Womens rights are key to slowing population growth
- Women's rights are key to slowing population growth
by Laurie Mazur
3 Oct 2011
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As human numbers approach 7 billion, the question is, "Where do we go from here?"
The U.N. recently published new population projections, which envision a range of possibilities for the 21st century. In the U.N.'s low projection, our numbers peak at 8 billion by mid-century, then decline to 6 billion by 2100. By contrast, the medium and high projections envision continued growth for the foreseeable future. According to the medium projection, the world's population would reach 10 billion by 2100; according to the high projection, nearly 16 billion.
Now, I don't believe there is an optimal size for the human population; greater equity and more efficient use of resources would greatly extend the planet's "carrying capacity." Yet, when you consider the resource challenges of the 21st century, 8 billion certainly looks more sustainable than 16 billion.
Take water, for example. While there is no global shortage of water, a growing number of regions are chronically parched. And many of those regions are also where population is growing most rapidly. In the world's most "water poor" countries, population is expected to double by 2050. Slower growth is not a panacea for the world's water problems, but it could ease pressure on scarce resources and buy time to craft solutions.
The good news is that we know how to slow population growth. Over the last half century, we've learned that the best way to slow growth is not through coercive "population control," but by ensuring that all people are able to make real choices about childbearing.
Women's rights are key. Fertility rates remain high where women's status is low. Fewer than one-fifth of the world's countries will account for nearly all of the world's population growth this century. Not coincidentally, those countries -- the least developed nations in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and elsewhere -- are also where girls are less likely to attend school, where child marriage is common, and where women lack basic rights.
"7 billion" series logoRead more on population. Check out our series 7 billion: What to expect when you're expanding.That can change. Nations can raise women's status by educating girls, by enforcing laws that prohibit child marriage, and by improving women's access to credit, land, training, and jobs. Where women enjoy these fundamental rights, smaller (and healthier) families become the norm.
At the same time, women need the means to make choices: family planning and other reproductive health services. Around the world, some 215 million want to avoid pregnancy, but aren't using effective methods of contraception. Fulfilling that "unmet need" for family planning would require an additional $3.6 billion [PDF] annually; the U.S. share of the cost (based on a formula developed by the U.N. Population Fund) is about $1 billion [PDF].
And the potential benefits are huge: Improved access to family planning could prevent 53 million unintended pregnancies, 150,000 maternal deaths, and 25 million abortions each year.
Women's rights and reproductive health are vitally important in their own right, as a matter of public health and social justice. They can also help slow population growth and help ensure a sustainable future.
Read more in this vein from Laurie Mazur and more on women's rights and population.
Laurie Mazur is a writer and advocate on population, environment, and reproductive health and rights issues. She edited A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge, and Beyond the Numbers: A Reader on Population, Consumption and the Environment. She founded the Funders Network on Population, Reproductive Health and Rights.
Live Simply So That
Others May Simply Live
- Grist are aholes for censoring me for daring to blasheme by saying that
sexism in Italy, relative to Sweden, is protecting the italian
environment by suppressing Italian, and Japanese, fertility. That
women's empowerment helps population crap is only marginally useful in
the third world and not in the developed world where most of us are and
thus where most of us can act.
Please read these petitions advocating municipal environmental
contraception funding, which is increasingly politically realistic due
to The Big Sort in more and more towns, and helps women's right's,
quality of life, and school taxes as well as being at
least 5 times more cost-effective than any other environmental effort.
The prochoice and contraception movements are placing too high a priority
on defensive actions in the red states when we should be going on the
offensive, the side of "change", in the blue states, and cities. The
will get even worse no matter what we do, but the unrealized political
potential, the low hanging fruit, is in making the best places even
better. This opportunity is being caused by The Big Sort. Mayors are not
answerable to rural voters, unlike governors and presidents.
We americans love cars more than babies, Very soon we will have to
choose, and we will choose cars.
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