The vulnerability of surrogate mothers in a global market
17 October 2022
A new dissertation on surrogacy highlights Thai women's experiences of having acted as surrogate mothers. The dissertation shows the women's vulnerability in a global surrogacy industry, but also provides a more nuanced picture of what makes women seek surrogacy and how they relate to the process.
Commercial surrogacy has been illegal in Thailand since 2015, but the industry lives on, albeit on different premises. But what happens when the surrogacy industry establishes itself on the black market and how does it affect the women who act as surrogate mothers?
“Bans will not make the surrogate industry disappear. However, the women who act as surrogate mothers are required to be more flexible than before. They travel from Thailand to countries such as China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, both for embryo implantation and to give birth to the children,” explains Elina Nilsson, PhD in gender studies at Uppsala University.
In order to continue existing in this rapidly changing legal landscape, the surrogate market depends on the women's mobility – being able to travel to and from health checks and move across national borders – but also immobility, periods in which they have limited opportunities to move freely, for example when waiting to give birth. This places the women in a precarious and vulnerable position.
Stigmatisation and illegal status
As part of the dissertation, Nilsson conducted in-depth interviews with 12 Thai women who acted as surrogate mothers for international clients. Both stigmatisation and the illegal status of surrogate mothers limited the opportunity to obtain more informants. The women describe how their female networks play a major role in learning more about the process and creating some sense of security, despite its illegal status. However, the main motivation for going through a surrogacy process is money.
“Commercial surrogacy is a way to earn a large amount of money in a relatively short amount of time. That said, many also remain in surrogacy, either by repeating it, wanting to repeat it, or by recruiting other women to it, the reason being that it wasn't actually as economically transformative as they had hoped, so many simply remain in debt.”
Although all the women interviewed were clear that they did this primarily for the money, they also highlighted how it was seen as a way to make merit, tam bun, which would generate positive karma in accordance with Buddhist morality. And since the women contributed financially to the family, it also became a way to live up to Thai gender ideals of being a woman, and specifically a mother and daughter, expected to take financial responsibility for both their children and their parents. By framing surrogacy in this local moral and religious context, it became comprehensible to both the women themselves and the people around them.
“The surrogate mother's position is vulnerable and ambivalent. She is expected to adapt to the conditions and needs of the surrogacy industry, while at the same time having her own needs and a family of her own to take care of. My research shows how the global surrogacy market and local contexts interact with each other and how this shapes the experiences of Thai surrogate mothers.”
Thai Surrogate Mothers' Experiences of Transnational Commercial Surrogacy: Navigating Local Morality and Global Markets, https://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1663096/FULLTEXT01.pdf
New light cast on Scandinavia’s most important Bronze Age site
09 oktober 2018
Håga, Scandinavia's most significant Bronze Age site, is relatively unknown. But in a new book, archaeologists at Uppsala University have brought together what is known and placed Håga in a larger context.
New study shows virus traces in historical skeletal material
06 september 2018
A new international study shows the importance of studying historical skeletal material to increase knowledge about how viruses develop.
Large-scale whaling in north Scandinavia may date back to 6th century
13 juni 2018
The intensive whaling that has pushed many species to the brink of extinction today may be several centuries older than previously assumed. This view is held by archaeologists from Uppsala and York whose findings are presented in the European Jour...
Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson to receive King’s Medal
08 juni 2018
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf has decided to award Uppsala University’s Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Johan Svedjedal, Professor of Literature, H.M. The King’s Medal.
This year’s Distinguished Teaching Award winners chosen
04 juni 2018
The 2018 Distinguished Teaching Award winners at Uppsala University teach subjects related to art history, informatics and media, pharmaceutical biosciences and information technology. The free Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Senior ...
Human diversity as a research area
29 maj 2018
Human diversity abounds in language, culture and biology. An understanding of this diversity is central to a lot of research, but it is important to address the ethical issues raised by this research. The Human Diversity Research Network takes an ...
Shared meals important for wellbeing
29 maj 2018
How, where and when we eat are key issues for human health and wellbeing. A multidisciplinary research network at Uppsala University aims to deepen knowledge about the significance of meals.
Is citizenship necessary for being part of a democracy?
26 april 2018
Nowadays, civil rights are usually connected with citizenship of a country. But how do growing globalisation and more mobility affect this?
Mobilising for research on higher education
26 april 2018
Remarkably little research is conducted on higher education in Sweden, but a large share of existing research on the subject is at Uppsala University. Through a research network for research on higher education, researchers are now mobilising to d...
Two Uppsala researchers elected at American Academy
25 april 2018
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently elected new members. Two Uppsala researchers were elected as international honorary members.
The Well-Laden Ship: Viking exhibition soon to reach America
11 april 2018
In late April, a ship will reach New York bringing the exhibition “The Vikings Begin” which will embark on a two-year tour of the US. On display will be a selection of 1,300-year-old items from the pre-Viking Age. Usually in storage at Gustavianum...
Art historian receives award from Vitterhetsakademien
09 april 2018
Every year, Vitterhetsakademien (The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities) confers prizes for outstanding scholarly achievements. PhD Hedvig Mårdh at Uppsala University was one of the 2017 prizewinners.
New Oscar Prize winners announced
21 december 2017
Uppsala University’s Oscar Prize for young researchers has been awarded to Eric Cullhed, Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics and Philology and Oskar Karlsson, Doctor of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.
New thesis on 21st-century Swedish crime fiction: A Market of Murders
20 december 2017
Why have Swedish detective stories become so immensely popular in our century? What murder motives and weapons are most common in the genre, and why? And is it true that Swedish crime fiction is characterised by social criticism? A new thesis from...
Collaboration for new knowledge in culture and society
09 december 2017
Uppsala University is aiming to develop new research collaborations spanning different research subjects. The newly created Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society at the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences will fac...
Ola Larsmo and Quentin Skinner new honorary doctors
16 oktober 2017
Author Ola Larsmo and Professor Quentin Skinner, University of London, have been appointed new honorary doctors at Uppsala University’s Faculty of Arts.
Equal Opportunities Award goes to Anita Hussénius
12 oktober 2017
Anita Hussénius, head of the Centre for Gender Research, has received the 2016 Equal Opportunities Award for her gender-equal and inclusive leadership.
Exhibition: Viking Age patterns may be Kufic script
03 oktober 2017
What was previously thought to be typical Viking Age, silver patterns on woven silk bands, could in fact be geometric Kufic characters. As part of an exhibition at the Enköping Museum, ongoing research is presented where a textile archaeological a...
First genetic proof that women were Viking warriors
08 september 2017
New DNA evidence uncovered by researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University shows that there were in fact female Viking warriors. The remains of an iconic Swedish Viking Age grave now reveal that war was not an activity exclusive to m...
Gustavian style – a Swedish style?
05 juni 2017
Why has the neoclassical Gustavian style become so prominent in the Swedish self-image? A new dissertation from Uppsala University shows how researchers in art history, along with museums, commercial enterprises and the monarchy, have contributed ...