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UNFPA presents State of the World Population report in the Netherlands

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20 April 2023 Tags: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Population, SRHR, State of the World Population, SWOP, UNFPA

Around the world an increasing number of governments are trying to influence birth rates with their policies. And unfortunately, those policies are often based on myths. That is according to the State of World Population, UNFPA’s annual report. On Wednesday 19 April 2023, UNFPA and Rutgers hosted the report’s launch in the Netherlands. “The real question we need to ask ourselves about population dynamics is: can women choose?”

UNFPA is the United Nations’ global population fund. Each year, The State of World Population examines how policymakers, researchers and others deal with population trends and how their views affect sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Rutgers and UNFPA collaborate extensively around this topic. Each year, the report forms an important basis for the work and research we do around the world.

At the launch event at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, some 80 people, saw Arthur Erken, director of policy and strategy at UNFPA, kick off by taking attendees through the key findings and focus of the report, reflected by this year’s title: 8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities. The case for rights and choices.

Arthur Erken: “When the world welcomed its eigth billionth inhabitant in November 2022, it was a joyous occasion. Basically it means that people are living longer and healthier lives. Yet many people found the news alarming. Too many children are being born in some parts of the world, too few in others. And we were told we need to change this through policies. But we see that those policies limit sexual and reproductive health rights all over the world.”

According to him and stated in the report, the conversation should focus on the choice women have. And about gender equality.

“We need to ask the right questions about inequality, about rights, about quality of life. The discussion should be about how we can make the world a better place for all people.”

Women’s right to self-determination

That rights-based approach is crucial, explained Anke van der Kwaak in conversation with moderator Sofie van den Enk. Anke is senior advisor and researcher at KIT Royal Tropical Institute. “That’s why I also like the subtitle of the report. We know from research that it has a positive impact on societies, local communities and countries when we focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights. We should not impose policies, we should focus on women’s self-determination, on their voice and choice.” But Anke van der Kwaak also stressed: “We also need to educate men and boys. Give them access to comprehensive SRHR services and facilities. Otherwise, SRHR policies focused on women will have little effect.”

The relationship between climate change and demographics remains a sensitive issue, the report acknowledges. It is far too easy to say that people in the global South should have fewer children, says Anke van der Kwaak. “There needs to be more coherence in the research on climate and sexuality.” Arthur adds. “Ten per cent of the world’s population causes more than half of global emissions. And that does not include a woman’s seventh child in Niger. Besides, it’s not like the climate suddenly changes if people in the global South have fewer children.”

Rights under pressure

During the day’s official moment, Arthur Erken handed over the report to Kitty van der Heijden, Director-General of International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I remember Arthur and I met back in 1998 at an SRHR meeting,” she said. “And it honestly saddens me that these issues are still on the agenda. Why do we still have to fight for the right to choose?”

Her remarks referred to the sexual and reproductive health and rights that are under pressure around the world. “That is why this report is so important. The best minds in the field have researched demographics, migration, population and those rights. This data, this evidence helps us in our communication.”

In her speech, van der Heijden cited some dramatic figures, which are also in the report. Only a quarter of the world’s women are able to say no to sex, almost a quarter are unable to make decisions about their own healthcare. Every day, 800 women die as a result of preventable pregnancy complications. Half of the world’s pregnancies are unintended.

“We need to debunk the myths surrounding demographics. There are 8 billion of us, but two-thirds of those people live in countries with low fertility rates.

We should not sacrifice our rights and our freedom. We should not undermine our self-determination.

That is why, as the Netherlands, we are scaling up our international efforts for gender equality and developing a feminist foreign policy.” Passionately she added: “We’ve run out of patience. I’ve run out of patience. And I hope you will help us make the world a better place.”

Male politicians

Through online polling, attendees were able to ask the speakers follow-up questions. Moderator Sofie picked a few. How can we get more male politicians involved? “By providing them with the right information,” answered Arthur. “Not everyone can be an expert, it is up to us, to you in the room, to make sure the right information gets everywhere. Also to men. Because unfortunately, it is often still men who have a lot of influence on women’s progress.”

How can we bring together the silos in which climate and gender equality researchers often still operate? “That is an important question because it is important that we continue to develop this,” said Anke. “Researchers and policymakers need to seek each other out; we may have to bring them together. And we need to get funding for further research.”

Not all governments are open to the conversation on sexual and reproductive health and rights. One attendee asked how we can deal with that. “Diplomacy is a mix of all kinds of tools and half of them you don’t see,” Kitty explained. “The trick is to choose the right tools, especially with those countries that do not agree with our approach at all. Sexuality remains a difficult subject for some people. That’s why we always look for the respectful dialogue.”

Read the full report

“This State of World Population report, produced by a group of external advisers, researchers and writers, working alongside UNFPA technical staff and editors, explores how broadening our understanding of population can lead to new solutions that build demographic resilience and help shape a more equitable and prosperous future.”

Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

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