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Sterilisation — why only women?

| | Updated on: Nov 12, 2014
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The gender bias in the family planning programme mirrors discriminatory social attitudes

“It was as if the doctors had been given a contract to kill,” wailed the husband of a woman who was among those who died in Chhattisgarh after a botched sterilisation procedure at a free family planning camp held by the State government. According to reports, over 80 such operations were done in six hours, presumably to meet the ‘target’. The result: 11 women died and over 50 are ‘critical’.

The crux of the problem, however, is the gradual shift in the government’s focus: targeting women rather than creating awareness among men. In the 70s and 80s, the family planning programme advertised on buses, autos, trains, hoardings, wall writings, television and radio commercials urged men to use contraceptives by propagating the use of ‘Nirodh’ condoms. It came from the realisation in that the onus of family planning lay with men, apart from protecting them from STD and infections. But gradually, however, the government’s population control programmes started to focus on women, and contraceptives such as copper-T and Mala-D tablets were introduced.

After the spread of HIV/AIDS in and after the 90s, the use of condoms was once again propagated by agencies such as NACO. But that too has petered out. Now, even though ‘designer’ condoms flood the market, targeting educated young men, vasectomy has not become popular as a majority of men believe their ‘virility’ will be undermined.

Consequently, female sterilisation has been rising. This is set off against targets and financial incentives to poor women, whose health is anyway fragile. According to a Bloomberg report, government-imposed quotas and financial sops for doctors in 2012 lead to the sterilisation of 4.6 million women, “many for cash payments and many in the unsanitary and rudimentary conditions.” Vasectomies accounted for just 4 per cent of all sterilisations.

India adds on average 18 million people each year. While population control does need to be taken up on a war-footing, it is time the Government did away with target-driven family planning aimed at women. They are easy prey and easily exploited, whether “it is government officials or their husbands asking them to undergo the operation,” as Human Rights Watch said in a report documenting coercion at sterilisation camps held in 2012.

Aditi Nigam is Deputy Editor

Published on March 12, 2018

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