The racialization of a public policy: Birth control in Réunion (1960s and 1970s)

Special report: Racialization and public policy
By Myriam Paris

English

While in France, in the 1960s and 1970s, feminists fought against a pro-natalist policy that included a ban on contraception and abortion, their counterparts in Réunion faced an anti-natalist policy focused on reducing the fertility of a population regarded as too large by many political, scientific, and institutional actors. This anti-natalist public policy, which violated French law, was mainly based on two organizations that brought together high-standing politicians and economists, as well as doctors: the Association réunionnaise d’éducation populaire (AREP, Réunionese Association for Popular Education) and the Association réunionnaise d’orientation familiale (AROF, Réunionese Association for Family Planning).Based on an analysis of the reports that the protagonists of these organizations, mainly doctors, submitted to the authorities supervising their activities, this paper first highlights the key contribution of these intermediary actors in the production of racialized categories of public policy. It investigates how their gender, race, and class perspectives shaped the coercive orientations and modalities of the public policy implemented, targeting poor Réunionese women of color. It then examines, based on their newsletter, how the activists of the Union des femmes de La Réunion (Réunion’s Women Union), an organization that primarily brought together women targeted by the anti-natalist policy, took a stand and mobilized against the racialized control of their fertility. This paper analyzes the way in which the mobilization of these minoritized intermediaries contributed, in the late 1970s, to changing public policy by forcing the doctors who implemented it to limit their practices of exception.

Keywords

  • birth control
  • medicine
  • race
  • eugenics
  • public policy
  • Union des femmes de La Réunion
  • Réunion
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