In a 2019 report on world population prospects, the United Nations warns of an impending population explosion. By the year 2100, these experts alert, human population could surpass 11 billion. Further, they warn that unchecked population growth threatens environmental collapse, triggering crises in food security, public health, and water access across the world. Importantly, the UN highlights sub-Saharan Africa as a focal point of concern, alleging that 32 ‘least developed’ African countries will account for more than half of the world’s population growth between now and 2050.
In response to growing fears of overpopulation and its impacts on the environment, family planning has emerged as a development strategy to curb fertility rates by providing contraception and reproductive health services to women in the world’s fastest-growing places. Echoing UN concerns of overpopulation in so-called ‘least developed’ countries, family planning programs overwhelmingly target women in the Global South, concerned with their disproportionately high fertility rates.
This dissertation project will investigate the ways in which the entangled fears of overpopulation and environmental crisis map onto the reproductive lives and bodies of women in the Global South, while troubling mainstream discourse of overpopulation. In particular, I will explore family planning programs in Madagascar that link women’s sexual and reproductive lives to biodiversity and natural resource conservation. Though family planning emerged fewer than thirty years ago, the history of environmental intervention in women’s reproduction lives dates back centuries. It is critical to recognize the ways in which family planning inherits legacies of colonization, eugenics, and coercive sterilization of women of color. In Madagascar and throughout the Global South, colonial powers long employed violence in order to control women’s reproductive lives, fearing that overpopulation would threaten the well-being of empires.