Population policies cannot be used for controlling women’s fertility, says Population Foundation of India

According to the State of the World Population Report 2023, India’s population is fractionally higher than China’s in 2023 (India at 1428.6 million versus 1425.7 million for China). The report cites the following source for the total population data: “World Population Prospects: The 2022 revision. United Nations Population Division, 2022. Estimated size of national populations at mid-year.”

The report, titled, “8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: the case for rights and choices, was released today. It says with the world having hit the 8 billion mark in November 2022, an alarming discourse around population issues gained momentum.  These issues tend to be viewed in isolation, with women and their right to bodily autonomy taking a backseat. Rising or declining population is often viewed with anxiety. Governments across the world respond with policies aimed at increasing or decreasing fertility, and in the process, hold women’s bodies to population targets. These issues are well-elucidated in the SOWP report.

Population Foundation of India upholds women’s and men’s right to self-determine if, when and how many children they wish to have. The SWOP report notes that 44 per cent of partnered women and girls in 68 reporting countries do not have the right to make informed decisions about their bodies on matters of sex, contraception and seeking health care.  Close to 257 million women worldwide have an unmet need for safe, reliable contraception.

According to the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (2019-21), India’s unmet need for contraception is 9.4%, indicating that even when couples want to adopt a contraceptive method, it is not available to them. Moreover, early and forced marriages continue to happen – with nearly one out of every four women in India married before they turn 18.  Family and social norms have been pushing women into marriage and motherhood – leaving them without a choice.  “So many women lack control over their bodies, including the right to have children – to decide when they want to have them and how many,” said Population Foundation of India’s Executive Director, Poonam Muttreja.

Ms Muttreja further added, “India had done many things right.  The government has made contraceptive options available to people, while programmes such as Mission Parivar Vikas are reaching out to districts which are underserved. However, even as India becomes the most populous country in the world, the programmatic discourse should focus on ensuring that comprehensive and equitable services are available to people regardless of where they live or which strata of society they belong to. At the same time, we need to make sure that girls and women are not pushed into early marriages and pregnancies, which limit their aspirations. We urgently need to ensure the education and skilling of our young population,” she said.

Population Foundation of India endorses the recommendations of the report that governments must create policies with “gender equality and rights at their heart, such as parental leave programmes, child tax credits, policies that promote gender equality in the workplace, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health.”

The report makes a strong statement on the perceived role of fertility in climate change which “will not hold the greatest carbon emitters to account.” It states that out of 8 billion people, around 5.5 billion do not make enough money, about $10 a day, to contribute significantly to carbon emissions.” Population Foundation of India has held the well-evidenced view that a small portion of the world’s people use most of earth’s resources and produce maximum greenhouse gas emissions. In the last 25 years, the richest 10% of the global population has been responsible for more than half of all carbon emissions.

“In spite of progress on many fronts, patriarchy is deep-rooted in the country, and this gets reflected in the performance of the reproductive health programme too.  Almost the entire responsibility for family planning is on women. We need to move towards greater involvement of men in family planning. It is also important to for more girls and women to get better educated, join the workforce, delay marriage, and postpone pregnancies,” added Ms Muttreja.