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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 16:07 GMT
Promoting the pill in India
Mother and child
The pill lets women decide the size of their family
By Geeta Pandey in Delhi

After 50 years of failed efforts to curb the baby boom in India, a new campaign to promote the use of the oral contraceptive pill is gaining popularity.

Advertisements shown on prime-time television in the world's second most populous country promote the benefits of using the pill, targeting women aged between 15 and 50.

"The idea is to try to make oral contraceptives - especially the low-dose variety - popular in northern India.

"They are available widely in the market. . . but the use here is very low. . . the lowest in the world," says Rita Leavell of Commercial Marketing Strategies (CMS), the Delhi-based organisation which runs the Goli Ke Hamjoli (Friends of the Pill) campaign.

Sterilisation

Despite previous attempts to promote the pill in India, it has never really caught on.

Only 2% of the population use it, according to the National Family Health Survey.

Indian women
Women are often sterilised in their mid-twenties
Dr Alka Dhal, a gynaecologist working with CMS, says most women who visit her are largely unaware of the choice of contraceptive methods that are available.

"Most of [the women] here come to you, they've had four babies and they say they are sterilised, and they are just 25!

"Contraception is actually a tool to better the reproductive health of a woman. If at the age of 20, she's had three or four babies and then got herself sterilised, then what's the fun?"

'Magic pills'

Sangeeta Sharma is a volunteer at Dr Dhal's clinic and works with women in the field.

"I tell them that this little pill is magical. And if they take it, they won't have to go for an operation. Sometimes, they are misled by other women who tell them that the pill will harm them. But I tell them about the pros and cons," she says.

Sangeeta says despite the myths and fears which surround the pill, she has managed to convince 38 out of every 100 women she has worked with to try the pill and, more importantly, to continue with it.

Empowering women

The message of the campaign is getting across - in the past two years, the sale of the pill has gone up by more than 20% in the four states in north India covered under the CMS project.
India's billionth baby
India's billionth baby was born earlier this year

"It's more convenient, more empowering, especially when husbands are refusing to use condoms or when they are drunk," says Dr Dhal.

The pill gives women a say in the reproductive decision-making process.

"I took the pill initially without the knowledge of my husband. I have two children and he wanted me to have more. But we don't earn enough to be able to support a large family. So I said no," says 25 year old Praveen, who has now been on the pill for several years.

Government support

Previous government attempts to control the country's population - from slogans exhorting couples to have small families, to the forced sterilisations of the mid-1970s - have always failed.

Now the government is supporting the promotion of the contraceptive pill.

It agrees with CMS that Indian women have to learn to take control of their own fertility.

But the Goli Ke Hamjoli campaign still has a lot of work to do to remove people's prejudices.

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | South Asia
Condoms with the daily post
30 Mar 00 | South Asia
Maharashtra sets family size for jobs
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
India tackles population boom
11 May 00 | South Asia
India hits the billion mark
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