There are about 214 million women around the world who want to avoid pregnancy but don’t have access to contraception, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Addressing this unmet need is part of the inspiration for the theme of this year's World Population Day on Tuesday: "family planning." 

The world has 7.6 billion people in it, and by 2023 the United Nations predicts there will be more than 8 billion people who call the planet home. In Africa alone, the continent with the highest fertility rate and lowest use of modern contraceptives, 26 countries will double their population by 2050, according to the U.N.

“Fundamentally if you’re looking at World Population Day, it is at heart a women’s rights issue,” said Roger-Mark DeSouza director of population, environmental security, and resilience at the non-partisan policy Wilson Center, based in Washington, D.C.

World Population Day is meant to draw attention to the challenges we face with a human population that is constantly growing. Rapid population growth in the poorest countries leads to rapid consumption of natural resources, which makes it difficult for countries to feed themselves and recover from the effects of climate change, such as increased flooding, DeSouza said.

The population of the least developed countries grows about 2.4% per year, with a birth rate of 4.3 children per woman. DeSouza said this rate of growth will be unsustainable if the level of consumption in developing countries reaches that of the industrialized world.

Many African countries are addressing this issue by investing money in women’s empowerment, including the unmet need for contraceptives and education, he said. Improving women’s rights can be a powerful tool to tackle unsustainable population growth:

 

  • In both the developing and industrialized world, women with more education have fewer children, according to the World Bank
  • Access to safe family planning options not only allows women to become more economically productive but would also result in a 75% decline in unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and induced abortions in developing regions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive justice, and sexual health research institution.
  • Access to contraception and information about family planning are vital components of gender equality. According to the UNFPA, "When women and couples are empowered to plan whether and when to have children, women are better enabled to complete their education; women’s autonomy within their households is increased, and their earning power is improved."

 

Read the rest of the story on USA Today