World Population Day – The Key is Women Empowerment

“Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.” – Gore Vidal, American novelist and critic.

The world is bursting at it seams thanks to the burgeoning global population. According to the present estimates, the world population is approximately around 6.5 billion. And India’s population alone is approximately 1.17 billion, which is one-sixth of the world population. So what’s the big deal? Well, its simple logic! When the world grows in numbers so does it problems! Bigger the numbers bigger the problems get! More people would mean more food to be grown to feed, more resources to provide quality health and education, more jobs to be created to provide employment, more cities and towns to accommodate and many such things! Unfortunately, the current global economic meltdown will not allow this to happen too quickly as it ought to be. In fact, it has already put the brakes on several important global issues the primary being health and education.

This twin-problem of increasing population and the global financial and economic crisis threatens to reverse hard-won gains in education and health in developing countries and the worst to be hit by this are women and girls, feels the United Nations. Even before the crisis happened, women and girls represented the majority of the world’s poor. And now this crisis has only aggravated their situation pushing them deep down into poverty, exposing them to increased health risks, especially if they are pregnant, and to hunger, malnutrition, and unemployment. The world cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the problems of the women as this has the ominous potential to spill over to affect the global community at large. Hence, rightly so, the focus of this year’s World Population Day on July 11 is investing in women and girls. The UN is urging member nations to continue to invest more in empowering women to help us get out of this global turmoil. This way the United Nations believes that the world will be put back on the path in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Origin and purpose of the World Population Day (WPD)
The need of the hour is to create awareness among global communities about the population crisis amid the economic meltdown and the worst repercussions it will lead to, particularly to women and girls and how addressing these issues will help the world! And the world will have to unite to act and continue to brainstorm to come out with innovative and safer ways to tackle the inequality between available resources and the increasing population! And this year’s World Population Day on July 11 seeks to do exactly this.

This year is the 20th anniversary of World Population Day. And what started as an annual event by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989 which itself was inspired by the Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987 when the world’s population reached five billion, has now probably assumed greater importance like never before. Apart from honouring the customary way of celebrations to raise awareness of global population issues, set goals and seek ways by organising events, workshops, rallies and seminars and debates, this year’s WPD has a bigger task on hand as the world reels under the recession!

2009 WPD theme can help tackle recession-induced inadequacies and world population control
The theme for this year’s United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) World Population Day is “Fight Poverty, Educate Girls.” With banners that declare “When girls stay in school and get an education, poverty has no chance,” this year’s campaign urges every man and woman to ‘join the anti-poverty movement and educate girls.’ This year, the World Population Day aims to build awareness of the importance of educating girls to help solve the vicious cycle of repercussions starting from development issues, to poverty, to human rights and to gender equality.

The global economic meltdown has been a cause of additional concern for a world that is already facing the acute problem of increasing population. What started as a financial crisis in rich countries is now deepening into a global economic crisis that is hitting developing countries hard. Recession basically means a sense of insecurity resulting in deep cutbacks on expenditure including on existing and new investments leading to unemployment, increasing protectionism which means that more and more people employed in foreign countries and institutions becoming jobless, governments spending less on public welfare projects like education, health, nutrition, which results in disempowerment of people and women in particular. All these will only make the situation go worse.

According to the UNFPA, the key lies in empowering women and children particularly those in developing countries as they will bear the brunt of the impact of the recession. The key lies in educating girls and empowering women to meet these challenges by way of policy responses that build on women’s roles as economic agents. The governments across the world should also continue and increase investments in public health, education, child care and other social services as these will help lessen the impact of the crisis on the entire family and raise productivity for a healthier economy.

What’s at stake!
The UNFPA sponsored International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) has warned that in times of recession, the sexual and reproductive health services will likely suffer as health expenditures are cut back. However, it is a fact that each dollar invested in reducing unmet need for contraceptive services will avoid about $2-4 in expenditures on maternal and newborn health. Also at stake is the well being of the children that can be dramatically impacted due to loss of jobs for women in both formal and informal sectors. This coupled with restricted access to family planning services and health services could force them to take recourse to abortion, including unsafe abortion.

Empowered women and control of population
The UNFPA sees the reproductive health and gender issues as critical determinants of population dynamics. Fertility is driven largely by reproductive and health decisions that individual women can or cannot make, depending on the information, services and supplies that are available to them, the cultural context in which they live, and the educational and economic opportunities given to them. Empowered women can make these significant choices of spacing births by effective use of contraception, plan smaller families and healthier communities. And empowerment begins with proper education, access to better health services, and employment and economic freedom which would signal the beginning of effective population control and help reduce the impact of the global economic meltdown. Additionally, empowering women will result in improved maternal health, adequate nutrition to themselves, their children and families.

As the U.N Secretary General puts it, let us urge our decision-makers, at the national, state, district and at our homes, to protect women’s ability to earn income, keep their daughters in school, and obtain reproductive health information and services, including voluntary family planning. Let us help advance the rights of women and girls, and empower them as highly productive members of society capable of contributing to economic recovery and growth. There can be no better investment on this day or any other.