THE DEBATE whether population is the cause of poverty, or is one of its creations is one that has special significance for the developing countries where population growth is influenced by the unequal processes of socio-economic development. The relation between poverty and population growth has been more than established since the first international conference on population (Bucharest 1974). This inter-relationship is now accepted alongwith the understanding that is is inextricably linked with the issue/of women's status. One of the basic principles of the Bucharest Conference was the need for equal participation of women in all aspects of socio-economic development.1
In India, certain significant trends can be noted while looking into the evolution of the population question. At a time when critical views of India's population growth were limited to members of the colonial administration, the women's organisations were the first to demand the provision of birth control services. In the post independence period, the population question emerged as a critical issue. During the First and Second Five Year Plans, the issues of population growth and family planning were viewed as a long term objective, depending mainly on the "improvement in the living standards and more widespread education, especially among women"2. The issue of population growth which tended to overshadow all other demographic issues, resulted in an enormous volume of research on population policies, acceptance and attitudes towards family planning, etc. with a view to reducing the population growth. A major break-through was made when a small group of population experts and planners realised that the critical variable that can explain regional differences in the success or failure of family planning, was the status ofwomen.^ The Committee of the Status of Women in India (1975) observed that an improvement in women's status through education, employment, access to health services and increased age at marriage, directly influenced their fertility.4. It, however, warned that any one-to-one co-relationship between education or employment of women and reduced fertility would be simplistic, overlooking the overwhelming influence of the economic factor and the class position of women. Decisions regarding contraception and fertility behaviour arose from a composite set of
* Women's Development Centre, Indraprastha College, Delhi University.