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Everything You Need To Know About World Population Day 2020

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by Balwant Singh Mehta, Simi Mehta and Arjun Kumar (IMPRI)

When the world’s population reached 5 billion on 11 July 1987, it was observed as the “Five Billion Day” by the United Nations. Taking inspiration from this, the then Governing Council of the United Nations’ Development Program for the first time in 1989 launched an initiative to observe 11 July as the World Population Day every year to garner world’s attention towards the urgency and importance of population issues.

As population explosion as a cause of serious concern began to take the center-stage, the themes of the World Population Day focused on the health problems faced by childbearing women and the importance of family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and human rights. With the current global population at 7.8 billion and an estimate of 9 billion people by 2050, the massive surge in the population is identified to be the causal factor of developmental concerns in several countries. It becomes more conspicuous for developing and lesser developed countries. Therefore, World Population Day assumes paramount importance because it highlights the problems of increasing population and raises awareness about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and planet.

World Population Day 2020: Theme

This year the theme of the World Population Day 2020 is to raise awareness about safeguarding sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year the theme of the World Population Day 2020 is to raise awareness about safeguarding sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is very timely and significant because many pregnant women succumb to poor reproductive healthcare. A study by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) revealed that 800 women die every day during the process of childbirth. UNFPA research highlighted that if the lockdown continues for 6 months, with continued major disruption to health services, then 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries might not have access to modern contraceptives.

This would, in turn, lead to 7 million unintended pregnancies. This could lead to a rise in gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages, and thus threaten the transformative results attained thus far in raising the health conditions of women. Thus, the dedicated theme of this year’s World Population Day assumes critical significance with its primary aim to ensure greater awareness and advocacy for people to boost their sexual and reproductive health and heed to the importance of family planning.

India’s Concerns

The concern for India on the World Population Day is clear: it has just 2% of the world’s landmass and 16% of the global population. Between the Census of 2001 and 2011, the country added 18% more people to its population — translating to around 181 million. It is the second-most populous country in the world with an estimated population of around 1.37 billion by 2019. According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, India’s population is expected to add nearly 273 million people in the next three decades and surpass China’s population within the next 7 years. In this context, the importance of sexual and reproductive health of women and planned parenthood on the World Population Day 2020 underscores some major concerns for the country.

These are:

  • Birth Rate and Death Rate

Birth rate and death rate are important factors for the population explosion in India. Over the years, the death rate and birth rate were almost the same, up to the mid-20th century, which meant a slow rate of growth of population. However, with gradual improvement in the access to healthcare facilities, level of education, availability of proper nutrition and diet etc., people began to live longer and the death rate began to decline. This mismatch in birth and death rate resulted in faster growth of population in the past few decades. As of 2020, India has registered birth rate at 18.2 per 1000 population and death rate at 7.3 per 1000 population.

  • Poverty and Illiteracy
Lack of education prevents women from having full knowledge about the use of contraceptives, of the consequences of frequent childbirth as well as of their reproductive rights.

Poverty and illiteracy also contribute immensely to the population explosion. In particular, children in rural areas are considered as assets, who will take care of parents at old age, while in poorer families, more children mean more earning hands. On the other hand, the level of female education has a direct impact on fertility, as it is evidenced that the fertility rate of illiterate women tends to be higher than those who are literate. Lack of education prevents women from having full knowledge about the use of contraceptives, of the consequences of frequent childbirth as well as of their reproductive rights. On the other hand, educated women understand their rights and choices of contraception, are often vocal against early marriage and choose not to have many children. In India, female (39%) illiteracy was almost twice than their male counterparts in 2011.

  • Family Planning and Other Social Factors

Even after 69 years of the creation of the National Family Planning Program, the pattern of family planning has not changed much in the country. The National Family Health Survey (2015-2016) revealed that use of condoms declined by 52% over eight years and vasectomies fell to 73%. Added to this, women still lack the power to negotiate and choose if they are willing to get pregnant or wish to give birth to a baby, whether it is a boy or a girl. Preference for male children by families is still prevalent in the overwhelmingly patriarchal society in the country. In this process, a woman ends up being pregnant multiple times and producing many children until a male child is born.

  • Total Fertility Rate

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the average number of children born to women during their reproductive years. For the population to remain stable, an overall total fertility rate of 2.1 is needed. Hence, a TFR of 2.1 is known as the replacement rate. India has witnessed a steady decline in its TFR, which touched 2.3 in 2016. However, there are huge variations across states and the income level of people. Poorer states like Bihar (3.2), Uttar Pradesh (3.1), Jharkhand (2.7) and Rajasthan (2.7) still have TFRs above 2.5, while the poorest household has a TFR of 3.2 children per woman compared to 1.5 children per woman from the affluent families. This shows that population growth is more concentrated in economically weaker sections of society and poorer regions of the country.

  • High Youth Unemployment and Demographic Disaster

India has the highest number of the youth population in the world, i.e. around 28% of the total population. This youth potential is often referred to as the ‘demographic dividend’ which means that if the youth available in the country are equipped with quality education and skills training, then they will not only get suitable employment but can also contribute effectively towards the economic development of the country. Every year, around 25 million people enter the workforce, but only 7 million are able to secure jobs, resulting in huge unemployment rates. Around 18% of the youth labour force is unemployed in the country today, and around 33% of the total youth are not in employment, education and training (NEET), which is highest in the world. This huge unemployed and NEET category of youth are turning demographic dividend into a demographic disaster for India.

Way Forward

Population growth constantly acts as a hurdle in effectively addressing the problems of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and in providing a better quality of health and education, with limited resources. COVID-19 has accentuated these challenges and also raised concerns on the timely attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is therefore important to understand that in order to have a better future for all on a healthy planet, attainment of the SDGs is critical.

Family Lockdown
The government at all levels — Union, State and Local, citizens, civil societies as well as the businesses must take the onus to promote awareness and advocate for the sexual and reproductive rights of women and encourage the use of contraception.

Family planning is an effective tool to ensure a stable rise in the population, which in turn is crucial for the achievement of some of these SDGs. The government at all levels — Union, State and Local, citizens, civil societies as well as the businesses must take the onus to promote awareness and advocate for the sexual and reproductive rights of women and encourage the use of contraception. This would go a long way in ensuring that every child who is born proves to be an asset for the country, as all the research shows that investing in family planning and well-being measures have significant benefits over per Rupee cost spent vis-à-vis other investments.

Additionally, the key stakeholders need to be committed to well-researched planning and implementation on how to harness the population growth for the maximum economic benefit of the society and country. Providing adequate education and training to the large young population would ensure them to be productive, effective and competent, thereby proving themselves as key contributors to economic growth. Therefore, the World Population Day, 2020 is an opportune time to discuss these important issues and raise awareness about safeguarding sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, so that corrective measures can be taken to overcome these challenges towards the vision of ‘New India’ and an ‘AtmaNirbhar Bharat’.

The article was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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