October 7, 2015

Women’s Empowerment Is Critical to Family Planning Progress

Written by Peter Goldstein, Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Population Reference Bureau


Every year, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) compiles the latest demographic data for more than 200 countries in its annual World Population Data Sheet package of print and digital content, available at worldpopdata.org. The Data Sheet also includes projections for each country’s population in 2050. In Indonesia, for example, the population is pegged at 366.5 million in 2050, up 43 percent from the current level. World population is seen rising to 9.8 billion from 7.3 billion.

The numbers underline the importance of promoting sound family planning policies to contain unsustainable population growth rates. And advancements in family planning hinge on empowering women so they can make their own reproductive choices.

That’s why we chose women’s empowerment as the theme for this year’s Data Sheet. The digital Data Sheet package includes a Data Gallery focusing on essential components of women’s empowerment. Below are a few highlights from the Data Gallery relating to issues addressed in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and also likely to be key topics of discussion at the International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia.

Strive to Meet More Demand With Modern Methods

“Demand for family planning satisfied with modern methods” has emerged as a key indicator of contraceptive availability and use. Modern contraceptive use measures the proportion of women who want to delay or limit childbearing and who are using modern methods of contraception. Family planning experts have urged countries to strive for meeting at least 75 percent of demand with modern methods.


Over the past two decades, a significant number of less developed countries have seen increases in the share of demand satisfied with modern methods, but many countries remain far below the proposed 75 percent benchmark. To meet this demand, we will truly need “Global Commitments, Local Actions”—the theme of this year’s ICFP. Countries will need to accelerate progress over the coming decade so that increased contraceptive use can translate into improved maternal and child health, slower population growth, increased economic well-being, and environmental sustainability.

Better Employment Opportunities Can Help Delay Marriages

Early marriage (before age 18) undermines the rights and livelihood opportunities of adolescent girls by leaving them vulnerable to the health risks of early pregnancy and childbearing, and prematurely ending their schooling. Rates of early marriage have declined broadly in the past 20 years, particularly among girls who are under age 15. Part of the overall decline reflects improvements in girls’ access to education: As girls educational attainment improves, the proportion marrying early tends to fall. Better employment opportunities for women and girls also can help delay marriages.

In Bangladesh, for example, expanded employment in the garment industry is linked to notably lower rates of marriage among rural migrants under age 15. The percentage of Bangladeshi girls married by age 18 has declined much more slowly as the youngest potential brides tend to postpone marriage by only a few years. The majority of Bangladeshi girls continue to marry before age 18.

Long Path to Achieve Zero Tolerance to Violence

Violence against women poses a serious challenge to women’s empowerment. Combating such violence often requires changing the attitudes and beliefs of both men and women. In fact, in some countries, substantial percentages of women actually agree that a husband has the right to beat a wife under certain circumstances. Many of these women believe a husband is justified in hitting a wife who goes out on her own without telling the husband. It is encouraging that these beliefs appear to be moderating in most countries.

For example, in 2013, 13 percent of Nigerian men and 25 percent of Nigerian women viewed a wife leaving home without telling the husband as justification for wife beating, down from 19 percent and 32 percent, respectively, in 2008. Zambia also showed notable drops for both men and women between 2007 and 2013-2014. Globally, however, there is still a long path to achieve zero global tolerance of this harmful practice.

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