Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Matters of reproductive justice take on renewed importance in a time of climate change anxiety. While neo-Malthusian language has been expunged from current discussions of contraceptive promotion in the global South, contraception, and its prevalence, is mobilized by groups with disparate interests. In contemporary global health discourses, contraception is cast as an antipoverty tool at the household level, a tool of economic development at the national level, a smart investment with net gains, a means of empowering women, a way of lowering maternal mortality ratios. In order to critique discursive uses of contraception – and their implications for women – in a concrete way, I use a compelling case of the history of the promotion of planned families in Nepal and a recent social and behavior change communication contraception campaign. With attentiveness to the line between reproductive empowerment and coercion, I situate the campaign and the questions it raises in anthropological and historical critiques of neo-Malthusian logics, the scientific appeal and creative power of global health metrics and indicators, and global discourses on life and health driven by development economics. The gradual historical refashioning in Nepal of a discourse that promotes the “small family” to one that promotes the modern “smart couple” is an illustrative example of the global trend in which the economic development goal of replacement-level fertility is refashioned as a global health indicator as funding agencies promote contraceptive adoption as a women’s health issue. Underlying this discursive repackaging, however, is a continued economization of life and health.