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Key Drivers of Population Growth: Gender Inequality 

Oct 27, 2022

The denial of basic human rights drives population growth. All people, especially women and girls, need education, the ability to earn an income, and the ability to choose when or if they have children. Girls who have agency over their reproductive health pursue the lives they want and inevitably help stabilize the global population. Girls who receive an education become empowered to participate in local, regional, national, and global conversations, sharing their creativity, innovations, and values. What’s right for girls is also right for the planet. 


Empowerment can be interpreted in two slightly different ways: 

  1. The process of giving  power or authority to someone. 
  1. The process of someone gaining  more strength, confidence, and control over her life and personal rights. Population Media Center (PMC) focuses on this aspect of empowerment as we work to help women and girls. 

If we are striving toward a sustainable planet with equal rights for all, we must correct gender inequalities around the globe. Unfortunately, women are facing a dizzying array of systemic oppressions, including: 

One of the key drivers of population growth is gender inequality. Around the world, where women are denied basic rights and freedoms—like the right to an education, the freedom to work outside the home, the right to their own bodily autonomy and the right to marry whom they want, when they want—the population growth rate is higher than in places where women have these rights.  

There are a number of reasons why this is so. The key element, however, is the lack of control over their own lives that women face in many areas around the globe. 

How Gender Inequality Forces Women to Have More Children 

When women are denied opportunities like education and jobs because of their gender, their fertility rate tends to be higher than the global average of 2.4 births per woman. High fertility rates are a major cause of population growth.  

The nations with the highest fertility rates are located in sub-Saharan Africa, and include Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Chad, among other countries in the region. Gender inequality in education also persists in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in some areas of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Gender inequality in general, including within the educational system, also exists in the United States. Gender inequality exists around the world. Inequality for women doesn’t exist in only one place, at one time, it exists everywhere, all the time.  

In some places, girls are not only denied educational opportunities, but are actively prevented from attending school by kidnappings and intimidation. In 2021, hundreds of girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in Nigeria at gun point. Poverty can also prevent girls from attending school—they are often needed to help with chores at home, to care for younger siblings, or to earn money for the family. Of course, widespread poverty also means that many governments are unable to adequately fund public education for both boys and girls. Since its inception, Population Media Center has been working on changing behaviors around child abduction, to learn more, watch the video below.  

Power In Numbers

In this video, PMC’s Bill Ryerson speaks about impacting child abduction in Ethiopia.

Taboos around menstruation—some form of which is seen globally—also cause many girls across the world to miss school or even drop out completely when they have their first menstrual period. That is why Population Media Center partners with organizations like UNICEF to break taboos – and make clear, menstruation is not a problem.  

Group of people standing around a Training of Trainers sign

Nations in this region also have a high rate of child marriage. Girls are married when they are still children themselves, making them completely reliant on the men in their lives. They have children earlier and more often, and this tends to be true of their daughters as well, perpetuating the problem over generations. 

The lack of educational opportunities for girls and women is a major developmental problem. In order for anyone to have a chance at an independent life with power and agency over their own lives, having an education is extremely important. Without education, a large percentage of potential careers disappear. What is left are low-paying,  jobs—or no job at all. Without a way to earn money, women are forced to rely on others to support them. This denies them agency in their own lives and makes them dependent on their husbands, fathers, and male family members for their livelihoods.   

Those women who are dependent on men for their survival often lack the power to make decisions about when and if to have children. Men make the decisions about when to have children and how many children to have. When women are forced into marriages when they are children themselves, their childbearing years are lengthened, and they tend to have more children over their lifetime as a result. 

Lack of Access to Health Services and Family Planning 

Besides education and opportunities to earn an income, women need access to family planning to fully understand their options regarding having children. A vital factor in stopping unwanted pregnancies is the use of contraceptives, which is one cause of the global decline in fertility rates over the past six decades. However, in many parts of the world, women never learn about contraceptives and how they can aid in family planning.  

A United Nations Population Fund report found that over 250 million women around the world want to avoid pregnancy, but are not using modern, safe contraceptive methods. This may be due to several factors, including lack of knowledge, fear of side effects, and spousal or religious disproval. The report also found that a shocking 25 percent of women worldwide feel unable to refuse demands for sex. In many places across the world, these vital services exist, but a women’s right or power to access them for herself, at she see’s fit, is unavailable to them. This is due to patriarchal norms, which we will explore in another blog soon.  

Biases in favor of men over women affect women’s health, too. When male children are preferred over female children, girls tend to have less resources devoted to their health. These girls are more likely to be seen as a burden and so are not given the same care that boys are. No woman, no girl, no child, no person, no living being, should ever be considered a burden. Population Media Center is working to end that belief and you can help.  

Women’s and Girls’ Rights Are Key to a Sustainable Global Population 

When women are denied basic human rights, all of humanity suffers. Beyond the moral dimension, gender inequality creates conditions that drive unchecked population growth. This growth, in turn, stresses the ability of governments and societies to provide basic necessities like education, healthcare, housing, and jobs. Resources are strained, and poverty increases, which makes countries vulnerable to unrest and violence. When women suffer, we all suffer.  

When women are allowed to receive an education, when they aren’t forced into marriage as a child, and when they have opportunities outside the household, they have more control over their lives. They can choose to marry, or not, and to decide whether and when to have children. When women have the power to make these decisions about their own bodies and their own lives, they tend to have fewer children.  

It’s clear that gender inequality is a major factor driving population growth. Women’s and girls’ rights are essential to achieving a sustainable global population. Without addressing gender inequality, it will be impossible to stabilize the global population at a level where everyone has the resources they need to live healthy, prosperous lives.  


Promoting female empowerment is a sure-fire way to improve global sustainability, but we can’t solve these problems if we have a narrow view of what “female empowerment” really is. We must tackle the systemic problems that prevent gender equality worldwide.  

This is why PMC focuses on promoting positive behavior change to address the long-standing personal and social issues that keep women from gaining equality. Since 1998 we have broadcast more than 50 shows in more than 30 languages, telling compelling stories that help address deeply embedded personal and social issues in a variety of cultures.   

By promoting the rights of women and girls, we can get closer to key global sustainability goals, which are more imperative than ever, as the world approaches a population of over 8 Billion People. See how you can help us make an impact today.