Determining the size of her family is every woman’s right. For individuals in leadership positions, to make comments to the contrary is regressive and can push back the country’s progress on many fronts. These include India’s goal for population stabilisation, FP2020 – an international partnership of more than 20 governments on family planning – and the Sustainable Development Goals commitments. The debate is not whether the rich should have more children; it is about choices and rights.

Andhra Pradesh has shown a significant reduction in population growth, which should be a matter of great pride, given that the desired fertility rate for the state, as per National Family Health Survey III, is 1.5, indicating that women wish to have less than 2 children.

A rights-based approach

For many like me who are committed to ensuring women’s health through a rights-based perspective to family planning, it is no longer a matter of numbers. It is an issue of respecting rights and choices and treating women with dignity. Family planning is an effective tool that advances sexual and reproductive health, saves lives and empowers communities, especially women. Family planning methods help avert more than 272,000 maternal deaths per year at the global level and positively affect children’s health and economic outcomes of families.

Reproductive choice is a fundamental human right – it frees women from incessant cycles of pregnancy, breastfeeding and childcare. Family planning and its voluntary use represent a giant step towards gender equality and should not be contraindicated by the recently made remarks on the issue.

The post-2015 world is increasingly moving away from the narrow prism of targets and numbers to enhance sustainability and accountability. The rights-based approach to family planning provides an overall framework and set of universal values including, equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability, on which to base contraceptive service provision and delivery. FP2020’s implementation is in alignment with the principles of the International Conference on Population and Development programme of action held in Cairo in 1994. ICPD abandoned demographically driven population policies, asserting that people mattered more than numbers. Population is not just about counting people, but about making sure every person counts irrespective of the wealth quintile they represent.

Choice and access to family planning

The current use of any modern method of family planning in the state has increased to 69.4% in 2015-2016 from 67% from in 2005-2006. Interestingly, female sterilisation contributes significantly to this result, as the use of all other methods of family planning has reduced considerably over the same time period.The state’s emphasis within the Family Planning Programme thus needs to prioritise choice and access to spacing methods as opposed to primarily terminal methods.

Family welfare is a mutually shared responsibility where there is an imminent need for parliamentarians, policy makers, civil society organisations, the media and other stakeholders to work together towards the pursuit of a common vision. However, a few uninformed statements can distract attention from constructive work being done at the grassroots by behaviour change communications programmes and campaigns and also the implementation of the national family planning programme. The need is for greater investments, financial and programmatic, in health and family planning nationally, alongside engagement of people’s representatives at their constituencies on reproductive health.

Poonam Muttreja is Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India.