Offer of Gold instead of Empowerment for Women

A news report in a daily here in Indore recently said that the government had announced gold coins would be given by lottery to those women who underwent the sterilisation operation. The pressure on the administration to meet sterilisation targets set by the government has forced them to announce such sops. Very much like some sellers of shampoos who too lure customers by advertising that gold coins are hidden in a few of the bottles. This is the farcical culmination of a population policy that sidesteps the issue of patriarchy and puts the whole burden of population control on women. The family planning targets that are set have to be fulfilled by the lowest cadre of health workers who also are women. While the Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) are paid government servants, the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) are more or less voluntary workers who are given only 150 rupees per female sterilisation and 200 rupees for male sterilisations. They are also given Rs 350 for encouraging pregnant women to deliver their babies in hospitals instead of at home. When a woman becomes pregnant the ASHA has to sniff her out like a sniffer dog and then make sure she takes all the vaccinations and other ante-natal care. They do not get paid for the post-natal care. The ASHA has to spend a lot of time in this and also in searching for candidates for strerilisation. Women doesn’t agree easily to take ante-natal care or go to hospitals for delivery or for sterilisation. Only if there are complications do women want to take help from the ASHA or any other person or relatives. This is the tendency here as the women do not want to lose time as they are already over burdened with work. Only sometimes the ASHA succeeds in getting a woman to take help and the process starts and they have to go to the designated government hospital for all treatment. Government hospitals are far from their homes and going there costs time and money. Sometimes this distance means that when labour sets in the women cannot go to hospital because ambulance services are also not provided properly and they are too poor to hire vehicles. If the woman can not reach the nominated hospital and the birth takes place at home then the ASHA loses her payment of 350 rupees regardless of the time and money she might have spent on the woman. The Health department has lost all its welfare orientation and is using a business mind to lure women into opting for sterilisation. Women do not have any inclination to bear more babies but it is the patriarchal pressure to bear babies till enough boys are born that makes them go through this laborious process time and again. There is no guarantee for old age securty. The Indian government has made many rules and regulations for women’s healh care but they are all on paper not on the ground. There are no concrete efforts to provide good health facilities for poor citizens . The Economic Survey by the Central Government puts the State of Madhya Pradesh in a poor light with Infant Mortility Rate females of 72 /1000 and for males of 68 /1000 in the state. Another interesting statistic is that only 2,385 males have been sterilised in the over one lakh family planning operations that have been done in the Indore division. This shows that men do not want to bear the responsibility of population control. A government surgeon said that males are prevented by their family because they are the bread earners. This is not true because many poor women are working and running their families and also going through the sterilisation operation. If the government really wants to take care of the poor women then male ASHA should also be inducted along with female ones to change the mindset of the men who dominate decision making in this regard. Society is male dominated and there is no open debate over health related issues. How can the women remove these social obstacles and motivate the men for sterilisation? Motivating the men in addition to the women is like giving water to the roots instead of the leaves. Women are not made only for giving birth to babies and for fulfilling the targets of sterilisation. Does anybody ask women what they want in their lives? No, instead the Government thinks they are like idiots who can be fooled with gold coins. It is seventeen years since the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994 stated in Principle 8 – “Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.States should take all appropriate measures to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, universal access to health-care services,including those related to reproductive health care, which includes family planning and sexual health.Reproductive health-care programmesshould provide the widest range of services without any form of coercion.All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.” Yet the government cannot think beyond bribing women to undergo sterilisation because it does not want to empower them to challenge patriarchy and take their own decisions. This international women’s day we have to dedicate ourselves to freeing the millions of poor women from the clutches of a fatal patriarchy that stifles them.

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