All for a Good Cause: The Denominator Problem in Reproductive Health Advocacy

Alaka Malwade Basu, Cornell University

This paper looks at some current strategies employed by international agencies and an array of groups to advocate for social change. It focuses on the growing movement to eradicate early marriage in the developing countries and the co-opting by this movement of the reproductive health agenda, a narrow version of which is now well entrenched in development discourse. I find that the proposed interlinkages between early marriage and poor RH are often (mis)represented through what I call the ‘denominator problem’, whereby numbers are generated to emphasize the scope of these linkages and the win-win effect of attending to them through the use of questionably missing, expanded, restricted, or non-comparable denominators. It reflects on the positive and negative implications of these denominator problems for RH policies in particular and for social change polices in general and concludes that the former is better served by emphasizing the more proximate determinants of RH.

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 Presented in Session 119. The Origins of Policies Influencing Fertility, Family Planning, and Sexual Health