President John Magufuli has urged women in Tanzania to set their ovaries free and bear more children in order to help boost the country’s economy.
“When you have a big population you build the economy. That’s why China’s economy is so huge,” he said late on Tuesday, citing India and Nigeria as other examples of countries that gained from a demographic dividend.
“I know that those who like to block ovaries will complain about my remarks. Set your ovaries free, let them block theirs,” he told a gathering in his home town of Chato.
Critics have however decried the advise, saying it would further worsen the inequality and poverty in the East African country whose current population is 55 million.
Since taking office in 2015, Magufuli has launched an industrialization campaign that has helped buoy economic growth, which has averaged 6-7% annually in recent years. But he has said a higher birth rate would achieve faster progress.
According to the U.N. population fund (UNFPA), Tanzania’s population is growing by about 2.7 percent a year while most public hospitals and schools are overcrowded and many young people lack jobs.
UNFPA says about a third of married women in Tanzania use contraceptives, but Magufuli has criticized Western-backed family planning programmes implemented by the health ministry.
Last year the president was quoted as saying that birth control was “for those too lazy to take care of their children”. The health ministry barred broadcasting of family planning adverts by a U.S.-funded project.
While Tanzania’s poverty rate – people living on less than $1 a day – has declined to about 26% as of 2016, the absolute number of poor citizens has not because of the high population growth rate, according to the World Bank.
Opposition leaders in Tanzania have criticized Magufuli’s stance, saying the country’s already rapid population growth is a time bomb, and disapproving remarks surfaced on social media.
“As a modern woman I can’t believe this … especially coming from him (the president),” said one Twitter user.
Others said it was simply bad economics for Magufuli to urge Tanzanians to have more babies.
“High population growth in Tanzania means increased levels of poverty and income inequality,” said a rights activist based in Dar es Salaam who asked not to be named to avoid possible repercussions from the government’s ongoing review of registration of non-governmental organizations.
“Women’s ovaries should never be used as a tool for seeking economic prosperity.”