On Women and their Wombs: Capitalism, Racialization, Feminism
This article draws from Françoise Vergès’s book, Le ventre des femmes: Capitalisme, racialisation, féminisme, which traces the history of the colonization of the wombs of Black women by the French state in the 1960s and 1970s through forced abortions and the forced sterilization of women in French foreign territories. Vergès retraces the long history of colonial state intervention in Black women’s wombs during the slave trade and post-slavery imperialism, and after World War II, when international institutions and Western states blamed the poverty and underdevelopment of the Third World on women of color. Vergès looks at the feminist and Women’s Liberation movements in France in the 1960s and 1970s and asks why, at a time of French consciousness about colonialism brought about by Algerian independence and the social transformations of 1968, these movements chose to ignore the history of the racialization of women’s wombs in state politics. In making the liberalization of contraception and abortion their primary aim, she argues, French feminists inevitably ended up defending the rights of white women at the expense of women of color, in a shift from women’s liberation to women’s rights.