Population Control: A Social Perspective


Erin Dwyer-Frazier

The population explosion in the last one hundred years is a well-documented, and well-examined subject matter. All sorts of agencies have devoted time and resources to studying, problematizing, and strategizing in order to deal with the threat of overpopulation. Diverse groups, including the United Nations, have developed plans to encourage population control and decreased fertility rates. I will not go into the specifics of these plans here, as I will be examining them in detail in my presentation next week. However, I will say that population control in Third World nations have become an essential component of public policy, and have taken on many forms around the world. However, it seems possible that we are all jumping the gun. What if the population explosion is a self-correcting problem? There is some evidence that global fertility rates are naturally declining, even in areas without family planning and population control. Could the improved health and education in many countries be achieving this goal without specific population control measures? Or else, are changes in the environment simply lowering human’s fertility? In addition, some people argue that it doesn’t matter how whether the population is exploding. There are those proponents of the “tech-fix,” who believe that human ingenuity is capable of dealing with any human population, and therefore the population explosion is not a problem. Malthusians are faced with many opponents in the modern day, and it does not seem to be likely that experts will reach a consensus on the danger of population growth any time through. However, I am not sure that this should put an end to the notion of family planning and population control. Voluntary, moderate population control methods are still desirable for several reasons, including public health, and women’s issues.

When I refer to public health, I mean the spread of certain illnesses that are dangerous to the entire community as a whole. AIDS, syphilis, and other STD’s are certainly prominent examples of these illnesses. The focus on family planning and population control can facilitate the spread of birth control, and education about birth control. The education and spread of condoms, and other birth control methods, is an extremely important issue in most of the world right now. Unfortunately, the education is often failing because of the lack of infrastructure, facilities, and capital necessary to do the job efficiently. However, in nations with preexisting policies of population control could integrate safe sex into the already existing framework of education. However, in those nations with no such programs, population control programs are additional paths through which to spread the safe sex message. In addition, since many NGO’s and the UN provide additional funding for population control methods, it is another way for developing nations to gain assistance in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other STDs. However, family planning also has generally positive effects for women in nations that practice it.

Modern forms of birth control and family planning often emphasize the women’s role in minimizing the size of the family. The choice to use birth control and to continue a pregnancy often lies in the hand of the women. The right to have control over their own reproductive health is a significant one for women around the world. Even in places where a woman has no right to refuse the advances of her husband or another man, they may still have the right to choose to use some kind of protection. Though ideally this would be a decision a woman would make in concert with her husband, it can also be a decision made independently. The availability of birth control also frees up female sexual inhibitions before marriage. Though a woman may choose to abstain from sexual activity prior to marriage because of a religious or social reason, birth control makes this a decision that each woman can make on her own. Since birth control limits the danger of pregnancy, sex becomes an act that is safer and equally available to men and women. This is a significant step in the liberation of women, and is why American feminists fought and continue to fight for complete reproductive freedom for women. If this right comes through the guise of population control rather than true feminist sentiment, it at least allows a first step that can be built off of by women around the world. I am a firm believer that a small first step is a good thing, even if it does not reach the perceived goal.

In addition, family planning and population control can have positive effects on women’s health as well. First I will make it clear that I am not speaking of any of the more drastic methods of population control, such as enforced one child only policies, involuntary abortions, or forced sterilization. These obviously have such detrimental psychological side effects that they would outweigh any female health gains. However, voluntary education and encouragement of family planning can have positive health benefits. The increase in time between pregnancies, and the decrease in number of total pregnancies decreases the physical strain placed on an individual mother. In addition, in nations where health care is not fully developed, the dangers to a pregnant mother before, during, and after childbirth are even more intense. It seems logical to assume that having fewer children would decrease the chances of terrible, and possibly deadly side effects of pregnancy. There are also some theories that smaller families are healthier for the psychological state of the mother, and the healthy development of the children. However, I feel as though this may be based on a western-centric theory of child rearing that may not show true cultural sensitivity. However, I think that the benefits to women’s physiological health are based on fairly solid ground.

Family planning and other population controls do not have the sole benefit of decreasing fertility rates for the protection of the environment and our eventual resources. In fact, there are those who reject Malthus’ theory entirely, and claim that there will be no population crisis, because either Gia or human ingenuity will be able to solve the problem. However, even if I agreed with the opponents of Malthus, I am not sure that I would support the end of all voluntary methods of population control. I think that the spread of population control methods, including education about health issues and birth control, can have significantly positive benefits around the world. First, it may be able to slow the spread of AIDS and other STDs by spreading knowledge and condoms to places where the AIDS virus is prevalent. In addition, birth control and family planning is a key element in the improvement and increase in women’s rights. I do believe that a women’s right to reproductive freedom was a monumental victory for the feminist movement here in America. In addition, the benefits of birth control to women’s physical health are also very important. The decrease in number of pregnancies, and the increase in time between births are important in making childbirth safer and healthier for women. Population control may be useless and unnecessary when it comes to actually addressing the “population explosion,” but it produces positive side-benefits that may be as important as its primary objective.

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