Johanneburg - Young South African women have become part of the thriving global fertility market by selling their eggs to people desperate to have children and pocketing up to R50 000.
The most popular South African eggs are those of white Afrikaans women. While the local egg donation market is well regulated, women travel to different parts of the world to provide their eggs and be paid large sums of money.
While their eggs are in demand from people who want to have babies and because they are relatively cheap, the young women’s reasons for being in the fertility industry are not only based on making money.
Instead, they are in it because they are looking to escape their conservative upbringings, body autonomy and being more cosmopolitan. These are some of the findings by Associate Professor Amrita Pande, a sociologist and feminist ethnographer at the University of Cape Town, who is currently researching the global fertility market, including the international market for egg providers, surrogates, brokers, doctors and prospective parents.
Locally, there is a cap of about R8000 for egg donations but if they travel to other parts of the world they can make up to $3000 (R50000) and up to 15 days of travel.
“Everybody calls it donation, even though there is money involved, so I prefer egg provision. A lot of South African young, white women travel across the world because of the adventure and money. They get paid $2000 to $3000. I spent a lot of time with egg providers. I attended a lot of the donor days organised for them and travelled with them to parts of the world to provide the eggs.
“What I expected was that they were doing it for the money but it turns out that money is secondary. None of them are starving, they are using it as a passport to see the world,” Pande said.
She said there was a racial hierarchy in the global fertility industry that made white women’s eggs more desirable than other races.
“The global fertility industry is such that it is very classed. If you look at the global industry the demand is only for white women donors and white women from other countries like Ukraine. There is no demand for black South African women and it’s pretty much because there aren’t a lot of black intending parents."
“On the other hand, there are Asian intended parents, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, who are single men or gay men looking for egg providers. Aesthetics comes into play and they go for white women because they say they are looking for the best possible match. Racial hierarchy is stark in the global fertility industry.”
She said South Africans eggs are also more popular because they are cheaper than those of women in the US and Europe.
When it comes to surrogacy, the law allows women to do it only for altruistic reasons. Their medical bills are paid for but they cannot be paid for carrying and birthing the child.
Pande said though the laws locally are good and protect women from being forced into surrogacy for money, expecting women to do it for free is exploitation.
“South Africa is very good with their surrogacy laws. It is only allowed for free and for selfless reasons. Which makes it very different from the surrogacy model that was followed in other countries like India, Thailand, Cambodia where mostly women from low, middle-class families have been paid money to gestate the child of a client from different parts of the world.
“Expecting women to do such a big job for free is exploitation. This is a very, very big task. You get pregnant, gestate a baby and need to be emotionally ready to give up a baby afterwards. All this is a lot of work.”
She said altruism was celebrated because it was gendered work.
“It is a very naive celebration of altruism and a gendered expectation that women must do these things for free,” Pande said.
She said to better protect women and ensure they were making the right decisions the industry needed to be more open about risks.
“There needs to be clear communication on the long and short-term effects of the injections they are taking and their future fertility. The fact is that a lot still needs to be understood about hormones and their effect on women’s bodies: their uterus, breasts andcervical cancer."