Ahmadinejad’s tip on population

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has once again stirred up controversy by opposing the country’s efforts at reducing the population growth rate and by his proposal to make female employees, with children, part-time workers on full salaries.

A number of parliament representatives are collecting signatures to grill the president for this as well as some of his other controversial statements and decisions. “I am against those who say two children are enough. Our country has the potential to raise many children. It can even have a population of 120 million. The West is worried because they are afraid that our population will grow and we will prevail over them,” Ahmadinejad said. He added that the government was prepared to usher in a Bill to reduce working hours for mothers in proportion to the number of children each of them has.

As criticism poured in, the cabinet spokesman was forced to explain that the statement did not mean a new policy was about to be framed and that the president only meant that the growth in population was not worrying and that the country was capable of meeting society’s needs. A conservative female MP, Fatemeh Rahbar, said

that the “main argument of the president is that the more the population of Muslims and Shiites, the more consolidated the Islamic state would become in the world.”

Maryam Behrouzi, another Ahmadinejad supporter said the state policy to lower population growth rate in earlier years had to be revised in present circumstances. “God provides children’s subsistence, so what is wrong with having more children?’’ she was quoted as saying. Criticism from the reformist camp was strong and even the hard line administration’s

labour and social affairs minister was on record saying that people did not decide about family planning on the basis of what they were told to do and that population growth rate could even turn negative if people’s financial well-being was not properly secured. Iran’s population has grown from 36 million at the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1978 to nearly 70 million now, nearly 70 per cent of which is under 30 years of age.

With the endorsement of the founder of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, the government plan to reduce population growth rate became official policy in 1988. There was some opposition from the religious establishments that considered using contraceptives as interference in the work of God and ministers had to travel to Iran’s religious centre, the city of Qom, to justify the plan. Just a few days after Ahmadinejad’s outbursts, Mohammad Madad, head of Iran’s Statistics Centre, said the rate had come down to 1.2, easing some of the pressure on various organisations such as education ministry.

“The president’s opposition to population growth control is quite understandable within his frame of mind, but the promise to reduce women’s working hours should be taken even more seriously. It is an attempt on the government’s part to decrease women’s share in employment and bring more men into the work force.

The unemployment rate for women is already above 20 per cent and if implemented, the policy can raise it even higher as employers will become even more reluctant to hire women,” the analyst said. — IPS