In November 2022, the United Nations announced that the world’s population hit 8 billion. The number may sound alarming at first, considering all the recent alarms about natural resources. However, the matter of population cannot be narrowed down to the number alone. There are various contributing factors to shape a more prosperous population, such as by encouraging women’s reproductive rights. The State of World Population 2023 report by the United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) shares insights on the current state of women’s reproductive rights and its relation to population resilience.
The 8 billion population
The State of World Population 2023 was produced by external advisers, researchers and writers, and UNFPA technical staff and editors. It explores how broadening our understanding of the population can lead to new solutions that build demographic resilience and help shape a more prosperous future.
In general, the 8-billion number indicates that people are living longer due to healthcare and other societal developments. However, the fact that the number is achieved in the middle of multiple crises might cause anxiety for those who deem the number too much. At the same time, there are also cases of countries with low fertility rates, which often means that there are ‘not enough’ births in a country.
Still, the perspectives above are largely focused on the number instead of the people. When the focus is centered on whether there are too many or not enough births, it is easy to overlook the fact that the population is about the people and their rights. This includes women’s reproductive rights. The report proposes that advocating for sexual and reproductive justice can create a resilient population in the future.
The state of women’s reproduction rights
Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Indicator 5.6.1 particularly measures the proportion of women aged 15-49 who make informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use, and reproductive healthcare.
Unfortunately, several studies show that there is still a long way to achieve the goal. The report shares that 44% of partnered women in 68 countries cannot exercise bodily autonomy as measured by SDG indicator 5.6.1. Additionally, nearly half of all pregnancies are mistimed or unwanted. There are also cases of child marriages, with almost one-third of all women in low and middle-income countries entering motherhood in adolescence.
The above facts are often overlooked in policies in favor of getting the ‘right’ fertility rate. Globally, many countries have been implementing policies and measures to address low fertility rate. This includes regulations for reproductive and sexual health services, ranging from maternity care to family planning services to contraceptive and abortion access. However, the report indicates that when sexual and reproductive health services are viewed as tools to achieve fertility goals, the results can be counterproductive.
Putting fertility rate as the goal of reproduction often means putting women’s own reproductive plans as the second priority. As reproductive life is unique to each woman and their fertility ideals may change over time according to circumstances, ultimately, fulfilling people’s rights and choices should be the central aspect in shaping a healthy, resilient, and thriving population in the future.
The ways forward to a resilient population
In 1994, world governments adopted the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. The agreement contains principles, commitments, and action plans on human rights, population, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, and sustainable development.
Years have passed since the agreement’s adoption, and the world has seen some notable progress in gender equality. Still, there is a long way to go before achieving a society where women’s reproductive rights are valued and become the central consideration in policymaking, especially concerning population issues.
The report invites us to ask better questions regarding our population. The focus on supporting older people’s rights, encouraging women’s reproductive rights, and anticipating population changes should receive more significant attention than the matter of fertility rate. Achieving resilient demography means enabling populations to find resiliency regardless of their fertility or migration rates.
“This requires working with civil society, the private sector, and families to adopt holistic policies for healthy and active aging, labor market and pension reform, family friendliness, and better [migration management] as well as promoting reproductive rights and empowerment,” said the experts in working on demography for the report.
Read the full report here.
Editor: Nazalea Kusuma
Madina is the Assistant Manager for Program at Green Network Asia. She is an English major graduate from Universitas Indonesia with two
years of demonstrated experience in editorial and creative writing,
researching, editing, and creating content.