What’s so troubling about ‘voluntary’ family planning anyway?

the Monday 27 June 2022 at l'Ined dans la salle Sauvy de 11h30 à 12h30 en Hybride (présentiel + possibilité de connexion).

Présenté par : Rishita Nandagiri (London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)) ; Discutante : Valentine Becquet (Ined)



Voluntary family planning is a key mainstay of demographic work and population policies. The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) signalled a decisive shift away from fertility reduction and target-setting to an emphasis on voluntary family planning as intrinsic to reproductive health and women’s empowerment. Yet, criticisms of voluntary family planning programmes persist, interrogating how ‘voluntariness’ is understood and wielded or questioning the instrumentalization of women’s fertilities in the service of economic and developmental goals. In this paper, I reflect on these debates with the aim of troubling the notion of voluntary family planning as an unambiguous good that enables equitable empowerment and development for all. Drawing on literature from cognate disciplines, I highlight how voluntariness is linked to social and structural conditions, and I challenge the instrumentalization of voluntary family planning as a ‘common agenda’ to solve ‘development’ problems. Engaging with this work can contribute to key concepts (e.g. ‘voluntary’) and measurements (e.g. autonomy), strengthening the collective commitment to achieving the ICPD and contributing to reproductive empowerment and autonomy. Through this intervention, I aim to help demographers see why some critics call for a reconsideration of voluntary family planning and encourage a decoupling of interventions from fertility reduction aims, instead centring human rights, autonomy, and reproductive empowerment.

Biographie de Rishita Nandagiri

Dr Rishita Nandagiri is a Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research focuses on abortion and reproductive in/justice in the Global South. Rishita serves on the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population’s panel on Abortion Research, is an editorial advisory board member of BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, and co-runs (with Joe Strong) the Abortion Book Club, which examines and interrogates depictions of abortion in fiction. Her twitter handle is @rishie_