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New UNFPA report urges radical rethink of how countries address changing demographics

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19 April 2023 Tags: State of the World Population, SWOP, UNFPA

Today, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launches its State of the World Population Report 2023, called ‘8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: the case for rights and choices’. Rutgers, together with UNFPA, is co-hosting the launch in the Netherlands as part of our mission to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Netherlands and around the world.

During the launch, the UNFPA will present the report to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This year the report focuses on global population dynamics and how these influence sexual and reproductive health and rights. In 2022, we exceeded 8 billion people. Population growth rates around the world vary widely. Population dynamics are complex and we must radically rethink how we talk about and plan for population change. We can build thriving, inclusive societies regardless of population size.

Policies that undermine people’s agency don’t work

Globally, we see more and more governments adopting policies aimed at raising, lowering or maintaining fertility rates (the average number of children born per woman). These policies place the responsibility for changing demographics on women. These policies basically say: if the population grows, women should have fewer children – if the population shrinks, they should have more children. Such policies lead, among other things, to restrictions on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. It also distracts attention from the causes of global problems and shifts blame to them. Fertility rates are neither the problem nor the solution. We need to look at the direct causes and proven solutions to societal challenges.

The report calls for a rethink of how population numbers are framed – urging politicians and media to abandon narratives about population booms and busts. Instead it stresses the importance to protect and promote the right to bodily freedom, access to sexual and reproductive health services as well as the right to choose if, when and how many children we have. This should be central to realising sexual and reproductive rights and empowering women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives.

Why do we think this is important?

We need to look beyond overall population numbers and fertility rates. Population trends have a huge impact, but nuance is also needed to understand them. Instead of asking whether fertility rates are too high or too low, we need to ask whether people are able to realise their sexual and reproductive rights, and if not, what it takes to be able to do so. In short: advocating for sexual and reproductive rights and for women to make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives must always be at the heart of our work.

The benefits of improved sexual and reproductive health and rights are many. They lead to better health outcomes, promote gender equality and improve the social and economic well-being of individuals, families and communities.

Read the full report 8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities - The Case for Rights and Choices

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