CSAS Lecture Series | Understanding the New Credibility Regimes of Development: The Politics of Sanitary Pads as a Pro-Poor Technology in India
Shobita Parthasarathy, Professor of Public Policy, U-M
Technology has long played a central role in efforts to alleviate global poverty, with international NGOs and developed world governments using it as an important modernization tool. But these interventions have had mixed impacts: in addition to perpetuating the West’s dominance, these technologies are often simply rejected by citizens in the developing world because they do not embody relevant values and priorities. But in recent years the international development landscape has changed. The players involved have diversified, now including international and local NGOs, social entrepreneurs and innovators, venture capitalists, universities, and developing world governments. And, there have been growing calls to ensure that interventions are “evidence-based”, preferably deployed on the basis of large-scale, quantitative evidence and even randomized controlled trials. How have these changes affect the pro-poor technology landscape and its politics? What are the implications for citizens in the developing world? In this paper I explore these questions by focusing on the politics of the sanitary pad in India. In recent years, “period poverty” has come to be seen as an important development issue, with sanitary pads becoming the main solution. Rather than the result of systematic and unbiased evidence gathering, however, I argue that this problem and solution are the result of the new credibility regimes that underlie development governance today. I pay attention to how and why particular kinds of interventions are recognized and validated by public and private, large and small, development initiatives. Indeed, even the definitions of knowledge and expertise are shaped by these priorities. The national and international media play important roles in influencing the sanitary pad intervention as well. Finally, I explore how these politics shape the role, rights, and responsibilities of the female citizen in India.
Shobita Parthasarathy is Professor of Public Policy and Women's Studies, and Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, at University of Michigan. She is interested in how technological innovation, and innovation systems, can better achieve public interest and social justice goals, as well as in the politics of knowledge and expertise in science and technology policy. Her current research focuses on the politics of technology for the poor, with a focus in India. She is the author of numerous articles and two books:Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe(University of Chicago Press, 2017) and Building Genetic Medicine: Breast Cancer, Technology, and the Comparative Politics of Health Care (MIT Press, 2007).