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Islamic logics, reproductive rationalities: family planning in northern Pakistan

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This paper explores the use of Islamic doctrine and jurisprudence by family planning organizations in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan. It examines how particular interpretations of Islam are promoted in order to encourage fertility reductions, and the ways Muslim clerics, women and their families react to this process. The paper first discusses how Pakistan's demographic crisis, as the world's sixth most populous nation, has been widely blamed on under-funding for reproductive health services and wavering political commitment to family planning. Critics have called for innovative policy and programming to counter ‘excessive reproduction’ by also addressing socio-cultural and religious barriers to contraceptive uptake. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, the paper examines how family planning organizations in Gilgit-Baltistan respond to this shift by employing moderate interpretations of Islam that qualify┬ácontraceptive use as a ‘rational’ reproductive strategy and larger families as ‘irrational’. However, the use of Islamic rhetoric to enhance women's health-seeking agency and enable fertility reductions is challenged by conservative Sunni ulema (clergy), who seek to reassert collective control over women's bodies and fertility by deploying Islamic doctrine that honors frequent childbearing. Sunnis’ minority status and the losses incurred by regional Shia-Sunni conflicts have further strengthened clerics’ pronatalist campaigns. The paper then analyses how Sunni women navigate the multiple reproductive rationalities espoused by ‘Islamized’ family planning and conservative ulema. Although Islamized family planning legitimizes contraceptive use and facilitates many women's stated desire for smaller families, it frequently positions women against the interests of family, community and conservative Islam.

Keywords: Islam; family planning; northern Pakistan; reproductive rationality

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Humanities & Social Sciences,Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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