|Information is perhaps the most powerful tool
available to people, one that opens up new possibilities for the exercise of both rights
and responsibilities. This perspective on information is at the heart of what population
professionals call "IEC," or information, education and communication; it is
also the basis for the chapter on these issues in the ICPD Programme of Action.
The two primary goals of IEC programmes are complementary. One is to
enhance the ability of couples and individuals to exercise their basic right to decide
freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children. The other is to raise
awareness and understanding about the relevance of population-related issues to all levels
of decision-making, whether personal, national or international. IEC programmes inform and
motivate people to make their own decisions freely and responsibly.
Population information covers a wide array of subjects
ranging from facts about population growth rates and the health benefits of family
planning, to family planning methods and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases
including HIV/AIDS. Population information also includes material on health needs and
risks throughout the life cycle and issues related to population and the environment, such
as over consumption and waste. Access to such information enables individuals to better
understand, and to participate more effectively in, the decision-making process in their
communities and countries.
Effective information, education and communication efforts
should utilize a range of communication channels, from one-on-one counselling to formal
school curricula, and include the use of the mass media, traditional folk arts and public
fora such as seminars and town meetings. In schools and other educational institutions,
population issues can be incorporated into curricula for subjects such as geography,
social studies and biology. Important carriers of population information range from
newspapers, radio, film and television to plays, puppet shows, music and dance
With more than two billion radios in the world, roughly one
for every three people, and growing numbers of televisions, the electronic media play an
increasingly important and influential role in building awareness of population and other
development issues. Radio and television soap operas featuring family planning themes,
songs on population related issues and phone- in question-and-answer sessions have all had
an impact in different countries. The use of such media can be very important where
literacy is low or where written information is not widely circulated.
Use of new communication technologies can also help bridge
the geographic, social and economic gaps that currently exist in accessing information
around the world. Television and computer networks, global telephone systems, digital data
transmission and new multimedia technologies are all tools that people can use to access
the information they need. Information networks available to researchers and others
include the United Nations Population Information
Network (www.undp.org/popin), as well as regional networks such as POPIN-Africa and
Targeting specific audiences, such as men, adolescents and
young couples, is crucial to the success of IEC programmes. Programmes for teenagers, for
example, can communicate the health and other risks associated with sexual practices,
early pregnancy and childbearing. Schools are an important vehicle for reaching young
people, while less formal education on population issues can take place in the workplace,
health facilities, trade unions, community centres, youth groups, churches and
womens organizations, and through vocational training and literacy programmes. In
all cases, the design of information programmes should involve their target audiences,
particularly in the case of young people and men, so as to better ensure the relevance of
the information provided.
At the core of successful IEC programmes are good
interpersonal communication and counselling skills, particularly within the context of
family planning and other health care services. Accurate information, relayed
compassionately and with sensitivity to a clients needs, can help lessen anxiety and
ensure fully informed choice. And, as with other aspects of service provision, counselling
skills are learned -- a point emphasized in the ICPD Programme of Action, which urges
governments to give priority to the training and retention of IEC specialists.
Finally, there is the overarching importance of education
to strengthen the individuals ability to cope with an increasingly complex world.
The ICPD Programme of Action calls for a "new global partnership among all the
worlds countries and peoples, based on a sense of shared but differentiated
responsibility for each other and for our planetary home."12 A good quality and
relevant education is key to building that sense of responsibility as well as to
exercising individual rights.