ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Debunking Malthusianism

U Kalpagam Women, Population and Global Crisis by Asoka Bandarage; Zed Books, London and New Jersey; pp xii+397, price (not stated).
THE book under review is full of unforgettable facts, Did you know that an ordinary bicycle pump was used in a sterilisation camp in Rajasthan to pump air into women's bodies? If this is amusing, here is some more: One P V Mehta has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for sterilising more than 3,50,000 women in one decade. Speed doctors' perform 300- 500 female laparoscopic sterilisations in 10 hours in a single day. These amusing details don't read amusing at all when read in the context of a political-economic analysis of population and the global crisis, which is what Bandarage does with both passion and rigour. Although the book is largely addressed to readers in the north, it in no way detracts from its usefiilness to the world at large. The basic thesis that Bandarage attempts to expose for its fallacies is the contemporary neo-Malthusian thinking on population, which by attempting to posita simple-minded relationship between population and resources, attributes the poverty of the 'majority world' to the size of their population. For Bandarage, neo-Malthusianism is a social philosophy that attributes population growth as the root cause of all social problems such as global environmental destruction, poverty, hunger, political instability and violence; and which therefore identifies population control as the solution to all the problems. In her view, neo- Malthusian thinking is not a phenomenon restricted to the dominant world institutions such as the US goventment, the World Bank and the United Nations system, but one which liberal social change movements such as the environmental movement and the feminist movements in the north are subscribing to as well. Most governnjents of the south as well as the NGOs of the south also seem to have accepted the position of neo-Malthusianism as imported from the north, thus targeting the bodies of poor women of colour and undermining the health and well-being of poor women and their children, Adopting the feminist tenets of individual choice in reproductive issues, neo- Malthusianism has even appropriated the discourse of women's reproductive rights. Adopting an instrumentalist approach to women's rights as highlighted by the Pro- gramme of of Action adopted in Cairo in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development, neo-Malthusian frameworks neglect the social structural roots of women's subordination, The author's position is that Malthusianism is funda- mentally flawed in both its theory and its practice, Both the anti-natalist Malthusian perspective as well as the pro-natalist reli- gious fundamentalism restrict women's reproductive' self-determination. A truly feminist analysis of reproductive freedom can only be built upon "a broader political economic analysis of the global crisis and an ethic of human caring and nurturance which simultaneously empowers women, their families and communities".

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