Women continue to suffer forms of discrimination in many countries across the globe, including child- and forced marriage, gender-based violence, sexist policies, as well as barriers to participation in education and employment. Achieving gender equality globally is crucial to meeting development goals, reducing human suffering and solving our biggest environmental problems.
"Population growth is straining the Earth's resources to the breaking point, and educating girls is the single most important factor in stabilizing that. That, plus helping women gain political and economic power and safeguarding their reproductive rights."
– Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States
Barriers to equality
In most, if not all, countries, women do not have as much power as men. They are disadvantaged in multiple ways, including accessing education and employment opportunities, and in their ability to control their fertility, sexual health and safety from harm.
Traditions of child marriage violate human rights, cause tremendous suffering, and reduce opportunities for education, autonomy and a decent quality of life. Early marriage also leads to larger families and brings greater risk of maternal death and injury related to childbirth.
Patriarchal societal norms mean that a woman's ability to determine the number and spacing of children are limited or non-existant.
Even in many developed countries, women often get paid less than men for the same jobs, face gender-based discrimination and violence, and suffer from mysoginistic attitudes and sexist policies that restrict their autonomy over their own bodies.
An equal world is a better world
Empowering women is the most effective way to reduce fertility rates and achieve a sustainable population size that respects the limits of Earth's carrying capacity. The number of years a woman has spent in education is usually inversely correlated with the number of children she will bear in her lifetime.
Project Drawdown, which compares the effectiveness of different measures to curb climate change, has shown that educating girls and securing women's voluntary right to high-quality family planning together could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by 119.2 gigatonnes, making this the number one most powerful solution to climate change.
Achieving gender equality will make the world a healthier, happier place and is crucial to making lasting environmental progress.
Population Matters is calling for women’s empowerment globally, including:
- Ensuring equal participation of girls and women in education and the work place;
- Giving women sovereignty over their bodies, including unrestricted access to modern contraception and abortion;
- Ending the practice of child- and forced marriage, which violate girls’ rights to a healthy, fulfilling life;
- Granting women full equality under all laws and ending all policies that disadvantage women;
- Eliminating patriarchal attitudes and behaviours that cause women to suffer and that prevent them from accessing positions of power;
- Providing adequate paternity leave and childcare opportunities that enable women to have the same unhindered career progression as their partners.
Reproductive health and rights
Poor reproductive health is a leading cause of illness and death for women in developing countries. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), some 830 women still die every day from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Within relationships, women often have very little control over which contraception methods they use (if any), and are often powerless in protecting themselves against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. While family planning services and attitudes towards them are improving, they remain inadequate. Even in developed nations, unintended pregnancies remain common while sex education and family planning are under threat from policies and funding restrictions.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that more than 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for modern contraception. This refers to the number of women of reproductive age (15-49) who do not wish to become pregnant but are not using any method of contraception.
Even where contraception is readily available, uptake and use are limited by the degree of knowledge and cultural acceptance, the level of female empowerment and affordability. As well as facilitating universal access to modern contraception, quality health care and good information, we must overcome harmful socio-cultural barriers to responsible family planning.
Empower to Plan
Population Matters' Empower to Plan initiative supports select grassroots organisations around the world in delivering vital family planning services to women in need.
Protecting family planning from US cuts
In 2017, US President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, better known as the “Global Gag Rule”. This policy blocks U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organisations that provide abortion counselling or referrals, advocate to decriminalise abortion, or expand abortion services. Considering that the US was until recently the world’s largest funder of family planning services through overseas aid, this policy has left a major vacuum that governments and other institutions are struggling to fill.
Choosing smaller families
Fortunately, there are many areas of the world where women can choose the number of children they have. However, social norms and cultural or religious pressure still often lead to women having many children. Many people aren't aware of the environmental impact their children will have in their lifetimes. This is particularly significant in rich nations - the carbon footprint of one average American today, for example, is equivalent to that of 150 people in Niger (World Bank, 2014).
Exercising responsible family planning is vital to ensuring the well-being of current and future generations.