The power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children can bolster economic and social development, new UNFPA report shows
The global trend towards smaller families is a reflection of people making reproductive choices to have as few or as many children as they want, when they want. When people lack choice, it can have a long-term impact on fertility rates, often making them higher or lower than what most people desire, according to The State of World Population 2018, published by UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency and launched in Ireland today by An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney TD.
Speaking at the launch, An Tánaiste said: “The UNFPA annual report is, for my Department and for many policymakers, an extremely valuable tool in monitoring the links between population and development. As a Government, and as a donor, Ireland will reflect on the findings of this report and the implications for our work at home and abroad.”
Family size is closely linked with reproductive rights, which, in turn, are tied to many other rights, including the right to adequate health, education, and jobs. Where people can exercise their rights, they tend to thrive. Where these rights are stifled, people often fail to achieve their full potential, impeding economic and social progress, according to the new report, titled “The Power of Choice: Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition”.
Presenting the report in Dublin, UNFPA’s representative, Irishwoman Jacqueline Mahon, said: “Choice can change the world. It can rapidly improve the well-being of women and girls, transform families, and accelerate global development.
“When a woman has the power and means to prevent or delay a pregnancy, for example, she has more control over her health and can enter or stay in the paid labour force and realise her full economic potential.”
The report found that no country can claim that all of its citizens enjoy reproductive rights at all times. Chair of the Oireachtas Interest Group of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Ms Jan O’Sullivan TD, highlighted that: “Most couples cannot have the number of children they want because they either lack economic and social support to achieve their preferred family size, or the means to control their fertility. The unmet need for modern contraception prevents hundreds of millions of women from choosing smaller families. Ireland has a role in addressing the funding gap to address this pressing global need.”
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, reproductive health and rights have substantially improved around the world. People have more information about their reproductive rights and choices, and a greater capacity to claim their rights.
“The historic transition to lower fertility,” said Ms O’Sullivan, “has emerged through people claiming their right to make choices about their reproductive lives, and to have as few, or as many, children as they want, when they want.”
The report classifies all countries in the world by the current dynamics of their populations’ fertility. It makes specific recommendations for policies and programmes that would help each country increase reproductive choices.
It shows that countries of low-fertility, including Ireland, still have much to do, including ensuring access to a full choice of contraceptive methods. The report’s data shows that 11% of Irish women of childbearing age have an unmet need for contraception.
Niall Behan, Chief Executive of Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), UNFPA’s Irish partner, said: “Cost is still a significant barrier. It’s critical that contraception be available for free to all who need it – including long-acting reversible methods. They’re the most effective, and cost-effective, forms of contraception but the high up-front price can put them out of reach of many women in Ireland.”
To make freedom of choice a reality, says the report, countries can prioritise universal access to quality reproductive health care, including modern contraceptives; ensure better education, including age-appropriate sexuality education; advocate for a change in men’s attitudes to be supportive of the rights and aspirations of women and girls; and make it easier for couples to have more children, if they want them, by enabling greater work-life balance through measures such as affordable child care.
“The way forward is the full realisation of reproductive rights, for every individual and couple, no matter where or how they live, or how much they earn,” said Ms Mahon. “This includes dismantling all the barriers – whether economic, social or institutional – that inhibit free and informed choice.”