It sounds like something from George Orwell’s 1984, rather than a new government scheme being rolled out in the 21st century, but the Iranian government have confirmed plans to scrap the existing birth control programme in an effort to spark a baby boom.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a recent speech that the country would aim to increase its existing population of 75 million to between 150 and 200 million. He wrote a statement on his website saying: “Given the importance of population size in sovereign might and economic progress … firm, quick and efficient steps must be taken to offset the steep fall in birth rate of recent years.” This follows the same school of thought as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said that a larger population is needed in order for Iran to defeat the West.
However, the drive for more births isn’t completely misguided. A global report published by the UN in 2009 suggested that Iran has experienced the largest drop in fertility rates since 1980. This correlates with a previous attempt at population control by the Iranian government the same decade, which funded birth control, vasectomies and family planning advice for newly-weds. The plan, dubbed “fewer kids, better life” was put in place when officials feared the country was becoming overpopulated and resources couldn’t cope with a baby boom.
Many Iranians are worried that this control is a step in the wrong direction for women’s rights. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was clear that women should devote their lives to housework and childrearing, and reformists think this campaign follows a similar pattern. There is already an outcry regarding the discrepancy of university educated women and women who work – 60 per cent of university students are female, but only 12.4 per cent are in the workforce.
Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told Iranian journalists: “The budget for the population control programme has been fully eliminated and such a project no longer exists in the health ministry. The policy of population control does not exist as it did previously.”
Whether this new drive results in a baby boom is yet to be seen, but it’s clear that women will have much less access to family planning.