Negotiating Collective and Individual Agency: A Qualitative Study of Young Women’s Reproductive Health in Rural India

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Abstract

The societal changes in India and the available variety of reproductive health services call for evidence to inform health systems how to satisfy young women’s reproductive health needs. Inspired by Foucault’s power idiom and Bandura’s agency framework, we explore young women’s opportunities to practice reproductive agency in the context of collective social expectations. We carried out in-depth interviews with 19 young women in rural Rajasthan. Our findings highlight how changes in notions of agency across generations enable young women’s reproductive intentions and desires, and call for effective means of reproductive control. However, the taboo around sex without the intention to reproduce made contraceptive use unfeasible. Instead, abortions were the preferred method for reproductive control. In conclusion, safe abortion is key, along with the need to address the taboo around sex to enable use of “modern” contraception. This approach could prevent unintended pregnancies and expand young women’s agency.

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