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Population + Human Rights

Population activists know that to achieve population stabilization, the human rights of all people will need to be fully realized. Especially important are women’s rights and, specifically, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. This means that good population advocacy should always speak out against oppressive cultural practices such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, fistula-based ostracism, forced-prostitution, slavery, and child marriage. Likewise, the rights of all people to make reproductive choices, including the use of family planning techniques and modern contraception, must be supported by population activists.

Promoting gender equality is a major part of the conversation about global population stabilization too. How well a society treats its women is one of the strongest indicators of the success and health of that society. Even now, gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development. While girls and women have made some advances over the last 20 years, they still suffer from prejudice and discrimination in health, education, political representation, labor markets, etc. — with negative repercussions for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice. With these rights impinged upon or totally absent, family size decisions are often controlled by husbands or in-laws and end up being larger than if women could truly decide for themselves how many children to have and when. Such injustices add to global population growth and increases human pressure on the Earth’s natural systems.

Education is another human right that must be realized to achieve global population stabilization. Education provides people with freedom, empowering them to pursue life dreams, understand choices, and make informed decisions. Around the world, girls in particular are often denied the opportunity to attend school because their education is not considered as valuable as a boy’s. Research has shown that investing in girls’ education — especially secondary education — is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty and other social and health challenges.

Universal, unrestricted access to contraception and family planning information and services is a human right that is a non-negotiable priority for a sustainable future. Population activists everywhere must stridently advocate for this human right to be fully realized. Achieving universal, unrestricted access to contraception and family planning information and services will not only strengthen individual rights — but such access also reliably helps create the conditions where smaller family size decisions become common and unintended and unwanted pregnancies less common.

As population activists, we absolutely must advocate for the realization of the human rights agenda — not only is this the ethical path forward in terms of empowering individual people around the world, but failure to ensure human rights for all people results in the failure to stabilize population. Therefore, if we fail on human rights, we will also fail on the rights of other species to exist, the rights for people to have access to the food, land, and other natural resources they require — as rapid population growth will continue far into the next century.

Download a fact sheet on human rights initiatives by Population Media Center.

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