Mainstream

Home > 2020 > Development & Family Planning: A Feminist Perspective | Ramneet (...)

Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 29, New Delhi, July 4, 2020

Development & Family Planning: A Feminist Perspective | Ramneet Kaur

Saturday 4 July 2020

by Dr. Ramneet Kaur [1]

Often development and population (the numbers) are seen in an inverse relationship. Whenever it comes to development of a nation, population size becomes one of the biggest concerns. It is this concern which lead to emphasis on the practice of regulating population growth. In this process, family planning programmes, involving birth controls becomes an essential medium of attaining desired development. And women body often becomes the subject of focus, as childbirth and pregnancy take place from this body. Traditionally, birth control and family planning are terms often used interchangeably, and for understanding these concepts following definition can be looked in:

‘Population control is the exercise or attempt to exercise control by outsiders-whether national governments, international agencies….the family’s right to make decisions about the number of children wanted. Birth control is the right of women and men to make decisions about their reproductive capacities. In this right…women have a prior claim to full exercise of control-in other words man’s right to father a child is a right which cannot take priority over a woman’s right to refuse to bear a child. Women’s prior right derives from their much greater responsibility for child care as much as from the facts of pregnancy and childbirth.’ [2]

When ‘social, political, and economic’ welfare of the nation is assumed to be dependent on managing and controlling the ‘national fertility,’ then, ‘procreative, and sexual behaviors’ become the subject matters of state intervention and regulation.’ [3] This regulation is not always based on ‘the ideals of justice, choice, freedom, sexual autonomy or reproductive rights.’ [4] As pointed, the implications of continued use of the term family planning ‘obscures the change from population control as a development strategy to development as population control strategy.’ [5]

This in turn makes people mere numbers which were required to be reduced as they were supposedly hampering the development of nation. It ‘replaced people with faceless mass of numbers.’ [6] Also, apart from ‘poverty, underdevelopment, and hunger, environmental degradation’ is also labelled as consequence of over population, which reflects that varied, and distinct interest and purposes were lagging behind promoting the idea of family planning. [7]

For example, China’s one child policy, it was adopted to curb the increasing rate of population and for this ‘parents in China who exceed their fertility limit are forced to pay a fine and are subject to a variety of other monetary punishments, including the seizure of property and forced dismissal from government employment.’ [8] Another one of the discouraging consequences of such policy was visible from the sex ratio distortion in China, the result of ‘prenatal discrimination against female conceptions.’ [9] Thereby, orders were passed without considering the effects on women, their body, their choice.

We can also look in to the case of India where two child policy; hum do hamare do is promoted, regulating the fertility of its subjects but it did not take into consideration the gendered aspect and had consequences. People who desires for having a son have either gone for more than two child (if both are daughters) or for sex selective abortions (so that one should be son). In either case it is the women who suffered, and it is her body which is affected and violated. It resulted in inducing ‘violence against daughters and mothers of daughters’ [10] and intensified ‘the differential value attached to sons and daughters.’ [11] In this manner women’s right over their body and state policies, both have been breached. Therefore, state polices to be successful needs to take into consideration the prevailing and persisting gender inequality in society. As pointed; such two child norms neglect the fact that it is not women who is regulating her fertility, it is the family, the husband who are decision makers. Such conceptualisation always ignores the role of men and make women responsible for over population or target them for reducing population, reflects the gender biased approach of family planning programmes. [12]

Such norms of one or two child; reflects state’s ignorance on the fact that women do not have choice as to whether she is really interested or desiring for second child or even the first child. The number of children is just imposed on women sometimes by family, and sometimes by state. Women in this process became the object of prime focus; based on an assumption, that it is women who gives birth, it is she whose fertility needs to be controlled. This fertility regulation perception forgot to take in to account the gendered context of society, that is: women are not often the decision maker on number of children and gap between the pregnancies, is majorly dependent on their husband’s decision and more specifically on the social need and cultural desire of having a son.

The commitment to population control at various places and at varied levels, has marginalized many aspects of women’s reproductive health by subjecting them to involuntary sterilization, and harmful contraceptives. The population policies have been pursued relentlessly compromising women’s health and women body has faced side effects. Therefore, availability of safe and effective contraceptives methods is their primary concern. This is what women’s movement emphasised, the requirement of providing the better-quality services along with considering the ‘sexuality and gender relations’ to cater the need of women’s reproductive health. [13]

What is needed is to understand that choices ‘sexuality, family planning, and childbearing’ ‘arise in contexts of great diversity, involving gender, class, ethnicity, and religion, depending on the power relationships in which individuals stand’. Such choices, if we can call it choice, are not autonomous or free, they are impacted and influenced by all the factors such as gender, class, ethnicity, especially the power relations because it is the power which makes someone the decision maker, and others not. [14] Therefore, population policies should take into account all the factors, the conditions, the circumstances, which impacts the reproductive health and reproductive rights of both men and women. It is essential to acknowledge that without understanding gendered aspect of society, it is difficult to bring the actual development of a nation.


[1Dr. Ramneet Kaur, Adjunct Faculty, Ambedkar University Delhi. She can be reached via email at: ramneet.delhi[at]gmail.com This paper is the outcome of valuable contributions given by Pinky &, is a tribute to her.

[2Definition cited in the book, Jyotsna Agnihotri Gupta, New Reproductive Technologies, Women’s Health and Autonomy: Freedom or Dependency? (New Delhi: Sage, 2000), p. 143.

[3Sanjam Ahluwalia, Reproductive Restraints: Birth Control in India 1877-1947 (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2008), p. 2

[4Ibid., p. 3

[5Quote cited in the book, Jyotsna Agnihotri Gupta, New Reproductive Technologies, Women’s Health and Autonomy: Freedom or Dependency? (New Delhi: Sage, 2000), pp. 145-146.

[6Sanjam Ahluwalia, Reproductive Restraints: Birth Control in India 1877-1947 (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2008), p. 123

[7Jyotsna Agnihotri Gupta, New Reproductive Technologies, Women’s Health and Autonomy: Freedom or Dependency? (New Delhi: Sage, 2000), p. 142.

[8Avraham Ebenstein, “The Missing Girls of China and the Unintended Consequences of the One Child Policy,” Journal of Human Resources Vo. 45, No. 1, (2010) pp. 87-115, p. 97. DOI:10.1353/jhr.2010.0003, https://scholars.huji.ac.il/sites/default/files/avrahamebenstein/files/ebenstein_onechildpolicy_2010.pdf (accessed on 29 November 2017)

[9Ibid., p. 88,

[10Elisabeth Croll, Endangered Daughters: Discrimination and Development in Asia (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 165.

[11Ibid., p. 77.

[12Quote cited in the book, Maithreyi Krishnaraj, in Motherhood in India: Glorification without empowerment? ed. Maithreyi Krishnaraj (New Delhi: Routledge, 2010), p. 35.

[13Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Amparo Claro, “Challenges from Women’s Health Movement: Women’s Rights Versus Population Control,” in Population Policies Reconsidered: Health, Empowerment, and Rights, ed. Gita Sen, Adrienne Germain, and Lincoln C. Chen (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 47.

[14Sissela Bok, “Population and Ethics: Expanding the Moral Space,” in Population Policies Reconsidered: Health, Empowerment, and Rights, ed. Gita Sen, Adrienne Germain, and Lincoln C. Chen (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 16.

Notice: The print edition of Mainstream Weekly is now discontinued & only an online edition is appearing. No subscriptions are being accepted