Population Matters

Population and family size – tapping into the zeitgeist?

Population and family size – tapping into the zeitgeist?

Guardian graphic
Graphic from Guardian article, 20 June 2018

The past few months have seen an unprecedented level of attention on population and family size in the media. With articles in The Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC and many other outlets, could it be that this long neglected issue is finally getting the attention it deserves?

Population and the impact of family size on our environment has been a neglected area of debate in mainstream media for decades now. Indeed, it has been seen by many as a taboo, or an opportunity to condemn those who campaign on the issue, without even investigating what we actually believe and seek. Over the last year, welcome signs of greater openness to mature discussion have been visible, and over the last month, an avalanche of media has focussed on the value of being childfree.

Leilani Münter and being childfree

credit: Alex Krohn

The announcement of our latest patron, racing driver and eco-activist Leilani Münter, in May was the trigger for many of the articles we have seen recently, beginning with an interview and leader (editorial) in The Times, backing in principle the goals and means of solving our population crisis through policies such as better family planning provision and women’s empowerment.

Leilani’s explanation of why she has personally decided to be childfree then caught the imagination of numerous media outlets, with interviews with her, with Population Matters and with childfree individuals and couples appearing in multiple major outlets. Among many of those interviewed were friends of PM who we had linked up with journalists, including our board member Emma and one of the people featured in our recent Smaller Families video, Anna.

What distinguished much of this coverage from some that has gone before was that it was in-depth and respectful, giving an opportunity to interviewees to explain their reasons in detail. Much of it also gave prominence to the case for smaller families and going childfree as a response to the environmental challenges we face.

The bigger picture

Recent media coverage has not simply focussed on individual choices, however. Following its publication of a letter on the subject from our director Robin and patron Jonathon Porrit last year, The Guardian produced an in-depth piece (linking to us) on the population challenge and recently published another letter from Robin two weeks ago.

The Guardian also featured a prominent report on the positive benefits of having a smaller family on climate change last year, entitled “Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children“.

Robin and our head of campaigns, Alistair, have been interviewed on many broadcast channels recently, including Sky News and TRT World.

Why millennials don't want kidsIn addition to coverage in traditional media, social media has also been galvanised by the issues. Population Matters’ Twitter page has seen 60% growth in less than two years, while among many successful posts on our Facebook page, one sharing this graphic, by Cultura Colectiva, has been viewed over 4 million times.

Breaking the media taboo

One of the most significant articles published recently is by Peter Singer, one of the world’s most influential philosophers, and co-authors from the US and Uganda. Its headline in the Washington Post is “Talking about overpopulation is still taboo. That has to change.” There are promising signs that it is.

Take action

For a small organisation like Population Matters, social media are among the most effective ways we can spread our message. please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our content. You can also find graphics and memes on our website here, which you can share directly yourself.

Follow us

One-in-five UK mammals facing extinction – urgent action now

A recent study has found that one in five mammals in the UK face extinction. Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease were identified as main factors. PM patron Chris Packham has warned that the UK faces “an ecological apocalypse” – but one we can fix.

The Red Squirrel is listed as critically endangered – photo by Malcolm Welch

One fifth of UK mammals face extinction

The Mammal Society issued a study reporting that 20 per cent of wild mammals in the UK face extinction, with 165 species critically endangered.

The study is the first comprehensive review of the population of British mammals in 20 years. It identified climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and disease as main drivers – all of which can be tied to population growth. “Now obviously we’re living in a country that’s changing enormously – we’re building new homes, new roads, new railways, agriculture’s changing – so it’s really important we have up to date information so we can plan how we’re going to conserve British wildlife,” explained Prof Fiona Mathews, chairwoman of the Mammal Society.

Prof Fiona Mathews called it a “mixed picture”. While some species are doing well, probably because they’re not being persecuted in the way that they were in the past, others that tend to need a specialised habitat are dwindling.

“So what we need to do is find ways in which we can make sure that all British wildlife is prospering,” Prof Mathews says.

Britain is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world

Two days prior the publication of the study, in an article in The Guardian, Population Matters patron Chris Packham warned that the richness of wildlife can now only be seen in nature reserves, while the wider countryside is stripped of life.

High brown fritillary butterfly
The high brown fritillary is possibly the most threatened butterfly in the UK due to habitat destruction

“It’s catastrophic and that’s what we’ve forgotten – our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it.”

Since 1970, when Packham first became interested in wildlife, Britain has lost 90 million wild birds. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. Recently, Germany revealed having lost 76% of all flying insects since 1989 which was echoed shortly after in Australia.

We are now finally seeing the effects of decades of losses, Packham remarks.

Chris Packham is calling for people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”. He and his team will be visiting wildlife sites in the UK to highlight the extent to which the nation’s wildlife is under threat. “We need people to stand up and say we want action now. We have the ability to fix our countryside.”

Take action

Our situation is grave but we can take action. But action will only be taken if people understand the need for it. That is why Population Matters is calling on organisations which educate the public about the natural world to step up to the challenge of informing people about the current crisis and what we can do to end it.

You can help us by following our Anthropocene campaign on Facebook and Twitter and share our posts and graphics. (You can find many other graphics on our infographics page).

Follow us

Big (royal) families are behind the times

The  announcement of the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge last year was greeted with criticism, as well as congratulations. Some commenters noted that with a soon-to-be family of three, the heir to the throne and his wife were out of step with the move towards small families for sustainability reasons. Population Matters offered our own comment in the national media.

With the arrival of the latest royal baby yesterday, we issued this statement from director Robin Maynard to the press.

Population Matters statement

“We welcome the Cambridges’ baby boy to the world and wish him a long and happy life. But sadly, not every child born today will have such good life chances – and our growing human population and its impacts on our planet are making life for everyone more challenging.

“Only last November, over 15,000 scientists from across the world issued a “warning to humanity”, bluntly stating that unless we change our ways, we face environmental catastrophe. The scientists didn’t hesitate to identify rising human population as a principal driver, or to propose the solution: ‘It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most)…’

Royal baby…or no baby?

Why millennials don't want kids“With numbers of babies being born to millennials the lowest for their age bracket since 1938, a large Royal Family is out of step with the times. Population Matters recently shared a graphic on why millennials are not having kids or choosing smaller families which has reached more than 4 million people (and rising) and generated 1,800 comments. Attitudes to parenting and family size are changing fast.

“Of course, as individual families, we love and cherish our children – but we also need to love and cherish our planet, for their sake and that of future generations. Family size is not just a matter of personal choice, the impacts of an extra child on wider society and our planet should also be considered. Our good wishes and congratulations to the Duke and Duchess: we hope they will do their part to protect their new son’s future, and that of all children born today, by choosing to add no more new people to our rising population.”

Follow us

Population “Factfulness” – where Hans Rosling goes wrong

Hans RoslingFactfulness, the new book by the late Hans Rosling and his family is rightly receiving a great deal of attention. At Population Matters we commend Hans Rosling as a brilliant communicator and a person dedicated to improving the lives of people across the world. We also strongly share his belief that understanding facts and data is essential to solving the challenges we face.

In that spirit, we offer the following facts, which run counter to Prof Rosling’s popular but shakily founded position that population isn’t a problem and future population growth will effectively sort itself out. We believe that he was only able to maintain that position through neglecting environmental problems, over-simplifying population data and placing his faith in demographic theories that haven’t been proved and technological solutions that haven’t yet been invented.

At Population Matters, we maintain that making a better life for everyone – a goal we share with the Roslings – requires concerted action on population, not assurances that it isn’t really a problem.

Fact One: There could be far more than 11 billion people in 2100

The UN offers a range of projections for population growth, of which 11.2bn people in 2100 is one possibility. The UN’s 95% certainty range for 2100 shows a maximum of nearly 13bn and a minimum of under 10bn – a range of nearly 40% of the current global population (7.6bn). The top projection shows almost no decline in rate of growth by the end of the century.

Further, according to the 2017 World Population Prospects report, “for countries with high levels of fertility, there is significant uncertainty in projections of future trends, even within the 15-year horizon of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and more so for the projections to 2100 [emphasis added].”

Fact Two: Very small differences in family size make major differences to future population

According to the UN, variations in global population size caused by even small changes in the size of families are very significant. For example, If there is just half-a-child per family more than the UN’s medium projection expects, our population in 2100 could be more than double what it is now – if half-a-child less, it would be smaller than it is now.

Fact Three: Without concerted effort, even achieving 11.2bn will not be possible

The UN’s medium projection is not what will happen if we let things carry on as they are. The UN’s 2017 World Population Prospects report states:

“To achieve the substantial reductions in fertility projected in the medium variant, it will be essential to support continued improvements in access to reproductive health care services, including family planning, especially in the least developed countries, with a focus on enabling women and couples to achieve their desired family size.” [Emphasis added.]

200 million women worldwide continue to have an unmet need for contraception, mostly in Least Developed Countries.

Fact Four: Global fertility won’t fall if governments work to make it go up

South Korea flagA number of governments are now encouraging or incentivising larger families. These include Iran, South Korea and China.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, however, has said he has “absolutely no worries” about Japan’s low birth rate and high ratio of older people, describing it as “an incentive to increase productivity”.

Fact Five: Education and economic development are not enough

Hans Rosling is absolutely right that women’s empowerment, education, lifting people out of poverty and contraception are essential to bringing down family size and reducing population growth – but of those, what actually does the practical work is access to and provision of high quality, effective family planning services. Countries which have introduced active family planning programmes which provide services, education about contraception and actively encourage smaller family sizes see greater falls in fertility than the average for developing countries.

Source: O’Sullivan, J (2016) Journal of Population and Sustainability

Growing evidence also suggests that Prof Rosling’s reliance on the theory of “Demographic Transition” – in which countries moving out of poverty experience lower fertility rates – is misplaced. While the pattern was strong in the history of many currently developed countries as they moved out of poverty, fertility rates are falling so slowly and haltingly in a number of Least Developed Countries that demographic transition is barely happening at all.

Fact Six: The current human population is demanding more resources than the planet can provide

Focussing on population growth, as the Roslings do, broadly assumes that population is not a problem now and the issue is stopping it becoming a problem later. That conclusion can only be reached by neglecting resource and environmental concerns.

Population – and associated consumption, especially in the developed world – is a driver of multiple environmental problems now: further population growth will exacerbate the problems.

Fact Seven: Human population correlates to major environmental problems

Fact Eight: More people, more climate change emissions

People emit carbon. Gross disparities exist in the CO2 emissions of citizens of different countries but high population can drive high emissions even where per capita output is low. (Indian per capita emissions are a fraction of those of the USA but it joins the US as one of the world’s top three carbon emitters.)

A key study published in 2017 by the Universities of Lund and British Columbia argued that the single most effective long-term measure an individual in the developed world can take to cut their carbon emissions is to have one fewer child (which will also have an ongoing effect by creating fewer grandchildren and descendants).

Another major international study by Project Drawdown in 2017 identified practical policy measures that could be taken to minimise greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Project Drawdown analysed more than eighty policy options and identified family planning and educating girls as among the top 10 workable solutions to combat climate change available today. Project Drawdown calculated that together, these would reduce CO2 emissions by 120 gigatons by 2050 — more than onshore and offshore wind power combined.

Their enormous positive effect is a result of their role in reducing family size and population growth.

Fact Nine: More people, less wildlife

As human population has increased, the number of both animals and animal species has shrunk dramatically.

Fact Ten: Not everyone is as relaxed as the Roslings about population

A growing scientific consensus is emerging about human population impacts upon our planet:

  • In November 2017, 15,000 scientists signed on to a “warning to humanity” which identified population as a “primary driver” of environmental destruction
  • A 2017 survey of Nobel Laureates found that “population rise/environmental destruction” was the issue of greatest concern
  • Sir David AttenboroughSir David Attenborough has spoken frequently about the issue. In an interview this March he said: “The natural world is steadily being impoverished. The situation is becoming more and more dreadful and still our population continues to increase. It’s about time that the human population of the world came to its senses and saw what we are doing – and did something about it.”
  • A paper published in Nature Ecology and this March identified population growth and high consumption as the “main drivers” of biodiversity loss

Meanwhile, leaders from the Global South have repeatedly expressed concerns about the impact of population growth on their economic developments:

Dr Ibn Chambas
  • In November 2017, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations Special Representative to West Africa and the Sahel said:

“In [the] case of Africa, so far…population grows faster than the economy, and countries cannot cope with the increasing demands for basic social services such as water, sanitation, education, and health.”

  • In 2018, Executive Director of the Ghanaian National Population Council, Dr. Leticia Appiah said the government must “incentivize small family size. You have to make small family size attractive and a norm.”
  • In 2017, Malawi’s Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development, Goodall Gondwe, said:
    “The high population is exerting a lot of pressure on our economy. As a country we have made tremendous gains over the years but the impact is not reflected on our economy because the gains have been dissipated by population growth”

    Shahid Khaqan Abbasi
    Shahid Khaqan Abbasi

  • Pakistani Prime Minister Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi recently told a delegation from the country’s population council that population growth was the country’s “major challenge.”

The global crisis we face is too great to allow hope and theories to solve it. We hope these facts will help to increase the demand for action that will make a difference.

Follow us

International Women’s Day 2018: #PressforProgress

Every year on 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). This day is a commemoration of the women’s rights movement and an opportunity to celebrate achievements and those who work relentlessly to make gender equality a reality. It is also a call-to-action.

This year’s IWD campaign theme, #PressforProgress is a call to press forward and progress gender parity further by building on the momentum created by the many impactful initiatives that have emerged globally, such as She Decides or MeToo. This is imperative for the road ahead is still long.  

Women Carrying Water
IWD supports equal rights

200 years to gender equality?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, we are over 200 years away from gender equality. So although progress has been made in many areas, women continue to suffer forms of discrimination in many countries across the globe; from child and early marriage, forced marriage, gender-based violence, as well as barriers to participation in education and employment.

We are still far from equality and threats are constant. For example the Global Gag Rule not only freezes funding to aid organisations providing family planning services globally, but it also causes a ‘chilling effect’ on advocacy for safe abortion and post-abortion services, actively contributing to the emergence of more regressive mentalities and policies.

Rural and urban activism

In support of this year’s call-to-action, the United Nations launched its official IWD theme, Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban. This draws attention to the power of activism but also particularly to the rights and activism of rural women. These represent over a quarter of the world population but are often left behind. According to the UN, rural women are worse off than rural men or urban women. While the global pay gap between men and women stand at 23 per cent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 per cent. They lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

This is particularly important to fight the widening gap in access to sexual and reproductive health care the UNFPA reported last year, and the US funding cuts to family planning services that affect women in rural areas most. Supporting women’s rights has never been more important, or strategic.

Women’s rights are human rights

When given the rights and means, women chose smaller families

Women’s rights and gender equality are central to building a fairer, more sustainable society. There is much evidence to suggest that empowerment and education of women in all parts of the world would help with poverty reduction, effective distribution of resources – whether food, healthcare, or education – improved family planning and the mitigation of climate change. The evidence also shows that when given the choice, women tend to chose to have smaller families and when given access to contraception, they use it.

Supporting women’s rights means actively building a fairer, more sustainable society. You can read more about women’s rights here.

Take action

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential for sexual and reproductive health, economic development, population stabilization and mitigating climate change. We therefore support women’s rights and programmes to improve the status of women.

To learn more about how to support women’s rights, visit here. You can also join the IWD network #PressforProgress campaign that has activities that extend beyond the single day of 8 March.

Follow us

Climate change and children – a growing concern?

Increasingly, people are taking climate change into consideration when making decisions about having children, reports The New York TimesCoverage of the subject in the past year alone indicates that these considerations are part of an ongoing, growing discussion surrounding climate change, the impact our growing global population has on it and how family size can help mitigate its effects. The article in The New York Times is the latest such example of this.

While reasons for considering climate change and ensuing decisions about family size vary, they all point to one thing: that our environmental situation is critical and people are increasingly willing to see the link to population and act accordingly.

A range of reasons …

flooding due to climate change

The New York Times article mentions a recent study that shows how climate change has become a major factor for 18-43 year olds when it comes to making decisons about having children.

Reasons given by interviewees include

  • poorer quality of life arising from increasingly extreme weather patterns, such as wild fires, hurricanes, flooding;
  • unstable future society – social instability looms as the effects of climate change worsen (see the open letter 15,000 scientists wrote calling for urgent action) following a lag in governmental responses to climate change;
  • or the fact that having a child is one of the costliest environmental actions one can take at this stage, especially in high-consuming, industrialised countries.

Those considering climate change in their decisions do not fit a single profile. They are women, men, liberals, conservatives, individuals from different religions and regions of the world.

…a range of decisions

Responses vary. Some opt to have one child, others to adopt. Some would rather have two so they can be together when things get bad while others vow to raise their children to be climate change fighters. Other still chose to be childfree.

Often described as selfish, it is the opposite that motivates many of the childfree. Elizabeth Bogard, an 18 year old student from Northern Illinois University explains: Parenthood is “something that I want but it’s hard for me to justify my wants over what matters and what’s important for everyone.”

Seeing the effects of climate change

Choosing not to have children was particularly widespread amongst those who have seen the effects of climate change, as Ms. Kaff, 33 from Cairo said in an email: “I’ve seen how Syrian refugees, who are running from a devastating war, are being treated. Imagine how my children will be treated if they have to flee their country due to extreme weather, drought, lack of resources, flooding. I know that humans are hard-wired to procreate,” she said, “but my instinct now is to shield my children from the horrors of the future by not bringing them to the world.”

Having to take climate change in consideration is difficult for most, but important, and the feelings around the issue a measure of the extremity of the situation – and how urgently we need to take action.

Take action

Population Matters welcomes the fact that people are increasingly taking the environment considerations in their decisions about family size. Each one of us puts pressure on the natural world, consumes the Earth’s finite resources and contributes to climate change. Find out more about smaller families here.

You can find out more about climate change and population by attending our conference on the subject on the 3rd March or read more about solutions here.

Follow us

Imams support family planning in Senegal

Public health officials and NGOs in Senegal turn to mosques to expand the provision of family planning, The Christian Science Monitor reports. A key first step, results indicate. 

Senegal is over 90% Muslim and has a fertility rate of 4.8, nearly double the global average. It has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world. Only half of the married women who would like to use modern contraception are able to. Access to contraceptives is limited, as is the knowledge of how to use them.

Since 2011, the number of married Senegalese women using modern contraceptives has doubled from 12 per cent to about 23 per cent, according to the Senegalese statistics and demography agency. Religion is not the only factor influencing contraceptive use, but gaining support from religious leaders has proven vital, public health officials and NGOs explain.

“Any time we come to a town, the first thing we do is go to a religious leader to explain what we are doing, so that they can become our link with the population,” says Michèle Diop Niang, program director for Marie Stopes International Senegal, a family planning NGO. “It’s very important because where we work, if people don’t have the support of a religious leader, they won’t use family planning at all.”

Modern methods for old practices

The notion that modern contraception is a continuation of traditional Islamic practices has been key. It is based on several passages from the Quran that instruct women to breastfeed for at least two years – a natural, albeit imperfect, form of birth control.

“Family planning is just a new word for what we have always done according to Islam,” says Seyni Cisse, an imam in the southern city of Ziguinchor.

A major turning point was five years ago when an influential imam almost lost one of his wives to childbirth. The midwife told them that they had to stop having children or else she could die. Spacing births makes mothers stronger, reducing the number of child and maternal deaths.

Many Islamic leaders continue to oppose contraceptive use and others who do support it are clear it only concerns married women in monogamous relationships. Read more on population and religion here.

The African challenge

Africa is where the greatest population growth will take place over the next century. While fertility rates are dropping across sub-Saharan Africa, they are not falling consistently. In addition to problems of access to family planning and cultural or religious opposition to contraception, in some parts of Africa, desire for a large family remains a strong influencing factor.

Creative family planning approaches are having success in addressing these problems but the very high proportion of young people in Africa in comparison to other parts of the world means far more people there are of childbearing age, counterbalancing the falls in fertility per person.

Take Action

Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted in September 2015, is Target 3.7: “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

Access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Join our campaign for increased overseas aid for family planning today.

Follow us

Progress in family planning – but a long road ahead

Last week, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) released its annual report. The project designed to enable 120 more million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use modern contraception by 2020. The report notes a 30 per cent increase in users, which is just over half the number the FP2020 had hoped to reach at this stage. 

Increased use of modern contraceptives

Family planning in action

The FP2020 initiative was launched following a major family planning summit in 2012. It reports that as of July 2017

  • 309.3 million girls and women in the 69 focus-countries use modern contraception, an additional 38.8 million girls and women using modern contraception since the project started in 2012
  • Almost half of all new modern contraceptive users are in Africa, with 16 million additional women using modern contraception in the FP2020 countries of Africa compared to 2012. The fastest growing regions are Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • More than half the new users are in Asia, representing a total of 21.9 million women and girls. The region includes four of the five of the most populous focus-countries, namely India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

As a result of modern contraceptive use, between July 2016 and July 2017:

  • 84 million unwanted pregnancies were prevented
  • 26 million unsafe abortions were averted
  • 125,000 maternal deaths were averted

Cuts challenge access to family planning

Melinda Gates speaking at the 2012 summit. The Gates Foundation is a major donor to family planning worldwide.

Despite governments donating US$1.1 billion in funding for family planning in 2016,US cuts in international aid money for family planning have begun to affect provision.

The report notes an increase in global initiatives and funds providers by some donors, and a “growing understanding that rights-based family planning is essential to global development”, a position long held by Population Matters.

Nevertheless, the partnership’s executive director Beth Schlachter told a press briefing last week that “if the current rate of progress continues, FP2020 will not reach its 2020 target of 120 million new users.”

Take Action

Shortly after taking office, President Trump reinstated the ‘global gag rule’, which cuts off US overseas aid to any organisations providing abortion or information about it.

Population Matters joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule and supports the She Decides initiative, intended to generate alternative funding.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning.

Follow us

Gap in access to family planning widens UN warns

On Tuesday, 17 October the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual state of world population report, Worlds Apart. The report shows that women and girls are experiencing greater inequality than previously in accessing sexual and reproductive health care. The hardest hit are the poorest, youngest and least educated. The implications for these communities in particular, and sustainable development in general, are profound. 

“Economic disparities are only part of the inequality story,” according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the former Executive Director UNFPA who died before publication of the report. Many other dimensions feed into each other and need urgent action.

Two of these, the report highlights, are gender inequality and inequalities in realising sexual and reproductive health and rights. These receive far too little attention, especially the latter. Continuing to ignore them will hinder progress towards sustainable human development.

Improved sexual and reproductive health care benefits all

The benefits of improved sexual and reproductive health care for all extend far beyond health. Access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control, allows women to chose the spacing and number of births, which reduces mother and child deaths, boosts economies by freeing up women to work, decreases demand for public expenditure in education, housing and sanitation, and leads to smaller families with parents able to spend more on children’s health and education.

Yet many of the world’s poorest women – particularly the youngest, least educated and those living in rural areas – are missing out because such services are lacking, costly or considered inappropriate by their families and communities, experts say.

According to the report an the Guttmacher Institute:

  • An estimated 214 million women in developing countries (DCs) have an unmet need for family planning
  • 43 per cent of pregnancies in DCs are unplanned
  • Unintended pregnancies are linked to increasing poverty and reduced prospects for women’s economic mobility (UNFPA, 2012)
The solution 

Expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services is only half of the solution. The report concludes that the other half depends on how well we address the other dimensions of inequality that hold women, particularly the poor, back from realising their rights and ambitions, and living their lives on an equal footing to men.

The UNFPA which provides and coordinates family planning in the world’s poorest countries is facing a funding gap of $700 million of what it requires through 2020, following the US cuts to family planning services. This report shows how critical the situation is and where the solutions lie.

Take Action

Population Matters supports universal access to sexual and reproductive health care. It is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the She Decides project – the Dutch government’s initiative to generate funds to counter the cuts. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning:

  1. Support the She Decides initiative.
  2. Sign the international petition.
  3. Ask your elected representative to push their governments to provide additional aid for family planning.  (If you are a UK citizen, you can use WriteToThem to identify and contact them.)

Follow us

The UK election, overseas aid and family planning

Theresa May

UPDATE, 21 April 2017: Since this item was written, the Prime Minister has confirmed that the commitment to current levels of aid spending will remain a part of the Conservative Party programme for government if it is re-elected. In a brief comment, she also said “what we need to look at is how that money is spent”. As one of the most effective forms of overseas aid, family planning should receive a higher proportion of that expenditure.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading donors to family planning through overseas aid. Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly considering dropping the existing commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid. If that takes place, family planning in the poorest countries could be hard hit.

Following the announcement on Tuesday of a general election in the UK on 8 June, speculation has risen that the governing Conservative Party will drop its previous longstanding commitment to meet the target set by the United Nations to give 0.7% of GNI in aid. Within the next few weeks, all political parties will launch their election manifestos (pledges about what they will do in government if elected) but Mrs May has refused to make a commitment to maintaining the policy.

The 0.7% commitment has been unpopular with some Conservative Members of Parliament and parts of the UK media. A poll in 2016 found that 70% of the British electorate supported scrapping the policy.

Foreign aid and population

In addition to being one of the word’s leading aid donors, the UK also spends one of the highest proportions of aid on family planning. Family planning services are one of the most effective forms of aid in very poor countries because they reduce demand for health, education and infrastructure. An international expert panel has calculated that every dollar spent on family planning aid saves $120 of other aid.

Global aid for family planning has already received a blow this year, after the Trump administration reintroduced the ‘global gag rule’ – cutting off US overseas aid to organisations providing abortion services or information about them – and ended US support for UNFPA, the UN agency responsible for family planning support in developing countries.

Population and poverty

The importance of family planning in helping poor countries escape poverty has been underlined at a conference in Africa this week. Jesca Eryo, the Deputy Secretary-General of the East African Community – an intergovernmental organisation representing six east African nations – told an audience of ministers:

“If we don’t control the number of children we are giving birth to, poverty levels will grow. This requires re-alignment of policies, processes and systems and sharing of resources for coordinated actions.”

Take action

UPDATE: While Theresa May has now confirmed the Conservative Party commitment to 0.7%, not every party has yet done so and no manifestos have yet been published. If you are a UK citizen, please get in touch with the parties to ask them to make a commitment to the 0.7% policy in their manifestos and to commit to increasing spending on family planning aid in light of the US administration’s cuts. The current positions of the major parties are:

  • the Conservative Party supports the 0.7% commitment but will review priorities within the budget. Contact them here.
  • the Labour Party made a commitment to the 0.7% commitment in 2016. Contact them here.
  • UKIP supports a cut from 0.7% Contact them here.
  • the Liberal Democrats are “proud” that they helped introduce the policy. Contact them here.
  • the SNP has supported the principle of 0.7% of GNI for foreign aid. Contact them here.

Follow us