Population & Reproductive Health

Gender, Population and Reproductive Health

The issue: Population and Reproductive Health

The links between gender, population and reproductive health are complex, but inequalities that deprive women of rights and opportunities clearly influence population dynamics such as fertility rates, marriage patterns, age and sex structures. Gender disparities also affect sexual and reproductive health because economically and socially disadvantaged women are less likely to access health services and information, negotiate safer sex and act upon self-defined reproductive choices.

For many women and girls in developing countries, reproductive health outcomes are dismal. Some 290,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes and nearly all of those deaths occur in the developing world. Additionally, 222 million women want to delay or avoid pregnancy, but are not using effective contraceptives.

At the same time, youth ages 15 to 24 comprise as much as 47 percent of the population in developing countries. Adolescent girls in poor communities face obstacles, including early marriage and childbearing, that impede their ability to make healthy transitions into adulthood, oftentimes with tragic consequences. Complications during pregnancy or childbearing are consistently among the top causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 in developing countries.

Since the early 1990s, the international community has recognized that sound population and development policies depend on improving the status of women and advancing and protecting their rights. As a result, there is broad international consensus around goals to provide universal education, particularly for girls and women; ensure women’s and men’s access to sexual and reproductive health care; and empower women through equitable social and economic development. Women and men should be able to freely decide the number and spacing of their children. They also should have access to sexual and reproductive health information, options and services that allow them to attain good health.

Achieving these goals will help create an environment in which women are better able to contribute fully to the societies in which they live.

Our role

ICRW strives to demonstrate that improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes are pre-conditions for achieving gender equality, empowering women and reducing global poverty. ICRW’s research in this area aims to build a sound evidence base to inform programs and policies by:

  • Defining the fundamental connections between gender, reproductive health and development
  • Highlighting the importance of adolescent transitions to adulthood
  • Analyzing means for facilitating women’s access to safe and effective reproductive control options
  • Undertaking rigorous evaluations to demonstrate what works

Our approach examines how gender equality is both a determinant and a consequence of demographic change. For example, our current research suggests that as fertility rates decline in developing countries, women gain increased access to higher education and formal employment opportunities. This in turn can facilitate more transformative shifts in gender relations. Findings such as these bolster the policy directive that advancing women’s and girls’ reproductive health creates conditions that improve the quality of life for individuals, families, communities and nations.

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