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