Population Matters

The elephant in the room at the Rio summit

The elephant in the room at the Rio summit

The United Nations is holding a summit this week in Rio de Janeiro on global sustainable development, but, incredibly, family planning is not on the agenda. How can the summit ignore this elephant in the room [asks Jenny Shipley, former prime minister of New Zealand and a member of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health]? When the world’s population hit 7 billion in October, experts warned that if nothing is done, the global population could grow by another 3.5 billion by 2050. Still, many of the world’s women are without the resources to plan their families’ growth effectively – a major factor in stemming the tide of global population expansion. Clearly, the world’s growing population and the significant challenges it poses must be central to any discussion of sustainable development at the U.N. Earth Summit, also called Rio+20, taking place Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Negotiators hammering out the terms for discussion in Rio failed to link the summit’s sustainable development goals to the concerns, needs and desires of women worldwide¬†– particularly to the role that family planning could play in easing the burdens posed by population growth. We know that when women have access to voluntary family planning services, supplies and information, society sees enormous gains in each of the three pillars of sustainable development — human development, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Without it, families, communities and natural resources are extraordinarily burdened.

Experts estimate that more than 215 million women around the world want to delay or space childbirth but are not using modern contraception. In fact, meeting this need would cost $3.6 billion per year, a small amount when you consider the enormous benefits. Providing modern contraception also has the potential to stem population growth and relieve human pressure on the environment and natural resources. We urge governments and global agencies at Rio to make this a priority. We are at a moment in history where we still have time to make a difference. It is essential that the global discussion in Rio not be blind to the potential solutions that access to voluntary family planning could offer to many of the world’s problems.

¬†Our goal is not to control the population: It is to empower women and families, giving them a say over when they will bring another child into this world. We know that when a woman can plan the size of her family, she is healthier, more likely to finish her education, join the labor force, become more economically productive and engage in politics, thus more effectively shaping the future of her family and her country. We also know that when governments invest simultaneously in voluntary family planning, public health and education, countries can benefit from the ‘demographic dividend’ seen in the Asian Tiger countries. Frustratingly, instead of recognizing these links, Rio negotiators so far have sidelined them.

Read the full article: CNN

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