PMC Statement on World Population Day

July 10, 2009 • Serial Dramas, News

July 11, 2009 marks the 20th Anniversary of World Population Day. “Investing in Women,” this year’s theme, draws attention to the importance of improving the health and opportunity of women worldwide in order to create a more just and balanced world. By focusing on the plight of women around the world on World Population Day, we are able to understand this issue as both one of human rights and also as vital to global sustainability.

The world population has reached an unprecedented 6.8 billion people, and it continues to grow by approximately 80 million people each year. As a direct result of this growth, the world faces unparalleled challenges, including climate change, food and water shortages, loss of biodiversity, and a severe energy crisis.

Ninety-five percent of this growth is in the poorest countries that are the least equipped to feed, educate or employ these additional people. Such growth is contributing to both poverty and environmental destruction on a widespread basis. These countries are struggling to provide for their existing populations, and even while making strides to improve their infrastructure, they are unable to keep up with the extreme population growth. Developing nations now require about $1 trillion per year in new infrastructure development just to accommodate their population increases – a figure that is very far from being met and is effectively impossible for these countries to generate. Worse, the challenges these countries and their citizens face are exaggerated by tough economic times.

Since World War II, no country has gone from developing status to developed status without first reducing birth rates and population growth rates. The reason is simple. Reduced family size enables couples and nations to save a higher percentage of their income and invest it in education, government, and industry — all of which lead to increased productivity of the economy, greater employment, and higher incomes. Countries with large families tend to spend all of their income on immediate consumption needs of food, housing and clothing and have little left over to invest. As a result, fast-growing countries tend to suffer from economic stagnation, as is evident from many countries in the developing world.

Uplifting women throughout the world by providing girls with the opportunity for an education, delaying the age of marriage and childbearing until adulthood, improving reproductive health, and developing a culture that gives women the ability to make decisions about their future and their families’ future is critical to tackling the numerous challenges we face today. By recognizing and achieving fundamental human rights for all women, they will be freed of the economic reliance on men and therefore have the freedom and ability to improve their own lives.

The countries that have most successfully reduced population growth have emphasized changing attitudes of the people regarding the role of women, ideal family size, age of first pregnancy, and the benefits of using modern contraceptives. In fact, recent Demographic and Health Surveys have found that, among the reasons given for not using contraception by women who are not pregnant and do not want to become pregnant, lack of access to contraceptives is mentioned infrequently. The top reasons generally are lack of knowledge, concern with possible side effects, opposition from the husbands, and religious beliefs.

While access to family planning services clearly plays an important role in stabilizing population numbers, today the heart of the problem lies in attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate male dominance and the desire for large families. To address these cultural and informational barriers, Population Media Center develops long-running serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role-models for the audience to bring about changes in the audience’s attitudes and behaviors.

The mass media is a highly effective vehicle for accelerating acceptance of family planning and small family norms since it reaches large numbers of people at a very low cost per person reached. Serial dramas are especially well-adapted to showing an evolution of key characters from traditional attitudes toward modern attitudes regarding family communications, the role of women, family size decisions, and the use of family planning. Population Media Center has now successfully replicated and adapted its model for behavior change in 24 countries around the world.

Today, on the 20th Anniversary of the first World Population Day, please join Population Media Center in our commitment to create a world where women are educated and empowered to make healthy decisions about their family size; where women have a voice and are heard; where reproductive health services are available and accessible to all; where every family can afford to feed, clothe, and educate their children; where communities live in balance with the earth’s resources — and where together we can protect and share our planet.

– A Message from William N. Ryerson, President of Population Media Center

Population Media Center is a nonprofit, international non-governmental organization working worldwide to promote use of effective communication strategies for promoting behavior change to improve family and reproductive health. The organization’s work is concentrated on entertainment broadcasting, particularly on long-running serial dramas in which characters evolve into role models for adoption of family planning, delayed marriage and childbearing, elevation of women’s status, avoidance of HIV/AIDS, and related social and health goals.

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