Family planning is not only a fundamental human right that empowers individuals – especially women and girls – and helps save the lives of women and newborns, but it is also vital to economic prosperity and nation-building in the Asia-Pacific region and other parts of the world.
Modern contraceptive use has nearly doubled worldwide – from 36 percent in 1970 to 64 percent in 2016. Yet, some 214 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family-planning methods.
Most women who lack access to contraceptives live in 69 of the poorest countries on earth. Around 70 million of these women hail from South Asia. Around 308,000 women, including 85,000 women who hail from Asia-Pacific alone, die every year from causes that are linked to pregnancy or child birth. In addition, an estimated 2.7 million babies, including 1.3 million in Asia-Pacific alone, die within the first month of their lives.
Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with 208 million people and a population growth rate of 2.4 percent per year. The rising population numbers are likely to outstrip development gains and continue to adversely affect the economy, our environment, health, education and the quality of life for all citizens.
It is important to realise that every woman has the right to exercise her reproductive rights and seek protection from violence and harmful practices in both the development and humanitarian contexts. The Pakistan Vision 2025 has embedded five components of women’s empowerment into its objectives: activities that promote women’s self-worth; the right to determine their choices; access to opportunities and resources; the right and power to control their lives – both within and outside the home – and the ability to influence social change. However, these rights still remain beyond the reach of most women in Pakistan.
Meeting the demands for family planning can also fuel large-scale economic growth by creating a demographic dividend, which emerges when a country’s population shifts from being composed of mostly very young children and adolescents to comprising a majority of working-age adults. This scenario reduces the overall costs of educating children and keeping them healthy, and increases a country’s collective financial outputs and, ultimately, its GDP.
Moreover, the economic, environmental, and social strain of high fertility rates and rapid population growth can threaten the stability and security of an already fragile state. Family planning can reduce this stress at the familial, community, and national levels, contributing to more peaceful societies where the needs of all citizens are met more routinely.
Gaps in empowerment are seen at the earliest stages of a girl’s life. At every step, girls and women face challenges and obstacles in making their own choices and determining their own path.
While most of the other Muslim countries can encourage the practice of family planning and birth control and bring down the population growth to manageable levels, Pakistan can’t even afford to tackle the burden of a high population growth rate of 2.4 percent. With a growth rate of between three percent and four percent, and an annual increase of 2.4 percent in population, a majority of the population cannot even visualise a modest improvement in their standards of living in the decades to come.
It may be argued that Pakistan had to face a high cost of inaction in the past by not keeping a check on population growth. Pakistan has the slowest demographic transition in the region as the use of contraceptives had dropped to 33 percent as compared with 77 percent in Iran, 68 percent in Sri Lanka and 62 percent in Bangladesh. The continuation of this trend and further apathy on the matter could be damaging in many ways and tear apart the socio-economic fabric of society.
The prime minister and the chief justice also spoke in favour of family planning a few weeks ago. This seems to be the right time for all the provinces to be on the same page to check population growth and deal with the ticking population bomb.
The writer is a freelance writer and isassociated with the development sector.