Involving men in family planning could cure India’s obsession with ‘population control’
The government of Uttar Pradesh population control bill – the UP Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021 – has recently become the latest salvo Indian political leaders have fired in their bid to manage a “population explosion” which they say is hampering the development of the ‘India.
In his Independence Day speech in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi describes the supposed problem as a major. But as the authors wrote for Thread at the time, there is evidence to show that India is already heading towards replacement-level fertility, and further measures – especially coercive ones – are not needed to ensure we get there.
Population control is not a problem. Instead, the lack of scientific evidence in support of coercive population policies only exposes the political, exploitative and sometimes sinister nature of policy formulations in India generally.
Experts have written about the possibility of such policies increased female feticideharassment of marginalized groups and violence against women. Some public health practitioners have also denounced paternalistic nature of these policies and urged the government to address the unmet need for contraception and improve the delivery of health and education services instead.
Some politicians and legal experts have also pointed out the communal diary behind the policy of Uttar Pradesh in particular – targeting the Muslim population. Others shed light on a campaign platform and the effect the bill could have on the upcoming state elections in disenfranchise marginalized groups.
Now, why are such coercive policies being formulated in the first place? The arguments above explain some facets of state decision-making – but they don’t say why policymakers focus on population control as the sphere in which to impose their ideas. We propose that gender is at the heart of this issue.
Population control measures are an easy target due to the gendered nature of their underlying issues. Examine the statements issued by various politicians over the past few weeks in response to the Uttar Pradesh bill and it should be clear that their central and unifying theme is the closed eye the government has turned on women’s reproductive rights.
Historically, women body have been checked by men, who think of bodies as resources. Politicians, and men in general, are more comfortable governing women’s bodies than their own. Over the 70-year history of family planning programs in India, several governments at state and national levels have implemented coercive measures of some form to control female fertility. Some examples are Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act 1994, Telangana Panchayati Raj Act 1994, Gujarat Local Authorities Act Amendment 2005 and Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act 1961.
Forced male sterilization as a policy in India occurred during the emergency in 1975-1977, with significant electoral repercussions for dispensation from power. This is a big reason why control Men’s fertility – widely perceived as emasculating – is not a popular political measure. (In fact, if the UP’s population control policy had explicitly focused on men and invoked coercive practices to control their fertility, it’s unlikely the bill would have been drafted.)
However, India’s family planning program should move away from attempting to control male or female fertility and focus on reproduction and gender. Justice – through gender transformative policies that include men. This change is important because it is unfair to impose the responsibility of transforming gender norms and uprooting patriarchy on women alone, especially since men primarily uphold patriarchal values and directly benefit from them.
An important call to involve men in family planning was made 25 years ago at the fourth world conference on women, in Beijing, a UN event. Participants at the event highlighted the need to promote an equal relationship and shared responsibilities between men and women in sexual and reproductive behavior; encouraging men to share childcare equitably; and design specific programs for men of all ages to achieve these results. India’s health systems, however, have made only token efforts – such as observing ‘fortnight of vasectomy’ in November to raise awareness of male contraception and increase compensation for men who undergo vasectomy.
Specifically, India needs gender transformative approaches, where the focus is on addressing unequal gender norms in society, especially those that disadvantage women. Such an approach would commit men to understanding their ideas about patriarchy, masculinity and power relations, help them reflect on how these ideas sustain unequal gender expectations, and ultimately encourage them to embrace more positive definitions of masculinity.
This would translate into greater involvement of men in matters of reproduction and family formation, as well as the sharing of reproductive responsibilities with their partners – such as deciding family size, use of contraceptives, care, etc.
Gender transformative approaches have shown promise in several sites across India. the Men in Maternity (MiM) A study in Delhi, for example, demonstrated that regular counseling for couples resulted in significant changes in men’s and women’s knowledge and behavior regarding contraceptives, and promoted joint decision-making in the choice of planning methods. family.
the PRACHAR project in Bihar trained young men aged 15-19 and reported remarkable improvements in acceptance of family planning methods. the Yaari Dosti program in Mumbai used group education activities with young men to challenge traditional concepts of masculinity. the GEMS program in Goa, Kota and Mumbai engaged young adolescents (12-14 years old) through classroom sessions, role-playing and other activities to induce changes in their attitudes towards traditional gender norms, and resulted in , among other things, to a greater involvement in housework.
Adopting gender-transformative approaches to health systems would mean ensuring that family planning services and information are also easily accessible to men. In addition, male health workers could talk with other men about family planning and sexual and reproductive health. To this end, they could use strategies that men are known to respond to better, such as group education and community outreach with positive messaging that emphasizes how men can initiate change. Social workers can also move from advising women to advising couples – both partners together – on family planning and shared decision-making.
The obsession with controlling the population and achieving a specific goal reduces people’s existence to statistics and encourages victim-blaming – women, in this case. Instead, the problem is that the government has not been held accountable for failing to uphold people’s reproductive rights more broadly and for implementing gender-transformative approaches in communities. family planning programs in particular.
Saurabh Rai is a researcher in health policy analysis and a PhD candidate and Mr. Sivakami is a professor, both at the School of Health Systems Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.