Jul 312007

The following is written by Jane Roberts, one of the co-founders of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund:

Today, July 22, 2007, marks the 5th anniversary of my reading in several newspapers that the Bush Administration was not going to release $34 million dollars to the United Nations Population Fund. The total now stands at over $160 million. This dereliction of duty has put the U.S. outside the mainstream, greatly harmed our reputation in the world and increased misery and death among the world’s most vulnerable women.Deeper issues must be brought to the fore. World population now stands at a whopping 6.6 billion with 80 million people being added every year. Half of the world’s population has little access to medicine, electricity, safe water, sanitation, and reliable food supplies. The latest State of World Population report released in June by UNFPA talks of the migration of human beings to cities and to the megacities of Africa and Asia, cities with huge urban slums and with little infrastructure to withstand the coming onslaught.

Yet with the numbers of young people on the planet today, the UN Population Fund predicts a human population of over 9 billion by 2050. Do the media ever talk seriously about this? No. Yet it is probably the most important issue for the long term facing us and future generations.

With African women giving birth on average to 4.7 children, Africa’s population is scheduled to rise from 945 million today to 1.9 billion by 2050 even with AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in the mix. African nations and the world at large must not allow this to happen.

Asia, which includes China and India of course, but also the Arab states should see its population rise from almost 4 billion today to over 5.2 billion in 2050 with a 2.36 fertility rate. Of interest to Americans would be at least a doubling if not tripling of population in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. This all has to do with birthrates pitted against death rates. All these countries have large percentages of young people. Women and girls are devalued in all of these countries. There are 60 million missing girls in Asia, either by sex selective abortion, female infanticide or from neglect. After all, who wants a girl child?

Former UN envoy Stephen Lewis said these words at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada last summer: “I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.? And of course all women were once little girls

Millions of girls are deprived of schooling because of gender inequality. When a little girl goes to school and learns how to read, she is empowered throughout her entire life. She marries later, “better?, has fewer children, earns income and participates more in the life of her community. Two thirds of the illiterate people on the planet are women and girls.

Illiteracy leads to poverty and powerlessness. Poverty and powerlessness are the root causes of violence against women, sex trafficking, and many other ills.

That is why the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt in 1994 promised universal primary education and why universal primary education is also one of the Millennium Development Goals. This is aimed at girls.

The Cairo Consensus of 1994 also established both access to the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and access to family planning as human rights. Unfortunately this has been more honored in the breach. Lack of access to reproductive health services means that over 500,000 women die in childbirth every year and 40 women per minute, lacking access to the family planning that we all take for granted, seek abortions. Millions of women who play by all the rules of faithfulness in marriage contract the AIDS virus.

Because of the low status of women in many cultures, because of fundamentalist religions of all stripes which limit the spheres in which women and girls can participate and the choices they can make, the world is digging an unnecessary hole for itself.

It is not hard to predict the kind of world we will have with 9 billion people. Humanity will hurdle from crisis to crisis much as it does now only worse with little opportunity for long range planning or solutions. With even less education and fewer resources per capita than there are today, people, bereft of the basics for a decent life, will turn to easy solutions of hatred of the “other? much as they do today, only worse. Huge human migrations will take place with people looking for water, food, a job, and security much as they do today only worse. The water, food, job, and security will simply not be there.

Gender inequality touches everything, particularly the welfare of human beings, the health of the planet, and the possibilities for a peaceful stable world. It really is the moral question of the age. It’s time for governments, individuals, and civil society to take a stand. We ignore the education, health, and human rights of women and girls at our peril.

 July 31, 2007  Posted by on July 31, 2007

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