Saturday, December 16, 2006

Contraception and birth control

A vast section of India's population does not practice any form of birth control or contraception. Hence the high birth rate in the country.

Birth control in India, where practiced, is still predominantly and overwhelmingly female-based (i.e. intra-uterine devices & pills) and terminal means-based (i.e. either abortion or ligation).

Bringing about male responsibility and contraception among the poor and low-income is one of the most acute challenges.

Change in this scenario, in terms of enabling reproductive health choices of women, improving family welfare, greater responsibility taking by men - cannot come by fiat. It will be achieved by reaching out to the people, and especially the women, in their micro-environments. Where this has been done, positive improvements have followed. The most celebrated example is of course Kerala.

In poor and low-income environments, one can see dramatic change in reproductive behaviour within one generation - when the woman is question enjoys education.

Literacy, education, social, health and reproductive health awareness, vocational skills and livelihood opportunities for women - it is in this nexus that it is strategically most important to intervene. And the most crucial group to focus on - are adolescent girls.

Similarly, in order to change the behaviour of males, it is vital to reach out to them when they are children, when they are teenagers, and thus plant seeds in them of a different being.

This will have a transformative impact on the society.

In this context, it is pertinent to point to the impressive performance of Bangladesh. Successive UNDP Human Development Reports, assessments by the World Bank, and scholars such as Jean Dreze, all corroborate the general trend that Bangladesh is outperforming India as a whole and West Bengal in particular, in a whole range of social indicators in health, education and gender equality.

Its a shame that all the talk of "Bengal's revival" by Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and the obsequious media - does not dwell on such things.

So, looking at the future of South Asia - it is Bangladesh one should bet on.

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