Cameron Freeman Internet Marketing, Soci-Cultural Antropology

Cameron Freeman

Population Control and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies in a Neo-Liberal World

In response to the reading of: Government Agency, Women’s Agency: Feminisms, Fertility and Population Control (Robinson 2001) and the film, Something Like a War (Dhanraj 1991), Foucault argues that one of the roles that the nation-state concerns itself with are the biopolitics of its population and its subsequent management (Rose 2007:53). Biopolitics encompasses various strategies to handle population vitality, morbidity and mortality and determine what interventions of knowledge, practices and regimes of authority are necessary, legitimate, desirable and efficacious (Rose 2007:54). The eugenic intention of the state to manage and control population biology buttresses the ethos of biopolitics to administer the health of the body politic and guarantee the integrity and purity of the population (Rose 2007:54). Robinson highlights this notion under the rubric of a war on Indian women and the state attacks on their fertility and sexuality. Implementing a top-down policy approach, the India Government, using monetary incentives such as fraudulent promises for land, housing, money or loans, and, in addition to using propaganda, coerced and sterilized millions of poor and oppressed Indians, mostly in the backward rural areas the sub-continent (Dhanraj 1991). Indira Gandhi justified the approach during an Indian state of emergency (1975 to 1977) stating, "We should not hesitate to take steps which might be described as drastic. Some personal rights have to be kept in abeyance for the human rights of the nation" (Robinson 2001:50). In an attempt to lower its ever-increasing population, India initiated its family planning initiative, which declared war on the sexual bodies of its own citizens, specifically women, whose bodies became the battleground in a war against uncontrolled population growth (Robinson 2001:50). Moreover, by targeting the rural poor, the most heavily oppressed people of caste and ethnicity the perception generated overtones of population purification or as one woman put it, "they're killing the poor, not poverty" (Dhanraj 1991). Both Dhanraj (1991) and Robinson (2001) aptly illustrate the ubiquitous effects of globalized neo-liberalism by framing the campaign in an eerie factory model of mass sterilization of Indian women, where doctors boast of their ability to perform 100 tubal ligations per day, and women, like cattle in factory production, are tagged, numbered and funneled in and out operating rooms in an utmost manner of efficiency (Dhanraj 1991). Moreover, State assigned workers are given the task of recruiting women for sterilization and armed with targets or quotas, which are financially incentivized for successful workers. Those who do not meet their targets experience punitive repercussions by the State, such as having their salaries held back. This dynamic coupled with false promises of money, land and other State incentives for women to surrender to sterilization, only contributes to exacerbating the war on women leaving them further oppressed and marginalized. Furthermore, foreign interests such the U.S. Government, Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation with interests in control third-world population growth, are financially backing these so-called "family planning" initiatives. Moreover, big global pharmaceuticals companies, viing for the opportunity to assist these vulnerable and desirable virgin populations (untested with generic drugs)—ripe for clinical trials, are exploiting Indian women to develop new chemical sterilization drugs and reproductive suppressors (Dhanraj 1991). Fortunately, with the advent of Internet and its new media, pushback has reached those concerned around the world to advocate for those in India who are without defense.

In contrast to India, China's one child policy (1978) to reduce population growth has been reframed the discourse from one of population control to population quality, thus marketing to the Chinese national imagery that China's backwardness is due to deficiency in the quality of the population (Anagnost 1995:25). The Foucaultian notion that the rationality of the state is to management its population for its own sake and using this rationality, China has adopted a strong pedagogical role issuing books on health, child rearing, law and technology, as well as, adult education programs, local and national competitions that test for this new knowledge (Anagnost 1995:25). Again, the pervasiveness of neo-liberal thought permeates the Chinese state discourse of a consuming body out of balance with is productive capacities—correlating population with economic development and the achievement of xaiokang shenghuo—a state of comfortable well-being as exemplified by life-style television programming highlighting housing, care of the elderly, and especially, commodity fetishism (Anagnost 1995:30). Market driven eugenics with a concentrated emphasis on the idea of "reproduce less in order to reproduce more" (Anagnost 1995: 31). In Foucaultian terms, this eugenic reordering is not one of blood and purity but of downsizing the population and subjecting them to the central educating authority's disciplined ordering of bodies (Anagnost 1995:31). From the old socialist notion of production to reproduction and the goal of 100 percent compliance with both birth and cremation policies with the results tallied in percentage points and birth limitation equated to economic development (Anagnost 1995:32). Birth policy workers, usually women, are utilized by the party to symbolize self-sacrifice—by their willingness to give up health, youth, personal safety and even the sacrifice of their children and economic welfare of their households to the commitment to the national good (Anagnost 1995:33). Once again, women's bodies are sites expropriation and exploitation for the "higher responsibility" of the Party's policies. The neo-liberal notion of equating the body in terms of economic value or in this case a devalued body as excess that consumes the health and vitality of the nation thus necessitating the need to turn consuming bodies into producing bodies (Anagnost 1995:30). Furthermore, China is able to assert the supremacy of quantity by arguing for population quality and with increased quality, China can educate its labour force to become productive for modernization and handle the challenges of a global restructuring of capitalism (Anagnost 1995:30).

In summary, both India and China continue to confront issues of over-population and its overwhelming consumption of state resources. Whether by coerced sterilization or through state discourse of education and reframing the problem, it is the body of the woman that is commoditized and targeted to provide the necessary fodder to carry out the tasks of the state in order to compete and survive in the ever-advancing neo-liberal world where the hegemony of capitalism pervades every nook of society.


Anagnost, Anne. 1995. “A Surfeit of Bodies: Population and Rationality of the State in Post-Mao China,” Conceiving the New World Order, F. Ginsburg & R. Rapp, eds., Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 22-41

Dhanraj, Deepa. 1991. Something Like a War. 52 mins.

Kathryn Robinson. 2001. "Government Agency, Women’s Agency: Feminisms, Fertility and Population Control," Borders of being : citizenship, fertility, and sexuality in Asia and the Pacific / Margaret Jolly and Kalpana Ram, eds., Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Rose, Nikolas, 2007. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the
Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 41-76