Gender and Population Issues

Author and Page information

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Consider the following:

  • More than one woman dies every minute of every day - 585,000 a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) - due to preventable complications of pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortion.
  • Violence against women is a greater cause of death and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than either cancer, malaria or road traffic.
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) - traditional procedures that involve cutting away parts of the female external genitalia - causes excruciating pain, shock and bleeding, and can lead to death. The estimated number of women and girls who have undergone some form of FGM is over 130 million.

Using Human Rights to Gain Reproductive Rights, PANOS

Tackling the socio-economic issues, providing access to family planning, healthcare and other related information, would help address many issues described above, especially in many developing nations where such provisions are not easily available (privately or publicly).

By ensuring women's rights can be upheld, and realizing that women play a crucial role in the development of society, many underlying issues which lead to conflict and problems can be tackled more effectively. Better care, education and rights for women mean that children should also benefit. This can eventually allow a society to enjoy more rights and hopefully the society can be enriched. Yet, as seen in the poverty section of this web site, these very same provisions are being cut back, oftentimes as a result of harsh structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF.

Just a few decades ago, people would think of population control. Today however, the emphasis is more on educating women and providing more information for women's reproductive rights.

It must be noted though, that "studies published by different researchers in 1994 came to the same conclusion as the original Hernández study: the contribution of family planning to fertility decline is negligible compared to the contribution of socioeconomic change [but] are critical to the extension of human freedom, especially the freedom of women to control their reproduction" as reproduced in this link.

The structural adjustment policies have also been shown to hurt the ability for governments to improve the health of women and family planning services world-wide. These and other economic effects (which lead to various social effects) are often overlooked.

If it is realized that families in conditions of poverty may make an economic choice of having more children (to increase the likelihood of surviving), then economic, health, education and social security provisions would be understood to be a larger factor in helping women determine to have less children.

This report suggests that declines in birth-rates world-wide could help various environment problems. In some cases, a large population itself may not be a problem, as long as development is sustainable to avoid the potential problems mentioned above. What is relevant though is a women's reproductive rights and a positive socio-economic environment.

Political issues, such as the United State's and some European nation's general dislike of the UN and the serious arrears in funding can affect major initiatives by the UN (which admittedly isn't perfect, but then again, nothing really is and the UN has more experience in development and social issues on such a scale than perhaps any other organization, institution, or body. It also provides a basis for a multilateral and inclusive attempt at solutions increasing the chance that view points of more people are considered).

Even the Vatican has proved an obstacle to developing and enhancing women's rights. For more about that, see this web site's section on Women's Rights where the Beijing +5 conference also mentions and links issues about the Vatican and women's rights.

Some people or governments, for example, oppose some of the UNFPA's family planning practices which they believe supports abortion, which they are against. The USA for example, has faced a lot of stern opposition from right-wing Christian groups to reduce spending, as the latter half of this report suggests. However, part of the UNFPA's work is about providing better family planning and information access to help prevent the need for abortion. Funding for the UNFPA and other organizations can therefore suffer and so additional work such as the extensive effort to help tackle the problem of AIDS and related problem also suffers. This is especially worrying as the AIDS epidemic in some areas of the world is very high and not getting much mainstream media attention, while women are often more vulnerable to infection.

Lack of understanding on some of the work being done by various groups then means that many people can end up without the help they could have received and so the misery continues.

Empowering women, providing better education etc are also related to economic circumstances to some extent, as mentioned by Robbins, who quotes Handwerker in a study on changes in patterns of family relations:

"Handwerker (1989:210) concluded that changes in patters of family relations, not large-scale population control programs of the sort advocated by the Cairo Population Conference, will determine fertility. It is not knowledge of contraceptive techniques or a population problem per se that inhibits women from having smaller families, but an issue of power relations. Family planning programs, said Handwerker:

Should not be expected to bring about fertility transition because they can neither create the jobs, nor provide the education necessary for many jobs that would permit women to achieve meaningful control over their own lives. The "right" to have a small family is not a real option for women who are dependent for basic material well-being on their children."

Richard H. Robbins, Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, (Allyn and Bacon, 1999), pp. 176 - 177. (You can see the on-line accompanying reading materials here.)

Education and empowerment for women is definitely important. It is not to say there should be none. It is to recognize that as well as providing better education, the economic environment must be improved upon so that education can be made use of.

For more information on Gender and Population related issues, check out these links:

  • A report called "Using Human Rights to Gain Reproductive Rights" is a great look at a number of issues around women's rights and human rights in the international arena today. It has a lot of facts and statistics. Worth reading!
  • But we don't have time also shows that simply providing birth-control technology through family planning programs doesn't affect population growth all that much.
  • An entire issue from New Internationalist magazine on reproductive rights.
  • The United Nation's Population Fund, UNFPA.
  • The BBC's report, Population Pressure and Conflict
  • This web site's section on women's rights.

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Tuesday, December 01, 1998
  • Last Updated: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

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