UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Kathleen A. Tobin

Purdue University Calumet Hammond, Indiana, USA
Associate Professor, Latin American Studies
“Population Policy and the Race Question in Latin America”

Population policy has been an essential component of UNESCO’s programs from the organization’s inception. UNESCO leaders have addressed migration, density and birth control in a variety of ways that relate to economic development and general welfare. Other policy makers have used the expertise of UNESCO to implement projects incorporating birth control education into health programs, and UNESCO has welcomed the support of foundations whose leaders saw birth control as crucial to any effective development program. By the 1970s, there were few who questioned the necessity of birth control in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As a discussant with expertise in Latin America, I intend to raise questions regarding notions of race that have existed in UNESCO’s population policy and its influence on projects there. Some of those notions have been subtle, suggesting that race was merely a secondary factor in the development of population theories and policies which intended to promote economic and social welfare, and the overall improvement of the planet. Other discussions of race that relate to population control have been more overt, suggesting that birth control and race are connected directly.

In looking for the origins of these issues, it is important to look at the work of UNESCO’s first director, Julian Huxley. Huxley’s promotion of population control is well-known, but his philosophy of race deserves more attention. While many have distanced themselves from his teachings in subsequent decades, it is worthwhile to consider how his early writings on race have continued to influence UNESCO’s work and its presence in global policy making as they relate to contemporary birth control programs and population policy.

Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific