Population policy and family planning in Swedish development cooperation

The publication "Swedish development cooperation 50 years" omits Sweden's unique pioneering role in population policy and family planning. To skip over Sweden's only real pioneer sector in such a publication is difficult to explain, says Carl Wahren.

A former colleague kindly handed me a copy of "Swedish Development Cooperation 50 years". I read the book with rising surprise.

Sweden's unique pioneering role in population policy and women - centered family planning (fp) is completely ignored. Some examples: Korea's well-integrated FP program focusing on decentralization and women's development (thousands of local Mothers Clubs) was a strategic part of the country's unprecedented rapid modernization and development. Swedish development assistance with early support for research, mobility and software was an important part of the success. The Korean government has in various contexts expressed appreciation for the Swedish flexible and effective support in the important initial phase of the program.

Sweden led the international policy and strategy development within population, fp and women's rights. Ernst Michanek, Elise Ottesen-Jensen, Inga Thorson, Ulla Lindström, Alva Myrdal (who was behind our first project in Ceylon in 1958), Sweden's internationally known demographer Hannes Hyrenius, Karolinska's and Nobel Committee professor Ulf Borell, statistician Sten Wahllund, medical adviser Malcolm Tottie, etc. played an important role in respecting international alarm clocks. Tage Erlander, Olof Palme and not least a cross-party group of Swedish parliamentarians actively supported the efforts. In the UN's various bodies, not least the Population Commission and various expert groups, Sweden was the first to raise the demand that population development and its economic and social consequences must be taken seriously. Fp became a human right defined by the UN.

In 1966, the US Senate invited representatives of Sida to testify about Swedish pioneering efforts in maternal and child care, incl. fp.

The bilateral cooperation projects in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Pakistan and Tunisia were visited and analyzed by interested parties from near and far. Has Swedish development assistance in general been considered so interesting or groundbreaking?

At most, Sweden bilaterally supported about 20 countries in different continents. We provided contraceptives for poor countries and NGOs gm a purchasing cartel with Sida, IPPF and the Population Council, which pushed prices enormously. Sweden initiated extensive research within the WHO that improved contraception and user safety for millions of women. When HIV emerged, Sida was one of the first major sponsors of active research as well as field programs.

The WHO has repeatedly emphasized that no single measure promotes women's health and gender equality more than women's own ability to control their fertility.

Sweden was the first country to support the IPPF and other NGOs at government level. Through active Nordic co-operation, initiated by Sweden, policy development within the UN system, its regional commissions and professional bodies was affected.

The OECD began research in the field of population - resources in 1968 with Swedish management and partial funding. It became, as far as I know, the first activity where "donors and recipients" met at a high political level in joint working meetings. The policy and strategy of the co-operation were presented in several OECD reports.

Sweden played a mediating political role at the UN World Population Conferences in Bucharest in 1974 (see the Foreign Ministry's official report) and on the program committee at the follow - up meeting in Mexico City in 1984.

Current calculations suggest that the world's population without active PPP programs today would have amounted to approximately 8.5 billion… ..Sweden's role in this central sector should not be diminished. For women's gender equality, health and as an alternative to back-street abortions and infanticide, the fp programs have been extremely important. Sweden's integrated policy view permeated the activities from day one in Ceylon, Pakistan, Tunisia… Maternal and Child Health formed the framework and doctors and midwives led the efforts.

Finally: The title "Swedish Development Cooperation 50 years" suggests an inclusive approach. To then completely omit Sweden's only real pioneer sector is difficult to explain.

Carl Wahren

who worked within Sida, OECD, UNFPA, IPPF

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you want to respond to the debate article or is there something in the text that is incorrect? Contact us at

Share this: