7 Billion and Counting -- the World Just Got Smaller
By Susan Graves*
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the world’s population will reach 7 billion by the end of October. This number reflects declining mortality rates and changes in fertility rates. Many parts of the world have experienced downward shifts or stagnation in fertility as others have sees increases. Typically, the least developed nations have the highest fertility rates. While lowered mortality rates are something to celebrate, population growth has different impacts on the lives of women in different regions.
There is a strong correlation between fertility rates and women’s agency. When women have education, access to effective birth control, and opportunities for themselves beyond marriage and parenting, they have what they need to ensure that they live to their full potential. Hania Zlotnik, Director of the United Nations Population Division, connects reducing fertility rates and health related Millennium Development Goals. “Population outcomes are so intimately tied to success in achieving MDGs, which include reducing unmet need for contraception, the achievement of universal education, particularly among girls, and empowering women,” says Ms. Zlotnik.
Suzanne Ehlers, President of Population Action International, also weighed in. “The world hitting 7 billion is a wake-up call for governments to fulfill the global demand for contraception. In developing countries, millions of women want to prevent pregnancy but don’t have access to birth control. This impacts their health, their educational opportunities, and their ability to provide for their families. Ensuring women have access to the family planning they want, starting today, is the first step toward creating healthier lives for each of the 7 billion people on our planet.”
Empowering women to make their own choices regarding childbearing has positive effects on the lives of women and their families. Bringing governments on board with this goal will greatly enhance the efficacy of such efforts. Bangladesh’s government made maternal health education a priority and trained a group of women to conduct home visits to new mothers. During these visits, the trained women would provide education on caring for babies, spacing births, and contraceptive methods, as well as distribute contraceptive supplies. Bangladesh has seen a two thirds decrease in fertility since the 1960s.
Rita Henley Jensen, Editor in Chief of Women’s eNews, shared her endorsement for this model of institutional support. “The report on the current world’s population demonstrates that Bangladesh clearly is on the right track—connecting female health workers with new mothers, teaching them how to care for themselves as well as their infants. The nation’s maternal mortality rate has dropped 40 percent in the last decade. The lesson of Bangladesh is that keeping mothers and infants healthy are reachable goals if the political will exists.”
In commemoration of the 7 billionth person born, the United Nations Population Fund is leading the “7 Billion Actions” campaign, which will culminate on “7 Billion Day” October 31st. It will focus on the 1.7 billion people ages 15-29, whose energy will shape the world’s future.
*Susan Graves graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and is a Communications Intern with the National Council for Research on Women.