Women and population control

Published: February 29, 2012

The writer is a Bangladeshi-born Washington-based author of the blog, Anushay’s Point. She is a columnist at Forbes Woman, The Huffington Post, Ms Magazine and can be followed on Twitter @AnushaysPoint

Towards the end of last year, October to be exact, the UN projected that the world’s population would reach seven billion, a scary milestone amidst increasing political and economic instability worldwide. More people will only place increased pressure on our environment, on the world’s habitats, forests, and resources such as water. But how does investing in women’s rights tie into slowing the world’s population growth?

Organisations such as the Guttmacher Institute and Population Action International (PAI) state that the number seven billion reflects the urgent need for people to be able to exercise their right to determine the size and spacing of their families. However, the majority of women and couples, especially in the developing world, are still unable to control their fertility.

In fact, experts estimate that there are currently 215 million women around the world who wish to either delay or prevent pregnancy, but they lack access to contraceptives. Guttmacher states that these women account for more than 80 per cent of all unintended pregnancies in the developing world every year.

What I find fascinating about this relationship is the focus it brings to the rights of the individual, especially women. What was groundbreaking at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo was the spotlight it put on women’s rights. This was when population policies stopped being about controlling population and slowing population, and instead started focusing on empowering women.

The idea was that if women had access to education and higher-salaried jobs, they would choose to have smaller families, thus, lowering fertility rates.

So if we already know the way forward, why does it seems as though we keep moving backwards when it comes to allowing women control over their reproductive health and rights? Why is it that even though we established a roadmap in Cairo over 15 years ago, today in Washington attacks on women’s reproductive health, both globally and domestically, persist as foreign aid keeps getting cut?

Investments in women’s health must be made if we are to sustain our planet. We can still reduce the numbers and slow population growth by addressing the world’s unmet need for contraception, as Guttmacher Institute’s Susan Cohen explains:

“…Responding directly to individual people’s needs and desires to determine for themselves whether and when to have a child will contribute significantly toward their ability to lead healthier, more productive lives. Ultimately, the impact would be felt at the global level. Meeting the stated desires to space or limit births would result in the world’s population peaking within the next few decades — and then actually starting to decline.”

Reaching seven billion may be a milestone today, but unless we address women being able to access modern contraception, this number will only increase and bring with it dire consequences. At the core of the solution is investing in women — in their rights and health. If women are to truly be empowered, they must be in control of their reproduction.

And the whole world will reap the rewards.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.

Reader Comments (13)

  • ajmal khan
    Mar 1, 2012 - 12:06AM

    Women aren’t allowed to take decisions regarding their bodies,those decisions are made by the majazi khuda himself.Control over a woman’s body is a very powerful tool for men.if a woman dares bringing up the subject of birth control with her husband she’s immediately hushed up with religious verses and quotations. ” Good girls” don’t talk about such things,it’s only the behaya,nafarmaan women who do such talking.
    Women taking control of their bodies and making decisions about their lives is a thought that’s the worst nightmare for most men in our society.Be it for religious or cultural reasons,men strongly work towards maintaining total control over the women in their lives.

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  • John B
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:22AM

    “The idea was that if women had access to education and higher-salaried jobs, they would choose to have smaller families, thus, lowering fertility rates.”

    This idea is archaic and is not supported by facts. However, education not high salaried jobs is the key for family planning.

    Access to contraception, empowerment of both women and men with the idea of family planing are essential education.

    Mankind knew of contraception in many forms- civilization across the world have used stone and horse hair for contraception in women and couples or men practiced Coitus interceptus. What was and is still lacking is the idea of family planning, how to space a child, and when to have a child, and for that family planing education of both men and women is needed-not high paying job related education.

    It does not mean women’s empowerment in education, and high paying jobs, equal rights etc., should be overlooked.They are essential for social growth and fiscal mobility.

    The idea educated women will have small family size is based on the generic observation between educated couples compared to poor masses. As educated spouses generally prefer similar like minded partner, cumulative knowledge of family planing come into play and it is not due to their high paying education. Conversely, in poor masses the general knowledge of family planing and accessibility to contraception and methods are lacking, larger family sizes become inevitable.

    “If women are to truly be empowered, they must be in control of their reproduction.” This idea is ill conceived, and is applicable only when they are single. However, women are NOT in total control of their own reproduction once they become spouses, educated or not. Several social dynamics are at play here.

    Excluding men from the conversation, is the down fall of family planing and successful family planning campaign have been conducted by bringing both men and women under the tree.

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  • yousaf
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:24AM

    @Author–I am 70 and I am in full agreement with what you say

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  • Cynical
    Mar 1, 2012 - 1:47AM

    The no of children sired by me is a living testimony of my virility.How can I leave it to my wife’s choice? If she is unwilling to bear anymore children, she should give her consent to my marrying another woman.That’s a win win situation.

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  • Nida
    Mar 1, 2012 - 7:21AM

    @Cynical:

    how is it a win-win situation when the whole point is to control the population?

    also I’ll tell you how you can leave it up to your wife to decide. it’s HER body, not yours. she’s the one who will spend all her time and energy at home raising that child, so it should be her choice to decide when to have a baby and how to space out childbirth.

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  • John B
    Mar 1, 2012 - 10:39AM

    @Nida:
    He is stating his comment as a satire.

    He clearly gives an idea of mindset among most men in many rural parts of the world, although getting a consent for marrying a second wife is not applicable in all parts of the world.

    Most of the family planning “experts” believe that couples plan their child’s spacing. Practically none of the couples do, but they do plan on not having additional children using contraceptive methods. Thus, by default, the couples follow family planing. Here is the major distinction of approach to family planing.

    Make the contraception available freely or cheaply to men and women and population control/maintenance will be a success.

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  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam (retd)
    Mar 1, 2012 - 11:23AM

    Excellent Idea. They must decide when to have children & how many. All they need is to Switch ON & Switch OFF.

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  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam (retd)
    Mar 1, 2012 - 11:26AM

    @ajmal khan: You feel very strongly about it. Change Roles.

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  • Zafir Hafeez
    Mar 1, 2012 - 2:32PM

    Seek solution from islam, not from those who are transgressors. ISLAM is very clear about population controlling, it is prohibited. And the problem is because of increased population of illegitimate childs and that can be controlled if you impose punishment what Islam suggest for rapist. So don’t look towards western solution, For muslims Islam should be the prime source of guidance

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  • Alsahdiq
    Mar 1, 2012 - 5:30PM

    @Zafir Hafeez
    Bringing Islam into this matter is irrelevant. My humble understanding is that there are two Islams. One is Allah’s Islam. The other Mullah’s Islam.
    In Mullah’s Islam one may come to experience, that what is not forbidden by Allah becomes forbidden and what is forbidden by Allah becomes halaal.
    Allah’s Islam says moderation in one’s deeds is the best way. Allah’s Islam says nothing about this matter.
    Indeed Allah’s Islam is based on common sense hence beneficial to mankind
    Allah never forbade restricting the inflow of trouble makers into this world. There is no prohibition from Allah for using techniques which will prevent the process of reproduction.
    What Allah did say which has been bent to oppose family planning is “Do not murder the new born”. This is in reference to what non Muslim Arabs used to do is bury the new born in the ground, if it was a female. So reference from Allah is to this practice of the non Muslim Arabs which Allah made very cear that the Muslims should not follow.
    By the way Allah helps those who change their habits for the better. Allah also helps the intelligent. Family planning is the call of intelligent mind.

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  • Sonia Wahab
    Mar 1, 2012 - 9:17PM

    As long as we have religion, women cannot exercise full control on their bodies.

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  • Zafir
    Mar 2, 2012 - 5:50AM

    @Alsahdiq:
    If family planning is call of intelligent mind then.. give any example of such act from lives of Sh’abas. Don’t say that they did not need it thats why there is no such example.

    @Sonia Wahab:
    Yes you are right
    As long as we have wrong implementation and interpretation of religion, women cannot exercise full control on their bodies. But sister, Islam is the religion which gives rights to women.

    I wondered why many Muslims are siding Islam and seeking solution from rest. Islam tell us complete zabata-e-hiyaat so in every aspect, atleast for Muslim Islam should be the first priority of guidance.

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  • Nobody
    Mar 3, 2012 - 2:01AM

    @John B:
    “If women are to truly be empowered, they must be in control of their reproduction.” This idea is ill conceived, and is applicable only when they are single. However, women are NOT in total control of their own reproduction once they become spouses, educated or not. Several social dynamics are at play here.
    Excluding men from the conversation, is the down fall of family planing and successful family planning campaign have been conducted by bringing both men and women under the tree.

    I don’t think the author is saying men should be excluded from the conversation, rather she’s stating that for too long now women have had NO part in these conversations in many underdeveloped parts of the world and that has to change.

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