Two Bills currently going through the Iranian parliament restrict women’s rights to be anything but a baby-maker. The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline includes a ban on education about contraception; the withdrawal of emergency contraceptives; the prohibition of all voluntary sterilisation and the punishment of health professionals who do such procedures. Voluntary sterilisation is believed to be the second most common method of contraception in Iran.
The Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill aims to encourage marriage at young age; to increase multiple children in families; and to reintroduce discrimination against women in the workplace so they are kept at home raising larger families.
Amnesty predicts a backwards effect on women: “reminiscent of a post-1979 Revolution Iran, in which women lacked fundamental human rights as military targets for population growth were aspired to”.
In the Lancet, Mohammad Karamouzian and Ali Akbar Haghdoost “defend Iran’s need to grow its population, and dispute the severity of the bills’ influences on health, arguing that they might be a necessary step to restore population growth to replacement levels”. Mehdi Aloosh continues to raise concerns about both political and sociomedical outcomes. Differences in population growth between ethnic groups or regions might affect the balance of power between political actors nationally and internationally. The economic effects of more expensive contraception can only be negative. Medically, unintended pregnancies, HIV and other STDs, and illegal abortions are likely to increase. The change in policy will also challenge existing educational materials – and so reduce their believability
The Lancet is “alarmed by the potential damage to women and Iranian society, as women’s rights are used as political tools”.
I am also concerned that water has fallen out of the story. Mehdi Aloosh originally noted that “the Iranian energy minister warned about water shortage for more than half of Iran’s population. This mismatch between the number of people and the available water resources should be addressed in every population policy”.
After all, how can a thirsty population be a healthy population?
With thanks to the Lancet for their careful coverage of this important issue.