While many Iranian policies are worthy of criticism, its system of health clinics, free contraception access and premarital education has been a model for other nations and proof that small families can be achieved in an Islamic nation.
Iran’s health ministry this month confirmed that it has ended family planning funding. Iran has about 75 million citizens. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants more than twice that – 150 to 200 million. Women are being urged to have more children for the good of the nation.
|Women's literacy doubled and maternal mortality dropped under Iran's system of family planning. (Alireza Teimoury/Flickr)|
Whether it’s in Iran or Illinois, contraception saves lives. According to the United Nations Population Fund, expanded access to modern family planning could prevent up to 40 percent of maternal deaths in the world. The leading cause of death for women age 15-19 in the developing world is pregnancy, and adolescents are twice as likely to die in childbirth as women in their 20s.
Family planning has worked in Iran. Maternal mortality has plummeted.
A new Iranian baby boom wouldn’t just hurt women. It would also put enormous pressure on the environment. Iran is suffering from severe drought. The nation is draining its aquifers at such a fast rate, theground is sinking and buildings are cracking in some areas. Between 1971 and 2001, the water table dropped 50 feet. More people require more water, and Iran is already running dangerously short.
There are geopolitical concerns, too. Most of the world’s civil conflicts in the past 40 years have happened in nations with young and fast-growing populations. These “youth bulges” can lead to social breakdown. If economies are weak and unable to provide education, jobs and the possibility of a bright future, societies can become unstable.
So does the end of government-sanctioned family planning programs doom Iran to a future of higher mortality, environmental degradation and instability? It depends. Will women still be able to access contraception? Will affluent Iranians buy birth control while poor families can’t? Will Iranian women put aside their own desires and start having babies out of devotion to their country?
The Iranian government’s original goal was to reduce family size from nearly seven children per woman in the 1980s to four births per woman by 2011. Today, it’s around 1.6. The literacy rate for women has almost doubled. Iranians are marrying later. Many women are working outside the home, providing extra income for their families.
Iranian women aren’t any different than women in America or anywhere else. They want to choose their own path. They don’t want to be forced into early marriages and mandatory motherhood. They’re educated. And when women are empowered through education, they invariably choose to invest their energy in smaller, healthier families.
Regardless of what the clerics think, that’s good news for Iranian women, their families and the planet we all share. Here’s hoping personal choice and reason wins out.
John Seager is president of Population Connection, America’s largest grassroots population organization.