After years of neglect, Pakistan this year adopted a new population policy that promises to boost support for family planning services and information. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told a national convention on population that population growth is a bigger problem than the water and electricity crises that now grip the country. He said, “I take pride in sharing that the Pakistan Peoples Party is the only political party that includes population planning in its party manifesto.”
Current population projections indicate that Pakistan’s population will grow from an estimated 181 million in 2009 to 335 million by 2050 unless fertility rates drop faster than currently projected. At present, women in Pakistan have an average of four children.
In March of this year, Huma Yusuf, who was appointed this week as a Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, wrote a column for Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading daily newspaper, in which she said:
The best news Pakistanis have received in the past week comes in the form of the National Population Policy 2010. The policy recognises that demographics are the key to promoting economic development and security in Pakistan. It also prioritises family planning — particularly in an effort to promote birth spacing — as the best strategy for achieving ambitious population targets (2.1 births per woman in 2025).
In her article, Yusuf stressed that educating girls is as important as family planning and information services. She also stressed, however, that the government’s new policy is:
…short on innovative solutions to address myriad shortfalls in service delivery. For example, little attention is paid to the fact that men must be included in all family planning initiatives. And while there is a call to engage religious leaders in spreading information about contraceptives, no concrete plans for training, outreach and counselling through mosques or madressahs is put forward. There can be no doubt, however, that such campaigns are necessary: one study states that ‘psychosocial’ issues, including a husband’s opposition and perceived religious condemnation, account for 50 per cent of barriers to contraceptive use reported by women.
The government’s new population policy is promising and certainly long overdue, but as Yusuf points out, much will depend on how it’s implemented. If it is successful, the government’s new family planning initiative could be crucial in reducing severe poverty, improving food security, reducing infant and maternal mortality, and elevating the status of women in Pakistan. So far so good.
Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President