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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Population Stabilization Through Women's Empowerment: A Challange before the Nation

Author(s): Bhupinder Singh

Vol. 28, No. 2 (2003-04 - 2003-06)

Head, Deptt. of Community Medicine Govt. Medical College & Hospital, Jammu

Respected Chairperson, esteemed colleagues, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,

I am grateful to Indian Association of Social and Preventive Medicine for having bestowed the great honour on me by awarding Dr. Harcharan Singh Oration. It is my privilege to deliver this oration since Dr. Harcharan Singh was one of the leading and most recognized stalwarts of our discipline. He was the great teacher, a friend and guide to all of us and above all a great human being. Most of us can only dream what he has achieved in his lifetime.

I dedicate this oration to my family and friends who have always been the constant source of inspiration and strength.

Actress Manisha Koirala, who is the designated Ambassador of UNFPA (United Nation's Population Fund) said,

"I feel angry about the domination of men in family and society. In Nepal, my great grandmother could not even breast-feed her daughter. Even today widow remarriage is unheard of there. My mother once told me that my grandfather made faces when he learnt that the first child (Manisha) was a girl. She did not speak to him for a month after that. My mother then resolved to make me a strong, independent and successful woman"

said Manisha, whose grandfather Girija Prasad Koirala was the prime Minister of Nepal. The present scenario in our country, as far as women empowerment is concerned, is reflected in the statement.

Empowerment should be viewed as a process in which all voices are encouraged to be heard for ultimate goal of securing mutually beneficial solutions. Spouses, partners and mother-in-laws often make decisions for women on contraceptive choice and use. Women are also financially weak to pay for needed family planning and health services. The relationship between empowerment and women's use of services of family planning is complex and problematic.

India needs to empower women so that they can decide on the size of the family and thus help the country curb the growth of its population. India joined China as the second one billion strong nation in May 2000. While the global population has increased three-fold in the twentieth century from two to six billion, the population of India has grown nearly five times from 230 million to one billion.

Gender driven socio-economic policies had an adverse affect on lives of women in India especially in rural areas. The sexual division of labour in India is both a cause and the effect of monopoly of man of key position in social, economic and political hierarchy and control of societal institutions. There is an example of how women's empowerment makes economic sense. In Uttar Pradesh only 5% of population avails of subsidized food through public distribution system while in Kerala 95% of the population takes benefit of it. The forces that have helped Kerala achieve population stabilization with a crude birth rate of 15.9 per 1000 are: two-child norm, universal primary education, emphasis on girl child, economic equality and better health care.

In the 4th World Conference on Women convened in Beijing in 1995, six basic principles were emphasized:

  1. Violence against women must be dropped.
  2. Girls must be valued against the boys in their families and within society.
  3. Women must have access to high quality education and health care and to economic resources and political power.
  4. Family responsibility must be shared.
  5. Women must have right to control their own fertility and equality in sexual relations.
  6. Human rights and women's rights are intertwined and based on freedom of expression.

In order to translate the commitment made by our country during the world conference, a national policy on empowerment of women was finalized in 2001. The primary objective of the 9th five year plan was empowerment of women and was committed to creation of enabling environment where women can freely exercise their rights both within and outside home as equal partners alongwith men. Experiences in China indicated that women's control over land rights during 1940s gave women a stronger sense of self and the means to leave unhappy marriages. Lack of property rights is an obstacle to women's empowerment in India. Land also provides social status and political power as well as economic security. Women's landlessness reduces women's power in the household even for wealthy women.

Population policy can be made effective through respect for voluntary compliance to social objectives for reduced population growth. Respect must also be accorded to human and reproductive rights. The objective is to enhance social and reproductive health through multiple strategies on empowerment of women. Women and women's concerns must be given research priority. Women's movement has called for rethinking of ethical basis for policy, objectives, strategies, programme design and technology.

In the National Population Policy 2000, operational strategies and the action plan is quite elusive and has been discussed at length. Emphasis is laid on convergence service delivery at village level by involving the para-professionals including anganwadi workers and mention is made about the establishment of maternity huts in each village to be used as village delivery room with storage space for supplies and medicines. It is also emphasized that meaningful decentralization will result only if convergence of National Family Welfare Policy with I.C.D.S. programme is strengthened. Experience over the years has shown that Universal Immunization Programme became successful when it was converged with ICDS. Convergence is in itself a way for empowerment of women through improved health and nutritional status. However, monitoring and surveillance system needs to be strengthened.

Another hope lies in Panchayati Raj System. In India, there are a million elected women representative at the village council level. This number is higher than the total number of women leaders in the rest of the world. If we can train these one million women, then they will carry forward the message of women's empowerment.

The major areas of challenges before the govt. and policy makers are:

  • Access to employment.
  • Right to ownership of land, property and assets.
  • Elimination of social evils such as trafficking in women and girls.
  • Social status, Political power, economic security
  • Role in agricultural and allied sector.
  • Role in electronics, information technology, food processing etc.
  • Support services like child care facilities, creches at work places.
  • Universal education (increased enrollment and retention rate of girls)
  • Care of women in difficult circumstances like extreme poverty, destitute women, conflict situations, natural calamities etc.

All forms of violence against women must be stopped. Whichever model is adopted for implementation of population policy, points that need emphasis are:

  • Implementation of population policy by client centered monitoring and evaluation.
  • Development of surveillance system for maternal health (still lacking).
  • Establishment of maternity huts in close proximity of anganwadi centres.
  • Effective coordination between para-professionals at village level.
  • Supportive supervision (still lacking)
  • Involvement of panches and sarpanchs at the village and sub-centre level. They must be empowered to review the programmes.
  • Emphasis on literacy to girl-child (enrolment drive)
  • Skill development of para-professionals for interacting and educating women.
  • Adolescents can be a link between an anganwadi centre and the village household (should be involved)
  • Involvement of women in social, economic and political hierarchy.

In the end I would like to quote Guru Nanak "SO KEYON MANDA AKHYAE - JITT JAME RAJAN" means why the women be condemned who have given birth to great saints, kings, scientists and great leaders and she is janani of all.

Let us pledge today to remove gender bias from the society and plea for the upliftment of women.

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