Making Population Connections in Our Crowded Hectic World

Written by John Seager, President and CEO | Published: March 11, 2021

We don’t talk about population issues to a classroom of fifth-graders the same way we would at a retirement community—although our core population stabilization message is always there.

Closing gaps between what we intend to say and what others may hear requires an understanding of what others bring to the table.

It’s still common to hear references to “population control.” Once widely used, the phrase has fallen out of favor. At Population Connection, we no longer refer to population control because it has often been linked to ghastly abuses. Instead, we seek to open up conversations about how reproductive autonomy is essential to meeting population challenges. We share that the way to achieve our population stabilization goals involves “bottom-up” approaches that empower people, not “top-down” methods that seek to control people.

It’s essential that we talk about population challenges in ways that open doors, not close them. Often, this entails doing something that seems to go against the grain as we all cope with the daily deluge of digital detritus. We have to slow down and take time to listen to one another. To employ a malapropism, we might do well to stop “jumping to confusions.”

When we hear something off-putting, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the circumstances. Sometimes, it’s just a different way of talking. Or perhaps it’s coming from someone who has often been excluded from conversations. Now, this doesn’t mean remaining silent when someone starts spouting QAnon nonsense or some such thing. There are statements that need to be directly confronted. More often, it’s a matter of taking a deep breath (or two) before reacting.

Effective communication is essential to meeting global population challenges. There are 218 million women in the Global South who don’t want to have a child, but who have an unmet need for modern contraception. Many report that they aren’t using birth control due to concerns about side effects or health risks. That can stem from misinformation—intentional or otherwise.

One important way to overcome that obstacle is by employing women from the community who look and talk like them so these health workers can engage in private conversations about the very private matter of contraception. As the saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Outcomes can be miraculous. This approach resulted in a doubling of contraceptive prevalence in Ethiopia in just six years.

“We are stronger together.” Hillary Clinton’s pronouncement is spot-on. Yet it’s no easy task these days to bring people together since we live in so many separate worlds. There never seems to be time to converse and get to know one another. Small wonder we can’t get beyond the barriers that separate us.

In these early days of his presidency, Joe Biden has already provided us with a great role model. He’s doing something the “former guy” never, ever did. President Biden is taking the time to listen to people as he has done throughout his career.

One of the best ways we can get vital population messages to people is by providing a platform for respected experts from the Global South. That’s why we’re elevating important voices like Kenya’s Melvine Ouyo, with whom we work, and Guatemala’s Dr. Rodrigo Barillas, who serves on our board of directors. They can share vital firsthand stories about the impacts of overpopulation and how to meet those challenges. That’s one of the best ways we can make population connections.