The global trend towards smaller families is a reflection of people making reproductive choices to have as few or as many children as they want, when they want. When people lack choice, it can have a long-term impact on fertility rates, often making them higher or lower than what most people desire, according to The State of World Population 2018 – the Power of Choice – Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition, published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) mid October 2018.
Family size is closely linked with reproductive rights, which, in turn, are tied to many other rights, including the right to adequate health, education and jobs. Wherever people can exercise their rights, they tend to thrive. Where these rights are stifled, people often fail to achieve their full potential, which impedes economic and social progress, according to the new report. In six different chapters, the report investigates demographic transitions in different cultures and the drivers behind them.
“Choice can change the world,” said Dr Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “It can rapidly improve the well-being of women and girls, transform families and accelerate global development.” she furthered.
When a woman has the power and means to prevent or delay a pregnancy, for example, she has more control over her health and can enter or stay in the paid labour force and realise her full economic potential.
The report found that no country can claim that all of its citizens enjoy reproductive rights at all times. Most couples cannot have the number of children they want because they either lack economic and social support to achieve their preferred family size, or the means to control their fertility. The unmet need for modern contraception prevents hundreds of millions of women from choosing smaller families.
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, reproductive health and rights have substantially improved around the world. People have more information about their reproductive rights and choices, and a greater capacity to claim their rights. “The historic transition to lower fertility,” says the report, “has emerged through people claiming their right to make choices about their reproductive lives, and to have as few, or as many, children as they want, when they want.”
The report classifies all countries in the world by the current dynamics of their populations’ fertility. It makes specific recommendations for policies and programmes that would help each country increase reproductive choices.
To make freedom of choice a reality, says the report, countries can prioritise universal access to quality reproductive health care, including modern contraceptives; ensure better education, including age-appropriate sexuality education; advocate for a change in men’s attitudes to being supportive of the rights and aspirations of women and girls; and make it easier for couples to have more children if they want them, by enabling greater work-life balance through measures such as affordable child-care.
“The way forward is the full realisation of reproductive rights for every individual and couple, no matter where or how they live, or how much they earn,” said Dr Kanem. “This includes dismantling all the barriers - whether economic, social or institutional - that inhibit free and informed choice.”
The report is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian.
Rural 21, n° 3/2018 Gender equity