing electric vehicles. In 2021, 3.3 million hybrid and battery-powered cars were registered in China, accounting for 16% of total sales. Meanwhile, European consumers bought 1.1 million fewer electric vehicles. McKinsey consultants say that the Chinese companies are able to manufacture safe auto bodies that are lighter than those built by their international rivals. The Chinese also have local access to cutting-edge battery expertise from global leaders such as Amperex Technology, valued at $194 billion.
Tesla is currently the only foreign automaker that has succeeded in claiming a spot on the list of China’s top 10 best-selling electric vehicles. Research firm Redburn estimates that Volkswagen now has only 10.8% of China’s electric vehicle market, although the $89 billion company is planning to launch new models and is investing in research and sales centers.
The increasing competitiveness of Chinese automakers has impacts beyond its borders, as they continue to reinvest profits to take on Western giants in other markets. BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed Chinese automaker that is challenging Tesla for the title of the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, shipped its first lot of 1,000 SUVs – the ATTO 3 – to Australia in August. As more Chinese cars start showing up on Western roads, complaints about political meddling by the Chinese government will surely grow louder.