TFT SPECIAL: Reframing the Population Growth Debate: Women’s Health and Autonomy

TFT SPECIAL: Reframing the Population Growth Debate: Women’s Health and Autonomy
Pakistan, projected to be one of eight countries accounting for half of the global population increase by 2050, needs to shift its focus from population control to fostering demographic resilience. A cornerstone of this approach is gender equality, particularly in the context of reproductive health and rights. By empowering women through education, gainful employment, and active participation in society, we not only cultivate a more balanced and sustainable demographic growth but also unlock multifaceted economic and social benefits.

Population doomsayers, particularly in the context of Pakistan, often blame women for having too many children, a narrative that oversimplifies complex issues and transfers culpability to those who often lack agency in their local contexts. As the United Nations Population Fund's State of the World Population 2023 report asserts, this harmful narrative not only undermines women's inherent right to sexual and reproductive autonomy but also detracts from the actual factors exacerbating societal and environmental issues.

In fact, restricting women's reproductive choices harms society as a whole, and especially marginalised groups such as women and girls. Policies and interventions intended to influence fertility rates typically backfire, as they sidestep the fact that rates are influenced by a multitude of factors, including socio-economic status and access to education. Such efforts also ignore the fact that demographic resilience – the ability to adapt and thrive amid demographic changes – is key to a nation's vitality and growth.

Addressing gender disparities, particularly in education and the workforce, is crucial to realizing Pakistan’s potential demographic dividend. Investments in education, health, and gainful employment for women are key. These initiatives can significantly improve the quality of life, and contribute to a steady, natural decline in fertility rates. Such investments are also fundamental in harnessing the productivity of our young and growing population, ensuring they can contribute positively to the economy and society. The freedom to make informed decisions about one's reproductive health is a basic human right that every individual should have, and any infringement on this freedom is not only unjust but counterproductive.

Effective policy-making, however, is impeded by the scarcity of reliable, gender-disaggregated data. Decisions informed by comprehensive and accurate data lead to effective strategies. Thus, prioritizing data collection should be at the forefront of the national agenda.

To tackle the systemic barriers impeding women's progress in the workforce, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Ensuring sufficient maternity leave and benefits, availability of quality childcare facilities, and promoting female representation at the top of decision-making bodies are crucial. A strong female presence in leadership positions, especially in the judiciary and bar councils sets a positive precedent, and paves the way for increased participation of women in the workforce. Inclusive policies that respect and protect the rights of women at the workplace are not just an ethical imperative but also a pragmatic strategy for sustainable development and population management.

Furthermore, policymakers and legislators need to draw attention to the critical but often invisible role of women's care work. Despite being largely unaccounted for in GDP calculations, this work is an essential part of our socio-economic fabric. Recognizing, reducing, and redistributing care work, along with adequate remuneration, is vital for the true economic emancipation of women and the creation of a more equitable society.

As we observe World Population Day on 11th July 2023, let's push for a shift in narrative – from alarmist population control discourses to a rights-based, gender-equitable approach. Let's invest in human potential and transform our growing populace from a perceived problem into a wellspring of possibilities. Only then can we ensure a prosperous, just, and balanced society.

Read the other articles from the series below:

On Track For 300 Million, Will Pakistan’s Population Bomb Explode?

Decriminalising Abortion In Pakistan: A Case For Population Justice And Human Rights Of Women

Reproductive Health And Its Relation To Women’s Economic Empowerment