In the name of reproductive rights: race, neoliberalism and the embodied violence of population policies

Spring/Summer 2017

Contemporary population interventions by states, international organisations and corporates have during the last two decades been effectively reframed in feminist terms of reproductive rights and choices, while continuing to perpetuate and rely upon structural and embodied violence and racialised and gendered constructions of industriousness and altruism on the one hand, and disposability, hypersexuality and excess on the other. I argue that the twenty-first century resurgence of population control and its reframing cannot be fully understood however, except in relation to processes of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ to which the intensification of women’s labour, and its mobilisation for global capital, is central. The advent of the adolescent girl as the agent of international development, I suggest, marks the final stage in a transition from liberal to neoliberal feminism in development. Even liberal feminist critiques that sought to highlight discrimination which ostensibly prevented markets from functioning effectively are now marginalised. The focus on the pre-reproductive, pre-labouring years is thoroughly neoliberal in that intervention via education is constructed as necessary only to produce the idealised neoliberal subject who can negotiate unfettered and unregulated markets with ease, while simultaneously assuming full responsibility for social reproduction. The article reflects on India’s population policies in the context of the increasing mobilisation of gendered precarious labour for global capital, the escalation of corporate land-grab, dispossession and displacement and the growing dominance of Hindu supremacist ideology and its incitement to genocidal gendered violence against minorities. Against this background, I consider the significance of the concept of ‘reproductive justice’ and the importance of resisting current attempts to appropriate, eviscerate, and redeploy it.

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New Formations 91: Righting Feminism