Gendered bio-responsibilities and travelling egg providers from South Africa

Journal Article


Journal Title

Reproductive Biomedicine and Society

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Volume Title



University of Cape Town

‘Unsuspecting young South African women are heading overseas to donate their eggs to infertile couples and earn a free international holiday in the process. But, at what cost? This was the voice-over during a news show in South Africa in 2016 that described the phenomenon of young white South African women going abroad to donate their eggs. Through the media, medical professionals sought to warn naïve girls about unscrupulous agencie taking advantage of them, and in doing so putting them at grave medical risks in Third Worl clinics. Yet owners of agencies and egg providers themselves countered this imagery; here, the egg provider becomes a far more complex biocitizen who finds an opportunity to combine an act of altruism with an opportunity to earn money and travel. Through interviews with travelling egg providers, doctors and egg agencies, and analysis of public and social media, we analyse these competing discourses critically by situating them within the specific context of egg provision in South Africa. We argue that travelling egg providers' defence of their involvement may challenge some gendered assumptions made by the media and medical staff, but at the same time reaffirm what we call gendered bio-responsibilities or the gendered nature of the emphasis on (individual) responsibilization of biological citizens. By focusing on a relatively understudied aspect of the burgeoning literature on biocitizenship, we argue that the project of biocitizenship assists the expansion and normalization of new biomedical technologies, often without proper emphasis on the disproportionate obligations on the women involved.