“Fertility rates are high because of misinformation about side-effects of contraceptives, lack of knowledge about the benefits of small families, and religious or male opposition to contraception. These types of issues form a sort of scaffolding that keeps fertility rates higher than they would otherwise be.”
Overpopulation and all its implications, such as urban growth, hunger, environmental issues, is an urgent challenge for the globe. In response to this, every year on 11 July, World Population Day aims to draw attention to the topic. This year the theme puts a special focus on the need to invest in teenage girls.
According to the United Nation’s latest projections, the world population will reach a staggering 9.6 billion inhabitants by 2050. Although statistics are an immediate way to recongise the important of the problem that is affecting us all, the need to understand the causes and consequences of the problem pushes us to dig deeper.
Limited resources, shrinking carrying capacities, and a globe that can’t sustain our needs; these all contribute towards an alarming situation. Moreover, the most demanding situations often strike developing countries that are already among the most vulnerable in the world. While governments and policymakers are important players in curbing rapid population growth, our decisions are just as important. What action can we take to raise awareness and help tackle this issue? Enhancing women’s rights and better education for girls is a good starting point.
Education about women’s rights and overpopulation
On World Population Day, the IPF spoke to Joseph Bish of the Population Media Center (PMC) a NGO working to improve the health and well-being of the global population. Joseph highlighted the role that women and girls have to play in tackling the problem of overpopulation, as well as the effect this has on the environment.
“Oppressive cultural practices such as the low status of women around the world, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and child marriage are all environmental issues. These travesties significantly contribute to high fertility and population growth – because they rob women of social power, self-determination and true choice in how many children to have, and when.”
With entertainment-education strategies, such as serialised dramas on radio and television, the PMC has contributed to expanding the debate and the awareness of significant problems for local communities worldwide. Apart from tackling child marriage, gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS avoidance through their educational projects, Joseph explained that the NGO has also spoken to people to educate them about contraception and family planning. PMC hopes that this will alert people about the benefits of having smaller families in rural areas where big families are the norm.
Adapting to the cultural norms
Working on overpopulation in different cultural environments means PMC often has to collaborate with locals who have a wide range of different traditions and values. Coordinating projects that are culturally appropriate and respectful of different customs is a challenge for activists and organisations working on the ground.
“We pay attention to everything: the way people dress, the dialects of the regional languages, relevant current events, etc. Therefore, the program outputs are culturally resonant and respectful, because the outputs are being created from within the culture itself.”
In order to tackle this issue effectively, PMC hires local writers, actors and production staff. They refrain from placing expats in the countries that they work in, explaining that local workers are essential to creating storylines from the local language, traditions and understandings.
The debate on contraceptives for women
When Yeken Kignit and Dhimbibba aired in Ethiopia between 2002 to 2004, the demand for contraceptives increased by 157%. PCM confirmed that listeners were five times more likely than non-listeners to know at least three family planning methods. These numbers clearly indicated signs of a willingness to improve health awareness through meditated and informed decisions.
“Many women do not even comprehend that managing their child-bearing is possible. They do not know family planning exists.”
But family planning methods, such as birth control, are not always well received. The topic is often controversial, bringing a wave of arguments on both sides that pave the way for misinformation.
When asked about how PMC addresses these objections to contraceptives, Joseph said:
“Some people imagine various forces pushing down on fertility: the misguided notion of “population control”, such as the Chinese One Child Policy. Instead of pushing down fertility, we work to eradicate forces that keep fertility needlessly elevated.”
In terms of lowering fertility to prevent overpopulation, Joseph said that education for girls, family planning, access to modern contraception and general empowerment of women are key factors: “Fertility rates are high because of misinformation about side-effects of contraceptives, lack of knowledge about the benefits of small families, and religious or male opposition to contraception. These types of issues form a sort of scaffolding that keeps fertility rates higher than they would otherwise be.”