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United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tokyo Office -Considering Population Issues from Micro Perspectives.  Enabling Individuals to Lead the Lives They Wish-

Ms. Junko Sazaki, Director of UNFPA Tokyo Office.

Ms. Junko Sazaki, Director of UNFPA Tokyo Office. The photo was taken at her office in the United Nations University Building in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

July 11th is "World Population Day." It is an anniversary that was created by the United Nations (UN) in 1987; it commemorates the global population exceeding a figure of five billion people at that time. For this month's Close Up, we called upon the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Tokyo Office, where we spoke to UNFPA Tokyo Office Director, Ms. Junko Sazaki. The topics we discussed included the importance of considering population issues from personal perspectives; realizing gender equality, a topic deeply entwined within the fabric of population issues; and matters related to the elimination of poverty throughout the world.

Q.What is the current situation regarding the global population?

A.The global population exceeded some seven billion people in 2011, and it is predicted that by 2050 the population worldwide will have reached a figure of 9.6 billion people. Concerning these population increases, some 95% of them shall occur in developing countries. Thus, it is necessary that actions be undertaken within such countries with respect to the empowerment of large numbers of women, women who are currently socially-disadvantaged and who strain under the twin burdens of pregnancy and childbirth. Equality between the genders also needs to be addressed and promoted within these countries. If women within a country enjoy a relatively high level of education, then they themselves are able to make their own decisions. Within regions where there are health services allowing for safe pregnancies and childbirth, women can decide how many children they can responsibly raise themselves. When a realization of such decisions occurs, an outcome is a decline in birth rates. To put this argument differently, population issues are all about issues of female empowerment and reproductive health.

Q.Concerning population issues and the modern focus placed upon female empowerment and reproductive health, when did such ideas come into vogue?

A.Previously within the development sphere, against a backcloth of ongoing explosive population growth, discussion of the issues centered upon whether or not developing nations could stably supply their populations with enough food and energy. Within the context of such issues, what occurred at a macro (national) level were demographic policies that aimed to grasp population trends. Development plans were then established that responded to such trends. Concerning the demographic policy change whereby focus shifted from macro to micro perspectives, with respect to the shift towards female empowerment and reproductive health issues in particular, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo (1994), the rights of all couples and individuals to freely decide upon their numbers of children, birth intervals and birthing timeframes (so-called "reproductive rights") were recognized. In other words, rather than population issues simply being based on how many people inhabited the world, importance was placed on thinking at the level of the individual person. With respect to promoting reproductive rights, it was one of the aims set forth by UNFPA in the action plan of the Cairo conference. However, so that such an action plan can be realized, women must have free access and usage of contraceptives so as to be able to implement family planning. In other words, it is imperative that women both possess knowledge and the power to make decisions. It is also imperative that men are able to understand the necessity of family planning and offer their support.

Q.What matters are you mindful of while conducting support activities in developing countries?

A.Many women in developing countries lead busy lives involving household chores, collecting water and agricultural labor, etc. Thus, even when services related to family planning are offer to them, there is often not the time or the money (transportation costs, etc.) for the women to physically attend. Accordingly, it is important that such women are able to obtain access to comprehensive services that include pregnancy tests, child health checkups and reproductive health services.
Furthermore, steps are taken to try and incorporate men in those regions where they enjoy a particularly strong decision-making authority. This occurs for all programs implemented in such regions. For example, in a program called the "School for Husbands" in Nigeria, husbands who display some understanding of issues in that they are considerate of their wives and encourage them to receive prenatal checkups; and who participate in local activities, are selected from the group. To these men information is offered and leadership training provided. On becoming leaders, these husbands influence other men within their communities to become "husbands who are considerate of their wives." It is through such devices that the utilization of family planning techniques has increased. . By having men act as leaders and promoters within this program there has been an overall threefold increase of family planning within such communities. Thus, in gender programs, it is important to both have the participation of men and to work to change their consciousness.

Q.I believe another UNFPA aim is reducing expectant and nursing mother mortality rates.

A.Deaths of expectant and nursing mothers can be prevented by having women undergo prenatal checkups, and by giving them access to specialized and emergency care at time of childbirth. In 1990, the number of expectant and nursing mother deaths was 543,000. By 2010, this annual figure had seen a decline of 47% to 287,000. Of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)* established by the UN, "Improve maternal health" is listed as No. 5 on the list. However, the target by 2015 of reducing by three-quarters the deaths of expectant and nursing mothers has yet to be achieved. Currently, approximately 800 mothers each day are losing their lives during childbirth. Notably, the mortality risk among young mothers is heightened. For teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old, the expectant and nursing-mother mortality rate is approximately twice that of women aged 20 to 34 years old. Furthermore, approximately 85% of expectant and nursing-mother deaths occur in either South Asia, or in African countries south of the Sahara, both regions with a high prevalence of child brides under 18 years old. Behind many cases of childhood marriage there lie issues of poverty, with people in rural areas enjoying only low levels of education, etc. Childhood marriage is not something conducted in accordance with the wishes of young girls themselves, because due to childbirth and child-rearing responsibilities, etc., they are unable to continue their education after marriage. This is in breach of the reproductive rights of such women. Accordingly, child marriage is something that needs to be stopped.

*The "Millennium Development Goals" describe common goals developed by international society and decided upon at the UN Millennium Summit 2000. The following eight goals were established to be achieved by 2015 through cooperation between advanced and developing countries: "1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger," "2. Achieve universal primary education," "3. Promote gender equality and empower women, "4. Reduce child mortality," "5. Improve maternal health," "6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases," "7. Ensure environmental sustainability," "8. Develop a global partnership for development."

"World Population White Paper," ©UNFPA

Since 1978, UNFPA has published the "World Population White Paper," in which focus is placed on a range of topics related to population issues.
The cover of the 2013 Whitepaper was a photo entitled "the Girl Becomes a Mother." It was used in accordance with the theme of childhood marriage.
©UNFPA

Q.Why are there so many children born in particularly poor regions of developing countries?

A.In addition to the logic that, because of high infant mortality rates lots of children are necessary, there is also a pressure to have lots of children to ensure that individuals are cared for in their old age. This mentality persists because unlike Japan, many developing countries lack established pension systems. Furthermore, even if restrictions on child numbers exist, there is still the problem of family planning education not being obtained or used. Among societies' poorest segments, if child numbers increase there is the greater possibility of future children falling further into poverty. Thus, there is the need to provide information and services that allow parents to responsibly raise the number of children they wish to have. Also, approximately 2.2 billion women worldwide don't have access to sexual and reproductive health services that include family planning. This means it is difficult for them to control child numbers even if they wish to do so. Something has to be done so that all women have the ability to access such services.

©UNFPA©UNFPA©UNFPA

Midwives take steps to protect both the health of expectant mothers and newly-born infants.
Midwives don't just attend births; they can also provide a range of information and services related
to the life-saving issues of sexuality and fertility including pre and post-natal care and family planning, etc.
©UNFPA

Q.In the future, what sort of population shifts shall we see globally, what kind of issues might occur?

A.Between 2010 and 2100, it is predicted that the global population will increase by 3.2 billion people. Of this figure, there will be increases of 2.5 billion people in Africa and 0.4 billion people in Asia. Steps will need to be taken so as to stem any concomitant increases in poverty-stricken segments resulting from these developments. Although countries can control child numbers through policy initiatives, it is incorrect to assume that such represents a simple process. To put this differently, in that at the level of individual couples and people, human beings possess the right to decide the number of children they wish to have, it is important to consider what needs to be done so that, at the level of individual couples and people, each person can make the right choice for themselves and be able to lead a happy life. Furthermore, societal aging has already commenced in advanced countries, and it is also continuing to evolve in developing states. By the year 2050, approximately 80% of the world's aged population will be living in developing countries.

■ Population of Aged Persons 60 Years Old or More – Worldwide, Developed Countries, Developing Countries (1950−2050)

Rather than developed countries, societal aging is advancing in developing countries. By 2050, it is predicted that four out of every five persons 60 years old or more will be living in developing countries.

Population of Aged Persons 60 Years Old or More – Worldwide, Developed Countries, Developing Countries (1950−2050)

Source: UNDESA, World Population Ageing 2011 (2012; forthcoming), based on the UNDESA Population Division medium projection scenario, "World Population Prospects" (The 2010 Revision).
Note: The "Developed Countries" group is defined as the "more developed regions" recognized in the "World Population Prospects" (The 2010 Revision), while the "Developing Countries" group is defined as the "less developed regions."

Q.What are your views on population issues here in Japan?

A.Concerning the phenomenon of an aging population combined with a diminishing number of children, I am inclined to view it as a gender problem. In the course of their lives, the number of children that Japanese women hope to give birth to is 2.3 children per woman, however, the actual average number of children born to an individual woman during the course of her life is only 1.39 children (2011). With regard to this gap between the figures of 0.9 children, I feel this shows that Japanese people as well haven't been able to practice their reproductive rights. If women give birth, so that they have an opportunity to also continue their careers, obviously the cooperation of men is very important. If we can create a society in which all members, including men, feel a sense of enjoyment in child-rearing duties, then the need for women to choose between having a job or giving birth will disappear. I feel that to a significant extent the issue of the diminishing number of children will be resolved if this happens.

Director Sazaki has been invited to a number of universities to lecture.  Based on the themes of global population problems and issues of gender, etc., she lectures in order to deepen people's understanding of the UNFPA. ©UNFPA

Director Sazaki has been invited to a number of universities to lecture.
Based on the themes of global population problems and issues of gender, etc.,
she lectures in order to deepen people's understanding of the UNFPA.
©UNFPA

Q.Finally, please offer a message to our readers.

A.I would ask that, when your readers look around them, they don't consider what they see to represent the world in its entirety. In considering the increasing poverty-stricken segments of developing country populations, I would like your readers to consider why this is happening. It is important to understand what may be done in order to save such people from poverty. I would encourage people to visit developing countries and confirm for themselves what is happening in such countries at the current time. Furthermore, I would ask that such people proactively disseminate what they have seen for themselves in such countries through means of social media. Speaking about our own circumstances, we have been fortunate to be born in Japan which enjoys both wealth and peace, however, what would an individual's situation be if they were born in another country? In thinking about this, I believe that it is important that individuals put themselves in the position of others, and act accordingly as citizens of the same planet Earth.

Ms. Sazaki, who while recalling the words of Mother Teresa who said, "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference," expresses her desire that, "people look at the world around them, meet a wide range of people, and hold an interest in a great variety of issues."

Ms. Sazaki, who while recalling the words of Mother Teresa who said, "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference," expresses her desire that, "people look at the world around them, meet a wide range of people, and hold an interest in a great variety of issues."