When Rukmani from Solan in Himachal Pradesh stands up in a crowd and says she is proud to be the mother of daughters, we feel elated.
When Paro in a remote village in Uttar Pradesh contacts the ASHA and asks for an IUD, we feel our work has paid off.
When Shabnam gets up at a jan sunwai (public hearing) being held in a rural district of Bihar and demands that the ANM be regular in her visits, we feel a sense of achievement.
Ordinary women, small actions, but which call for extraordinary efforts on their part.
Giving them strength, nudging them on, working to make the world a better place for the Indian women and their families is what we do in the Population Foundation of India.
We marked 40 years of our work with a series of events that culminated on July 31 this year with the 12th JRD Tata Memorial Oration by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, and the presentation of the 5th JRD Tata Memorial Awards.
The day was special. For on that day we paid homage to our Founder Chairman, JRD Tata. He was deeply concerned about infant and child mortality, health consequences of early marriage on women, female education and the miserable conditions in which a large percentage of Indians lived. He wanted them to lead healthy lives and share in the fruits of India’s progress and growth. The visionary that he was, he linked this to their ability to plan and care for their families. Just two days earlier, we had marked his 108 birth anniversary.
Forty years is a milestone in an organization’s journey. It is time to look at the distance covered and plan the journey ahead. And we were fortunate, that we had another visionary with us on that day -- Prof Amartya Sen who had turned the spotlight on women and the marginalized in the development discourse. On that day, he took stock of a very vital reality of our times – the skewed sex ratio when he gave the 12thJRD Tata Memorial Oration on Women & Other People. It is one of the six core areas of work of PFI in the coming years. Before I elaborate on that, let us look at PFI’s journey so far.
In the 1970s, many demographers and policy makers had regarded the high rate of population growth as the greatest obstacle to economic development. Coercion had brought India’s family planning programme to a ‘stand still’. PFI had then, advocated and promoted, flexible innovative approaches to family planning that were built on informed choice.
In the 1980s, PFI’s work revolved around building political commitment, and strengthening its advocacy for family planning, as a necessary and integral part of maternal and child care.
In the 1990s, PFI moved away from a demographic goal of reducing population growth rates and concentrated on the improvement and quality of life, sustainable human and social development. PFI’s work got a big boost from two defining events during this period - the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994, and the World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995.
As we worked through the decades, a new reality was being added. With new technology, it was now possible to determine the sex of the foetus. A society that was known to neglect its girl child, now had the choice of preventing her from being born. And it did with a vengeance. Two decades ago, Prof Amartya Sen’s essay, More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing, was a wakeup call to confront a frightening reality, which has only got worse over the years. Therefore, as we work at bringing health to the Indian woman, and with it the ability to plan her family, it becomes imperative to change mindsets, and get the society to value the girl.
For when a woman’s right to be born is snatched away, other rights automatically get curtailed. The consequences of warped sex ratios can be far reaching, leading to imbalance in the nature of things. PFI has integrated preventing sex selection into its five-year strategy plan. Son preference is a very inadequate explanation for sex selection. In fact, it is sadly daughter aversion that leads to this unacceptable consequence. At PFI, we therefore, consider this a huge challenge that needs the attention of all those who are concerned with India’s future. While preventing sex selection, we have to ensure that facilities for safe abortion are available and easily accessible to women.
PFI is working to reposition family planning within a women’s empowerment and human-rights framework. It will be our endeavour to -
prevent sex selective abortions
end child marriage
ensure that women bear their first child when they are emotionally and physically prepared
promote healthy timing and spacing of births
improve access to better quality reproductive health services through non-coercive programmes and policies.
Over the last year, we focused on realizing many of our objectives. We used every advocacy opportunity – critical meetings and conferences at the state, national and international levels, every possible forum, to highlight the need to reposition family planning as a woman’s rights and empowerment issue.
PFI is both a grant-making and a grant-receiving organization. We have reworked our grant-making strategy. We carry out a detailed pre- and post-grant review of the projects we fund. Among the new projects we are funding and collaborating on is a public-private initiative by Karuna Trust, which is focusing on repositioning family planning in 14 PHCs in Karnataka, an initiative by the Socio-Legal Information Centre that will build on the legal framework around family planning to ensure reproductive health and rights, another by SUTRA that gets women to collectively battle discrimination against girls. We are working with the Foundation for Research in Community Health to drawn up guidelines for maternal health management that will ensure an improvement in the quality of care.
Our Health of the Urban Poor program has made considerable progress in building tools, guidelines and processes, and is all set to contribute to urban health in general and the proposed National Urban Health Mission in a substantial way. Our HIV/AIDS program team amidst many challenges worked to bring care and treatment to PLHIV in 19 states.
The Chairman in his speech has covered our work and achievements during the year. I will discuss a few other initiatives that we have launched. We brought together a group of eminent Indians from different walks of life to work for ending child marriage. And we collaborated with The Elders, a group of global statesmen led by Desmond Tutu,who are piloting a global effort to promote equality for girls.
We have initiated a systematic review of evidence from best practices, policies and programmes on family planning on our key focus areas so as to inform our advocacy. We carried out an evaluation of the Government of India’s pilot scheme on home delivery of contraceptives by ASHAs with a view to strengthen and scaling up the programme.
We are very encouraged with the outcomes of our programme on community action, with state governments ready to scale up and embed it across India. This will bring ‘public’ into public health.
I look forward to your continued support. I thank each of you, who has worked with us to empower young women so that they can marry as adults, access contraceptives and quality health care, and plan along with their men when and how many children to have, steering their families to better health.
(From our Annual Report 2012-13)