A Feminist Perspective on Natality Policies in Multicultural Societies

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 2 (1):1-40 (2008)
Controlling Natality - the ratio of births to the general population - is one of the best means a state has to control its demographic composition. However, the fact that the state has certain interests with regard to the size and composition of its population does not necessarily give it the right to set and pursue natality policies, because such policies can potentially infringe on various human rights such as the rights of women and the rights of minorities. Using a feminist perspective I first argue that even if it is illegitimate for states to try to influence people's choice as to the number of their children in order to achieve demographic change, the state may, and should, enact natality policies aimed at promoting women's right to equality, regardless of whether their end result is to achieve a demographic change. Next I examine whether states are allowed to pursue natality policies that are aimed at decreasing natality rates in specific cultural groups, whose cultural precepts are oppressive to women and dictate very high natality rates. Using the ultra orthodox Jewish community in Israel as a test case, I present and reject three objections to the state's right to pursue such natality policies: the objection from free choice, the objection from free association, and the objection from culture. Rejecting these objections I conclude that not only is the state allowed, but it is indeed obligated, to pursue natality policies that aim to alleviate the oppression of women by decreasing inordinately high birth rates in illiberal communities. However, when choosing the measures for the implementation of such policies the state must take care to choose only measures that respect human rights.
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DOI 10.2202/1938-2545.1020
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