Women’s reproductive autonomy is the new catchword

Context: This year’s World Population Day theme, i.e., ‘Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities’, could not be more apt for India. When we unlock the full potential of women and girls, encouraging and nurturing their desires for their families and themselves, we galvanise half the leadership, ideas, innovation, and creativity available to societies.

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India’s Progress on Population Front

  • On World Population Day (July 11), India deserves to be commended for its family planning initiatives, where despite the many challenges, the aim is to provide an increasingly comprehensive package of reproductive health services to every potential beneficiary — with a focus on the provision of modern short and long-acting reversible contraceptives, permanent methods, information, counselling, and services, including emergency contraception.
  • India’s commitment towards the Family Planning 2030 partnership includes expanding its contraceptive basket.
  • The inclusion of new contraceptive options advances women’s rights and autonomy, leading to a spike in modern contraceptive prevalence.
  • Access to timely, quality and affordable family planning services is crucial because unspaced pregnancies may have a detrimental influence on the newborn’s health as well as major effects on maternal mortality, morbidity, and healthcare expenditure.
  • The Indian government’s health, population and development programmes have shown steady progress.
  • Life expectancy at birth has significantly increased in the country over the years. Compared to the 1990s, Indians are currently living a decade longer. In terms of maternal health, India has made impressive strides.
  • The current maternal mortality rate is 97 (per 100,000 live births in a year), down from 254 in 2004.
  • Another triumph of these programmes is gender empowerment.
  • Since the beginning of 2000, India has cut the number of child marriages by half.
  • Teen pregnancies, too, have dramatically decreased.
  • Access to vital services, including health, education, and nutrition, has also improved.

Issue of Lack of Physical/Reproductive Autonomy

  • According to the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), just 10% of women in India can independently decide about their health, and 11% of women believe that marital violence is acceptable if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband.
  • Nearly half of all pregnancies in India are unplanned.

Advantages of Physical/Reproductive Autonomy

  • Advancing gender equality is not just about women but also populations as a whole.
  • In ageing societies that worry about labour productivity, achieving gender parity in the workforce is the most effective way to improve output and income growth.
  • In countries experiencing rapid population growth, women’s empowerment through education and family planning can bring enormous benefits by way of human capital and inclusive economic development.
  • More importantly, the focus on gender equality helps shift the focus away from the notion of ‘population stabilisation’ to ‘population dynamics’ based on reproductive choices people make.
  • India has a significant opportunity to advance gender equality and grow its economy. Raising the women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points might account for more than 70% of the potential GDP growth opportunity ($770 billion in additional GDP by 2025).

The way forward

  • Focusing on gender equality-centred growth, rights, and choices promises to help all achieve their aspirations.
  • Gender equality can be ensured by making investments in a woman’s life at every stage, from childbirth to adolescence to maturity.
  • Engaging with women, girls and other marginalised people and formulating legislation and policies that empower them to assert their rights and take life-changing personal decisions are the first steps in this direction.
  • Gender-just approaches and solutions are the fundamental building blocks of a more prosperous India, and indeed the world.

Mains Practice Question

What do you understand by reproductive autonomy? Explain, how it affects the demography and economy of a country. (150 words, 10 marks)

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