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The Politics of Normative Policy Frames of Development: Implications of Human Rights Framing of Maternal Health for Advancing Reproductive Justice, A Case Study of India

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Title: The Politics of Normative Policy Frames of Development: Implications of Human Rights Framing of Maternal Health for Advancing Reproductive Justice, A Case Study of India
Author: Das, Surma
Department: Department of Political Science
Program: Political Science
Advisor: Johnson, Candace
Abstract: Some scholars have argued that framing preventable maternal morbidity and mortality (MMM) as human rights injustices can strategically accommodate the multifaceted gender injustices, health disparities and multidimensional poverty that collectively contribute to the issue and communicate its political and moral urgency to prompt political action. Yet, this is largely a theoretical and normative proposition lacking empirical evidence to. This study contributes to this gap. It is located in interdisciplinary theoretical debates over the discursive power of framing women’s right to maternal health as a human right to alter domestic political priority surrounding the issue and advance reproductive justice for all women. It uses a qualitative case study approach involving six-months of field research in 2012-13 in India – the largest contributor to such deaths globally and the first country to (judicially) recognize preventable MMM as human rights violations – and includes nearly sixty-five key informant interviews with state and non-state actors, ethnographic observations and extensive document analysis. Overall, the findings demonstrate that the politics of framing preventable MMM in India is complicated by discursive and structural factors, which limit the potential of human rights frames to affect the political priority for the policy problem. The discursive factors are products of historical, political, economic and social conditions, which arise at the intersection of domestic and global circumstances. They fragment feminist solidarity in India and complicate articulation of a holistic reproductive justice agenda. In contrast, the structural factors are related to peculiar constitutional and institutional designs, which complicate attribution of responsibility and conceptualization of state accountability for adverse maternal health outcomes that are also produced by compromised state capacity in neoliberal times. The findings point to the limitations of normative policy frames, specifically human rights frames of development, which is significant due to the renewed emphasis on the centrality of human rights in the post-MDG era. They are also consequential to the design of collective action strategies and mobilization efforts given the concurrent yet disconnected appearance of two inter-related issues in the SDG agenda – maternal mortality reduction (under SDG 3) and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (under SDG 5).
Date: 2016-10
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
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