The UN is treating women’s bodies as mere instruments

Sadhvi Sharma

Topics Politics

The latest United Nations figures show that a record number of women in developing countries, especially in poorer regions, are now using contraceptives. This is good news because it means that more and more women now have greater control over their own bodies. But it’s not the expansion of women’s freedom that has cheered UN agencies. No, they’re excited about the rise in contraceptive use because it will control population growth.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) expects the world’s population to be reduced by a billion with the increase in access to family planning. Speaking to the Guardian, a UNFPA official said that ‘if all actors can work together to provide women in every country with the means, which is their right, to voluntarily exercise yet another right to freely determine their family size, then we are likely to see a significant slowing of global population growth’. This is to view the ability to freely determine one’s family size as secondary to the imperatives of population control. Women’s bodies are turned into a means to a population-controlling end.

But women are not the tools of population engineers who see human life as a threat to the planet. Contraception has little to do with such a misanthropic worldview. It’s about the expansion of women’s autonomy – it means that women can now choose for themselves whether and when to have children, as well as how many. This affords women greater control over their lives, and frees them from the constraints and diktats of nature.

Ironically, population-control zealots, who believe in the Malthusian idea of nature’s finitude, use women’s ability to control their bodies’ natural functions effectively to defer to nature. A population-control agenda limits women’s freedom and choice. According to this view, greater access to reproductive rights is a cause for celebration only so long as women do not choose to have more children, so long as they make the ‘right’ choice. This is the complete antithesis of autonomy.

Women’s reproductive freedom must not be used as an instrument by population-control advocates to further their neo-Malthusian agendas.

Sadhvi Sharma is a writer and researcher based in London, and has a PhD in international political economy from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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Topics Politics


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