reproductive rights
Iranian officials are taking steps to restrict access to birth control options in Iran, in hopes of increasing fertility rates and population growth.

Last week, Iranian lawmakers ratified a bill which would ban birth control surgeries and criminalize any act to reduce fertility. According to the bill, every individual who performs a vasectomy or tubectomy or engages in sterilization could face up to five years of imprisonment. This new bill indicates a dramatic shift from progressive population policies previously implemented in Iran.

In the late 1980s, Iran launched a national family planning project, as the country was faced with one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. The baby boom was a result of Iranian authorities’ demand for more soldiers in the 1979 Revolution.

By introducing birth control policies, Iran succeeded in reducing the uncontrolled population growth from its peak of 3.2 percent in the 1980s to a current low of 1.22 percent. The policies have also allowed Iranian women to make significant strides, as women now comprise 60 percent of college students, and socioeconomic trends show that most women choose to develop careers rather than starting families.

However, Iranian officials have recently begun to worry about the low birthrates and the projection of the country’s population in the coming decades. In 2012, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a 14-point decree that promoted population growth to 150 million or more. He established a goal of increasing the population by 76 million, claiming in his decree that attaining this goal would “strengthen national identity.”

In response, Mahmoud Almadinejad’s conservative government eliminated the population and birth control budgets of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education. The government even legally agreed to pay Iranian families for every new child produced. This is quite a significant turnaround from the “Fewer Kids, Better Life” motto widely promoted in the 1980s.

Furthermore, a new set of policies were established by the Expediency Council to advance Khamenei’s goal. These policy reforms include encouraging youth to marry at a younger age, financially supporting young couples, providing mothers with special resources, ensuring the health and proper nutrition of the people and reducing population pressures.

The objective of these conventions is not only to increase population, but also to balance the country’s challenging demographic profile, which foresees an older population, in the future.

The new population regulations will particularly target Iranian women, threatening the legal rights they have obtained in the past few decades. Female Iranian activists regard the new policy reforms as a method to curtail women’s economic, political and financial roles, and restrain them to their houses.

For women in the rural working class, the elimination of reproductive services, including free contraception and health care, will leave them with more children to support and no education or share of job markets. According to the Statistical Centre of Iran, women only make up 12.4 percent of Iran’s work force and, with these new policies, this figure will only drop.

These recently employed policies, in addition to the pending bill that involves punishments and restrictions, denotes a complete reversal of women’s reproductive rights in Iran.

– Abby Bauer

Sources: Global Post, Al Monitor, Huffington Post
Photo: National Geographic

population action international
Population Action International is a nonprofit organization that “advocates for women and families to have access to contraception in order to improve their health, reduce poverty and protect their environment.” Its goal is to stem rapid population growth which will help lift families out of poverty and prevent damage to the environment caused in high population density areas.

The organization divides its work into a few different areas including advocacy and research. Each area strives to increase access to contraception around the world.

In terms of advocacy, Population Action International works both in the United States and abroad to create political support behind contraception programs.

For example, in the U.S., the organization works directly with Congress to promote reproductive health programs. Population Action International has made significant progress doing so over the last few years, including helping to significantly increasing funding for family planning. PAI is currently “working hard to protect these gains in the face of spending cuts and attacks on women’s health programs.”

On the global level, the organization supports countries by providing grants to fund family planning advocacy programs, often in developing countries. Because access to contraception is not a high priority in certain countries, these Population Action International grants are often the only source of funding for in-country advocacy programs.

One of Population Action International’s key research areas is identifying “links between demographics for governments and global institutions to combat poverty, ensure growing nations develop sustainably, and create a more stable world.”

When countries have uncontrolled population growth with little to no access to contraception, poverty is often a result, which can lead to conflict. PAI’s research in this field has identified relationships between large population growth and a number of factors including food security, health, climate change, violent conflict and economic progress.

Because of the results of this research, the organization believes that providing high population, low socioeconomic communities with contraception will enable them to thrive again.

In addition, Population Action International focuses its research on the effects large population growth areas have on climate change. Larger populations put increased pressures on the environment, whether that means using more resources or occupying more land. Supporting family planning, therefore, also supports environmental protection, the organization argues.

According to Population Action International, they exist “because providing women the family planning they want can save hundreds of thousands of lives.” The organization is a leader in the field of contraception, providing women around the world with access to reproductive health services in the hopes that it will help stem population growth and, among other things, alleviate poverty.

– Emily Jablonski

Sources: Charity Navigator, Population Action International, Vimeo

Iranian_Population_Increase
As the rest of the world begins to tackle the growing population problem and the threat humans have to the environment, Iran pushes forward with a goal in mind to increase the country’s population.

Hovering around 77 million citizens, Iran is no small country. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently announced on his website that he wishes to “strengthen national identity” with this proposed Iranian population increase.

He also blamed Western culture for the rise in contraception usage and stated that the country should avoid these “undesirable aspects.”

The inherent expectation to come of this campaign is the reduction in access to contraceptive health, damaging the future of women’s rights as well as public health in Iran. Contraception was only introduced to Iran in the 1980s, and its likely disappearance will surely not be taken lightly. Not only will the population increase with no access to contraceptives, but so will the rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Contraceptives have long held more function than simply birth control.

Groups such as the AIDS Research Center at Tehran University have recognized the dangerous path this campaign is heading toward. Without complete access to contraception, educators will not be able to teach community members ways to practice safe sex and prevent the spread of AIDS.

This population policy does not address the needs of the modern Iranian citizen as represented in the reformist group. Those in poverty who struggle to support a small family will face great hardships if they have restricted control over the size of their family.

Iranian reformists are concerned with the future of the country under this new ruling due to its potential impact on women’s equality.

Many believe Iran is taking steps backward with this course of action, shying away from progressive women’s rights. Women’s rights in Iran have seen dismal support and this does little to eradicate that.

Since 1986, the population of Iran has fallen about 2 percent, which may play a part in the government’s decision to incite this new ruling for Iranian population increase. However, according to the World Population Review, Iran’s population is already on the road to rapid increase, with a majority of the population being held in the younger generations and immigrants from surrounding countries. It’s possible that with this new decree, the population will shoot up at alarming rates and threaten the stability of the country.

-Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, NY Times World Population Review, Khamenei
Photo: LA Times

fertility_awareness_contraception
Few things in our lives are controlled, understood and maintained on our own. When we go to the grocery store, people may see the bread on the shelves but ignore how flour, sugar, water and yeast reacted to put it there in the first place. So too can be said of the cars we drive, buses we ride and bikes we steer, all of which may and typically are maintained by a specialized group that leaves the rest of us ignorant.

As individuals we rely on others to inform us how our lives should be shaped and run. We are told that this is fine, that these specialists exist to make our lives more convenient and that we do not need to understand how everything works. The time saved allows us to focus on our own pursuits.

For women, our bodies have been similarly fashioned. Menstrual cycles have turned into a veritable organic production line in which outside sources inform us when we are ovulating, when we are pregnant, which method of contraceptive is best, and for hormone-regulating options, when we should be taking it each month.

This disassociation from our bodies may change due to the resurgence of the fertility awareness method (FAM) of contraception.

In comparison to the calendar method in which women guess their ovulation schedule based on previous menstrual cycles, FAM users relies on bodily indicators to determine when they’re ovulating. By tracking spikes and falls in body temperatures while at rest, or basal body temperature, noting increases in cervical mucus and the position of the cervix, women may rely on their own bodies to either become pregnant, or avoid it.

Although WebMD reports that 25 out of 100 women have unintended pregnancies while using FAM, it still provides a viable alternative to hormone birth control, which provides its own disadvantages: possible bone loss, blood clots and increased risk to Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.

According to Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, 76 million women in developing countries experience unintended pregnancies annually while 19 million women resort to unsafe abortions.

As for those with access to contraception, there still remains the stigma and cost associated with purchasing them. With proper education, FAM could help women around the world control their lives more effectively, simply by understanding their bodies better.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: WebMD 1, WebMD 2, Mayo Clinic
Photo: Flickr

Universal Access Project
The Universal Access Project’s mission is to achieve the fifth Millennium Development Goal to provide universal access to reproductive health care by 2015.

Today, roughly 222 million women lack the simple luxury in their lives of family planning services. To provide such services would not only help these women; it would improve overall global health, strengthen communities, decrease death rates of mothers and newborns and help alleviate global poverty.

The choice and the freedom to decide if and when to bear a child belong in the category of basic human rights. Providing easy access to contraceptives for women in third-world countries ensures that everyone may enjoy the same rights, and is predicted to reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies worldwide from 7.5 million to 22 million.

The Universal Access Project is chiefly focused on informing and mobilizing U.S. policy makers to support international reproductive health as a major element of U.S. foreign development assistance.

Although often overlooked in the shadow of seemingly more important and immediate issues, universal access to reproductive health care deserves attention. Studies conducted in Zambia have shown that one dollar invested in family planning saves four dollars in other health related issues over time; it also reduces newborn deaths by 44%.

Annually, about 350,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth complications, making it the leading cause of death for women in developing countries. By providing them with family planning options, this number may be reduced by one-third – over 100,000 deaths prevented each year.

A website has been created in affiliation with the Universal Access Project – WhyWeCare.org – which compiles essays by 15 prominent leaders from different fields across the globe who support the initiative. Their stories are personal, touching and motivational, giving readers an accurate and related sense of urgency in regards to this project.

Although 2015 is a little more than a year away, founders of the project and members of the UN Foundation remain confident in its future success. Since the initiative’s start in 2008, U.S. funding for family planning has witnessed a 30% increase.

In the words of CNN news network founder and philanthropist Ted Turner (who is also a contributor to WhyWeCare.org), “Complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death of women in their reproductive years, killing an average of 1,000 women per day. That number is just plain unacceptable in this day and age.”

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: UN Foundation, K4Health, WhyWeCare.org
Photo: The Trenches

Poverty and Overpopulation Impact
It is common knowledge that extremely impoverished areas always seem to be overpopulated, thus adding to the financial and natural resource burdens the area already faces. But the reason for this overpopulation might come to mind for many people.

 

Issues Intertwined: Poverty and Overpopulation

 

There are several reasons that poverty impacts overpopulation in the catalyzing manner that it does. First of all, in countries that are so poor they can barely afford basic necessities, women rarely have access to any type of contraceptive. This doesn’t only cause the issue of booming pregnancies, but it is also a leading cause of death in women in most African countries. This relates to overpopulation because the higher the death rate in children, the higher the birthrate.

Bill Gates once said “the key thing you can do to reduce population growth is actually improve health.”  People who know that their children are going to survive have fewer children. When the life expectancy for children stays as low as it does in many countries, women keep reproducing in an attempt to have healthy children.

According to USAID, overpopulation also results from the underlying issue of a lack of education in poverty stricken areas. The Population Institute also documents that “The U.N. projects the population of the 48 poorest countries in the world will double from 850 million in 2010 to 1.7 billion in 2050.”

The bottom line is: the less poverty there is in an area, the less overpopulation will occur.

– Meagan Hurley

Sources: The United Nations, The Galton Institute, The Borgen Project
Photo: The Image, Deconstructed