Women’s Health, Population Control and Collective Action

Harini Narayanan, Economic & Political Weekly
Health policy in India, like all public policy, has always been the product of complex political processes. In the area of women’s health, the situation is further complicated by the fact that policy processes have to straddle a treacherous fault line between target-driven population-control goals on the one hand, and issues of individual reproductive rights and general well-being on the other. Most recent discussions of women’s health policy in India argue that over time, such policies and the programmes associated with them are today more inclusive and sensitive to the articulated and apparent needs of the women concerned than they earlier were. Through a historical study of the relevant policymaking processes and discussions with those who intervene in such processes, this paper seeks to widen the debate on the subject by questioning the above views. Further, the paper argues that the trajectory of change has never been simple or linear. Policy shifts over time reflect the greater or lesser influence of a range of actors – including international donor agencies and pharmaceutical companies as well as the health and women’s movements – apart from the ideological aims of the party in power. All these influences serve to constantly blur and shift the loci of policy emphases along non-linear trajectories, even if the core concerns remain relatively unchanged.
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