Cairo agenda and beyond
Reviewed by
Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal

Markets and Malthus: Population, Gender and Health in Neo-liberal Times
Eds Mohan Rao and Sarah Sexton.
Sage. Pages 350.
` 795. 

WAS the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held at Cairo in 1994 a paradigm shift or was it just another population control strategy in a new avatar? Can it be termed as a marriage of multinational feminism with international debt? Did reproductive rights come divested of right to food, employment, water, healthcare and security of children’s lives? Was the programme of action less of a revolution and more of a compromise? Did neo-liberal framework have played in deteriorating health conditions around the world? This book strives to provide answers to some such questions.

Sarah Sexton and Sumati Nair give background of women reproductive issues after Cairo and smudge that the decade did not yield better results because the agenda of programme of action differed from the larger developmental issues. Betsy Hartmann looks at the role of neo-Malthusian ideas, actors and interests in the formation of the Cairo consensus. The alliance of private population-oriented US foundations and bourgeois women’s groups drafted the Cairo agenda with reproductive health emerging as a convenient platform, based on their common belief that population pressures and poverty precipitate environmental degradation, migration and violent conflicts.

Fried examines the politics of abortion and points out how the US ‘global gag rule’ resulted in dried grants if the reproductive health programme in the recipient country also offers services for abortion. Mohan Rao illustrates how ideas of population, of neo-malthusianism, are reconfigured, reconstructed, and moulded by other ideas, of race, of gender, of community and nationhood. Rachel Simon-Kumar elaborates conceptual thread developing the linkages between women, neo-liberal states and reproduction and argues that under neo-liberalism, the notions of public, public service and public goods are fast changing because individuals are increasing informed that they are responsible for their own well-being and prosperity. The market system has resulted in disempowerment of women adding stresses working both in office and home.

Citing examples from Latin America, Martha Rosenberg describes how economic changes brought about by globalisation have had an impact on women’s lives. Women gained more rights as a result of ICPD, but the conditions to exercise them worsened. Suzanne Schultz argues that a gender political agenda ignoring bio-political strategies and constellations cannot critically analyse the broader picture of current population policies. Kamran Asdar Ali evaluates the detailed impact of international subsidised development agenda on Egypt. Taking clue from the film Sleeping with Honey, the author argues how non-liberal agenda propagated by internationally-funded development agenda risked friction with state functionaries to pursue its developmental aspirations. Donor agencies such as USAID were highly selective in their funding choices and would support NGOs that echoed its priorities.

Turshen argues that a decade after Cairo, life expectancy fell and maternal mortality risen or remained the same in 63 per cent and 40 per cent of the 40 African countries, respectively, the incidence of preventable and treatable communicable diseases have risen, public expenditure on health has stagnated in 96 per cent of 25 countries. After Cairo, foreign aid is termed as ‘phantom aid’ wherein most of the money is wasted, misdirected, or recycled within the rich countries.

Lisa Ann Richey analyses the agenda of reproductive health in Tanzania and Uganda and argues that the future of a successful reproductive health policy extends beyond family planning and includes HIV/AIDS which requires investments in the healthcare delivery system. There is need of horizontal integration of programmes rather than vertical. Greenhalgh sway the need for China to shift to a two-child norm policy from the one-child norm policy to slow the growing social crisis of masculinity and ageing without social security and alleviate a host of other social problems.

On the whole, the volume is comprehensive in terms of coverage, discourse, theoretical and empirical findings and makes the reader workout some population issues having linkages with larger developmental agenda.