Population policy: Between self-determined family planning and selective birth control
In 2021 the population of the Earth reached 7.8 billion. While birth rates are decreasing in many places, other regions are experiencing steady population growth. The term “population policy” refers to political measures aimed at changing the size and composition of a country’s population. To this end, state institutions intervene directly or indirectly in the reproductive behaviour of citizens by making laws, initiating policy programmes, or launching campaigns. A distinction can be made between pro-natalist, i.e. birth-promoting, and anti-natalist, i.e. birth-reducing, measures.
While in the Global North people are encouraged to have children, in the Global South programmes of so-called development aid tend to aim at reducing the birth rate. A connection is often drawn between population growth and poverty or resource scarcity instead of focusing on the unjust distribution of wealth and resources. Until the 1990s, international population conferences primarily followed the idea of reducing populations in the Global South. The 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo marked the beginning of a paradigm shift that is continuing to this day. That is when sexual and reproductive rights were recognised as human rights for the first time.
The so-called Cairo Consensus – an alliance between women’s health NGOs and the “population establishment” – is regarded as a disruption to the purely quantitative and neo-Malthusian population policy of the Global North. However, many feminists and activists from affected regions see the Consensus as a way of disguising population control in the Global South as feminism. What is certain is that the issues of population policy and sexual and reproductive rights and health remain controversial around the globe.