Fellow Since 1992
This profile was prepared when Mira Sadgopal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Mira offers women a way to resist the ugly politics of population control policies. Broadly defined, FAE focuses on helping people to learn about the biological, cultural, and sociopolitical aspects of human reproduction and sexuality. Spreading this knowledge via local trainers, Mira provides women with the ability to monitor their own fertility and to learn and choose methods by which to control the size of their families and spacing of their children. To Mira, this is not merely a family planning program but a critical gender and human rights issue. Thus, FAE addresses not solely issues of population control or family planning, but rather an entire "people's science." In Mira's conception, FAE builds on the abundant "cultural skills" people have developed at the grassroots level - in this case, the knowledge rural women have about their own bodies and fertility. "But," in Mira's words, "however strong this sense may be in any group of women, the thwarting forces imposing upon them are greater." Shame and other barriers prevent them from sharing and utilizing this knowledge.For women, FAE reaffirms the knowledge they have of their own bodies as well as integrates their thoughts, observations, and new experiences with traditional knowledge. Moreover, it spurs them to act with conviction on the intelligent conclusions they draw on. In this manner, FAE serves as an empowering force for women in society, hitting squarely at the myths of female stereotypes, such as impurity and lack of intelligence.Finally, Mira envisions FAE as having the potential to achieve even larger goals, such as bridging the gap between rural and urban women. Because FAE is taught verbally and is completely accessible to the non-literate, Mira has been able to utilize illiterate village women as trainers in the urban area. As Mira states, "Our FAE team's exploratory experience has demonstrated that non-literate, poor Indian village women can succeed eloquently in explaining the finer aspects of fertility to middleclass town women. This kind of unorthodox interaction supports the development of selfesteem among women who are intimidated by the greater formal education of others."