Women are disadvantaged in relation to men in many developing countries. Limited access to education, together with a traditionally subordinate status, limit women’s opportunity to develop independent economic roles or achieve positions of authority within society.
Traditions of early marriage further reduce opportunities for education, autonomy and authority. Early marriage typically leads to larger families and can also result in greater prevalence of maternal death and injury related to childbirth and in additional difficulties in bringing up children. Following marriage, a woman’s lack of economic independence coupled with patriarchal traditions means that her ability to determine the number and spacing of children may be limited.
Women are also vulnerable to violence and sexual assault, both within and outside marriage, further reducing their ability to play a full and independent role and potentially leading to unintended pregnancy. In situations of conflict, rape can even become a deliberate and systematic “weapon of war”.
For environmental and sustainability reasons, as well as for reasons of equity and natural justice, we strongly support gender equality and the empowerment of women. These include:
- ensuring full participation of girls and women in education;
- allowing full participation of women in personal and family decisions — especially those relating to childbearing;
- discouraging teenage marriages, which can prevent women establishing themselves in a profession or career;
- granting women full equality under the law and in property rights;
- ensuring businesses run by women have access to financing and government support; and
- providing accessible childcare to enable women to continue working.
We believe the evidence shows that empowered women typically choose to have smaller families.