Population Issues- 1999

Knowledge that Empowers

Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health and Family Planning

Empowering Women

Population and Sustainable Development

Population Trends:
The Numbers and Beyond

Demographic Trends by Region

Migration and Urbanization

Knowledge that Empowers

Breaking the Data Barrier:
A Priority for Research

Challenges for the 21st Century

The New Generations, the Family and Society

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 performances.

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 Asia/Pacific POPIN.

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 women’s 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 client’s 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 individual’s ability to cope with an increasingly complex world. The ICPD Programme of Action calls for a "new global partnership among all the world’s 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.

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