Happy Easter! I hope you are celebrating this joyful day with friends and family. This hopeful Easter article was in our local NZ Herald. However, today I bring you a story from a predominantly Muslim country, Iran. You might be surprised to know that in recent years the country has experienced one of the most steeply falling fertility rates in the world. The average number of births per woman back in the early 1980s in Iran was 6.08. That dropped to just 1.8 births per woman in 2007. So ‘successful’ was the Family Planning Program introduced in 1966, that the government is now worried that population growth could reach zero within twenty years’ time and that one working age person will soon be required to support seven retired persons. Needless to say, they are attempting to do a quick about turn!
Iran leads Muslim countries in fertility decline. In 2030 Iran will have the lowest percentage of population aged 15-24 in the Muslim world. Iran’s parliament is now seeking to ban vasectomies and tighten abortion rules in an attempt to increase the birth rate. The Family Planning Program had included subsidised male sterilisation surgeries and free condom distribution. However, last year the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticised the existing contraception policy, describing it as an imitation of western lifestyle. He is encouraging the government to tackle the ageing population problem and made it clear that he would like to double the number of people in Iran from 77 million to at least 150 million. The leader has commented that:
“If we move forward like this, we will be a country of elderly people in a not-too-distant future. Why do some couples prefer to have one or two children? Why do couples avoid having children? The reasons need to be studied.. There was an imitation of Western life and we inherited this.”
Unfortunately, the now engrained attitudes of a generation towards marriage and childbirth are not as easily changed as a change in government policy. Women are now much more highly educated and often put off marriage until their late twenties. Even once married many women are hesitant to have more than one or two children least they affect their careers too much. Jobs are often hard to find in Iran and those who have them are not easily willing to give them up. To make matters more difficult, the cost of education and housing is high, in part due to economic sanctions from the international community.
Faezeh Samanian writes in the Asia Times online:
According to new research published in the Etemaad newspaper, those couples who have just married and those who have been married for up to three years show no inclination to have any children at all, or perhaps just one. This tendency over the past decade illustrates that for women of urban and rural backgrounds, from different social classes, the poor and the rich, illiterate and literate, all have a similar attitude to giving birth these days, leading to the rapid downward trend in the Iranian TFR… Aware of their own rights, women are not following traditional norms to have more than one child. They prefer to increase their roles in society instead of having children.
There is so much good in higher education and increased literacy, and therefore choices, for girls and women in Iran over the past few decades. However, it is sad that the empowerment of women need necessarily go hand in hand with not wanting children. Other roles in society should not be viewed as more important or respected than that of having children and supporting a family, whatever balance of those things individual women choose according to their individual situations. Many women, Iranian or not, need greater validation of this.
On a similar note, this recent Youtube clip parodies motherhood if it were a high level corporate job (a little exaggerated perhaps and some people argue fatherhood should also be included, but funny nevertheless!):