Malcolm Potts on empowering Afghanistan’s women
Malcolm Potts: Sixteen thousand women a year die in childbirth in Afghanistan. Women need to be able to control their bodies. That’s a basic human right, I think.
Malcolm Potts is chair of the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability at the University of California – Berkeley. His 2009 book is titled Sex and War. It proposes that biology and reproductive rights are linked to the causes of war and terrorism in Afghanistan
Malcolm Potts: Unless we can do something to increase the autonomy of women in that country, and to increase family planning, we’re wasting our time.
Dr. Potts, an expert in reproductive science and a practicing obstetrician, explained that Afghan women have an average of 7 children. Having worked in Afghanistan for several decades, Potts believes the high birth rate drives many of the country’s problems.
Malcolm Potts: In Afghanistan, the education cannot keep up with ever-increasing numbers of people. So you’ve got literally millions of young men with no opportunity to earn a respectable living, and no education, and they are the people who become the Taliban.
He added that Afghan women are traditionally married at a young age to much older men. He said he believes young men then channel their energy into war. Potts said he agrees with the many studies which suggest that empowering women through increased access to education and contraceptives – plus delaying marriage – is key to 21st century peace and stability.
The United Nations projects that Afghanistan’s population – at 28 million today – will be over 50 million by 2030. In 1950, the population was 8 million. Yet Potts is optimistic that Afghanistan can achieve a decline in the rate of its population growth.
Malcolm Potts: I have a friend who has been working on family planning in Afghanistan, who saw a very rapid uptake when he taught people in the village to help themselves. He gave contraceptives to women in the village, to help women learn how to plan their families. That’s not a difficult or expensive thing to do, but it needs the will to do it.
Potts wrote the United Nations budget for family planning in Afghanistan. Family planning, he said, involves providing access to contraceptives for people who want to limit the size of their families.
Potts pointed to the young age at which women get married as an obstacle to peace.
Malcolm Potts: If you’re 14, married to a 25 year old man, and you can’t decide when to have a child, you’re going to love that child when it arrives, then the next one is going to arrive, and you’ll do nothing until menopause except be pregnant and breastfeeding children. You’ll probably be a very good mother and love your children. But if somebody says, look, there’s another choice, you will smile and say, “That’s fantastic. Let me have just two children when I’m mature enough and able to look after them. And let me be an autonomous woman and do useful things. Let me make sure that my children can be healthy and educated. Let me make a better world.”