Whenever French president Emmanuel Macron wades into issues involving women’s reproduction, he tends to get into trouble. That was the case during a press conference at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, when he said that the African continent had a “civilizational” challenge, including with population growth, adding that where there are “seven or eight children per woman,” spending billions in aid is pointless.
He got into hot water again over a speech at the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Summit in late September. “One of the critical issues of African demography is that this is not chosen fertility,” Macron said. ”I always say: ‘Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children.'”
His comments were intended to shine a light on the importance of women’s rights and education in Africa. But the idea that “perfectly educated” women would never voluntarily choose to have that many children also seems to ticked off a lot of US Catholics.
Catherine R. Pakaluk, a professor of social research and economics at the Catholic University of America, responded to a Guardian article about Macron’s comments by sharing a photo of herself and six of her eight children, along with the hashtag #postcardsforMacron:
Pakaluk followed up by explaining that she holds both a Master’s degree and a PhD from Harvard University. “If the President of France says we don’t exist, we sure as hell say we do exist,” she explained. The #postcardsforMacron hashtag has taken off, with dozens of women, and a few men, posting photos of their large families and their degrees, in an attempt to demonstrate that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Macron is far from the first public figure to voice concerns that African countries’ high birth rates are slowing economic growth and keeping girls out of school and the workplace. Bill Gates has repeatedly called for family planning policies that would reduce fertility rates in the continent, and especially in west Africa. That’s because high birth rates are associated with more inequality, poverty, and health disparities. Chad, for example, has a birth rate of more than six children per woman, and it is also one of the poorest countries in the world. According to United Nations forecasts, sub-Saharan Africa alone is set to have a population of 4 billion people by 2100—more than half the current world population.
Poverty is gendered (pdf)—and that’s why Macron worries about African women who, given the choice, would not have opted to have so many kids. The relevant question is why US women for whom fertility is a choice feel that this message personally targeted them and their families.