Population Matters

We Need a “Million for a Billion”

February 16th, 2011

It’s time to hold world leaders accountable for their promises. Seventeen years ago world leaders gathered in Cairo, Egypt, and declared access to reproductive health care to be a universal right, but for many that right has not been realized.  An estimated 215 million married women in the developed world want to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using a modern method of birth control.  Tens of millions of young men and women are at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  

It’s time to make access to contraceptives and reproductive health care a reality, not just a right.  Need another reason? By giving women the power to prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies we save lives. Every year 365,000 women, many of them too young to bear children, die as a result of pregnancy-related causes. 

It’s time to make your voice heard.  The United Nations has set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to reproductive health care services, but if that target is to be reached, the U.S. and other donor nations must fulfill their commitments. The United States must increase its support from $648 million a year to at least $1 billion.  Other donor nations must boost their support as well. In total, we need to boost the amount spent by the international community by at least $1 billion.  If we can’t do that, then universal access to reproductive health care will remain a right…but not a reality.

We can do this.  It will cost an estimated $3.6 billion more a year to provide family planning services and information to the 215 million women who want to avoid a pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of birth control.  In the grand scale of global finance, that’s small change.  And, in the long run, it will pay for itself.

We can make a world of difference.  Preventing unwanted pregnancies and improving reproductive health can make a world of difference. It can empower women, boost gender equality, reduce maternal and infant mortality, keep girls in school longer, break the cycle of poverty in developing countries, help to protect the environment, and improve food security in nations that are now suffering from hunger and malnutrition.  It may be the single most important thing that we can do for people, posterity, and the planet.

Join the “Million for a Billion” petition campaign.  This week, the Population Institute, in partnership with 15 other family planning advocates, is launching a global petition campaign.  People in the U.S. will be asked to sign a petition to Congress, asking for a $1 billion appropriation for family planning and reproductive health care.  People outside the U.S. will be ask to sign a petition to world leaders asking the U.S. and other donor nations to boost the total level of international support by at least $1 billion a year.

We need one million people to make their voices heard.  That’s what it’s going to take to get the attention of Congress and world leaders.  Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives is debating a temporary funding bill that would actually slash funding for international family planning assistance.  We can’t let that happen.

So what are you waiting for?  Click here to sign the petition and join the campaign.  And be sure to ask all your friends to sign the petition.

Together, we can make a world of difference.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Send a Message

February 14th, 2011

We need to send Congress and world leaders a message. 

Nearly seventeen years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, world leaders declared that access to family planning and reproductive health services was a universal right.  It’s time to make that right a reality for all.

As part of its poverty-fighting Millennium Development Goals, the U.N. has set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to reproductive health care.  Reaching that target could change the world as we know it.  By preventing unplanned and unintended pregnancies and improving reproductive health, it would empower women, boost gender equality, reduce maternal and infant mortality, keep girls in school longer, break the cycle of poverty in developing countries, help to protect the environment, and improve food security in nations that are now suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

But it won’t happen unless donor and developing nations alike step up their support for family planning and reproductive health services.  The United Nations Population Fund estimates that there are 215 married women in developing countries who want to avoid an unwanted or unintended pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of birth control.  Providing family planning services to those 215 million women would cost an estimated $3.6 billion ($US) a year.  In the scale of global spending, that’s next to nothing, even in an era of budget austerity.

We can do it.  2015 is still an achievable target, but everyone—including foundations and donor nations—need to their part.  The United States, which last year appropriated $648 million for international family planning and reproductive health programs, needs to boost its support to the $1 billion level advocated by the International Family Planning Coalition. Other donor nations–particularly Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom—also need to ramp up their support for family planning and reproductive health.  And developing nations, too, must do their part, by making these programs a national priority.

At a minimum, the international community this year must boost its current level of support for family planning and reproductive health by $1 billion.  Anything less and hopes of achieving the 2015 target will soon fade.  The target is already in serious jeopardy.

This year, world population will reach the 7 billion mark.  The world’s largest generation of young people is rapidly approaching their prime reproductive years.  If we neglect their sexual and reproductive health, we will deny them, their families, their communities, and the world at large the many benefits that flow from access to family planning and reproductive health programs.  World population will continue to expand at nearly 80 million a year, and the challenge of feeding the world’s hungry will grow.  Maternal and infant mortality will remain unacceptably high.  Far too many young people will be exposed to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  Hundreds of millions of girls and young women will never realize their potential, and the cycle of severe poverty will remain unbroken. We can’t let that happen. 

Make no mistake about it:  this is an uphill battle.  Opponents of family planning want to slash funding this year. That’s why we must make our voices heard.  That’s why the Population Institute will join with other family planning advocates later this week in launching a global petition campaign.  We will be asking Congress and world leaders to make access to family planning and reproductive health programs a reality…not just a right.  Won’t you join us?

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Speak Out against the Attack on Title X

February 11th, 2011

This month, for the second year in a row, the Population Institute is sponsoring a Global Population Speak Out to raise public awareness about issues related to population, the environment and sustainability.   There are countless ways in which our failure to provide more women (and men) with access to contraceptives and family planning information is detrimental to the environment and sustainability.   They include deforestation, the overfishing of ocean fisheries, climate change, the continuing loss of wetlands and other animal habitats, extinction of plants and animals, and the enormous quantity of toxins and other manufacturing byproducts that we are pouring into the Earth’s biosphere. 

If we care about the environment and the kind of world that we will pass along to our children, we simply must do more to prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies, and nowhere is that truer than in the United States, where the average “ecological footprint” is so large.  Studies conducted as recently as a decade ago suggest that almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.  In fact, our teenage pregnancy rate is among the highest in the industrialized world.   Respect for women and their reproductive rights alone should compel us to expand family planning services and information to every woman who wants to avoid a pregnancy.   The environmental consequences of our failure to do so only add to that moral imperative.

So what are House Republicans preparing to do about it?   They want to wipe out the Title X Family Planning program [“Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Programs” (Public Law 91-572)], which was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act.  At the time of its passage, the Population Institute was a vocal supporter of Title X.  And we still are. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.  It is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families. Over the past 40 years, Title X family planning clinics have played a vital role in ensuring access to a broad range of family planning and related preventive health services for millions of low-income households.

Let’s be very clear about this.  This isn’t about reducing government spending or debt.  Study after study has shown that family planning programs reduce government spending over time.  This is about denying women in the U.S., particularly low-income women, access to the family planning services and information they need and desire.  And it’s morally wrong. 

In times past, conservative ideologues were content to take comprehensive sexual education out of the classroom.  Now they want to take away family planning services away from the women who are least able to afford them.  On another front, they even want to use the tax code to prevent insurance companies from covering abortion services.  Oh, and along the way, they want to limit “rape” exceptions to “forcible rape.”

It’s time for everyone to speak out, and speak out loudly, against this attack on women, women’s health, and women’s rights.    Jodi Jackson, the Editor-in-Chief of RH Reality Check has written an outstanding blog on this issue.  Please read it.  And then call your representatives in Congress.  Let your voice be heard.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Progress in the Fight against FGM/C

February 10th, 2011

It’s not a headline grabber, but progress is being made against an antiquated and harmful practice that still afflicts large numbers of women in developing countries.

February 6th was the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). While it is widely recognized today as a violation of the rights of women and girls, the practice still persists. About 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM/C with 3 million girls in Africa alone at risk of cutting every year.  The severity of the practice ranges from cutting to the total removal of the external female genitalia, but in any form it exacts an unacceptable toll on girls and women.

According to the World Health Organization there is no health benefit to FGM/C and it is harmful to girls and women in ways that are both immediate (severe pain, shock, bleeding, and tetanus) and long-term (cysts, recurring bladder infections, infertility, increased risk of complications in childbirth, and the need for surgery). The WHO defines FGM/C as any procedure that intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is mostly performed on girls between infancy and age 15.

FGM/C is still a rite of passage in 28 countries in Africa and a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. Currently the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are working in 12 priority countries with communities to encourage them to completely abandon the practice of FGM/C.  And progress is being made.  UNFPA and UNICEF report that:

“Three years into the programme, more than 6,000 communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea and Somalia have already abandoned FGM/C. Social norms and cultural practices are changing, and women and men in communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls. UNFPA and UNICEF are working with partners to end this harmful practice in one generation and we believe that reaching this goal is possible.”

It’s increasingly unlikely that the U.N. goal of eliminating FGM/C by 2015 will be reached, but the urgency remains.  Action is still required. For one,  the U.S. needs to show its commitment to eliminating FGM/C by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The United States is one of just seven nations in the U.N. who have refused to ratify CEDAW. The other six countries are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.  If the United States wants to be a leader in human rights, particularly women’s rights, it is imperative that the U.S. ratify CEDAW and show its support for the elimination of FGM/C.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

Something was missing at Davos

February 2nd, 2011

Every year at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, top business executives, political, and academic leaders meet to improve the state of the world by shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. However, it was apparent after the conclusion of the meeting in Davos last week that something was missing: women.

A new policy was imposed by the WEF this year to increase the amount of women participants, allowing its 100 strategic partners a fifth delegate slot if it was filled by a woman. Yet women still made up only 16 percent of the 2,500 participants, with many companies choosing to forgo their fifth spot.

One reason for this lack of female representation is that women run only 3 percent of the 500 biggest companies, and lead fewer than 20 countries. This makes it hard to increase the attendance of women- too few occupy those high powered positions.

Not only were women lacking in attendance, women’s issues were largely missing from the program’s agenda and panels. There were only two forums that emphasized women, or women’s empowerment.

Women’s empowerment is necessary in order to promote economic development. According to the United Nations Development Program, when there is gender equality and women have equal access to education and participate in business and economic decision-making, the economy gets a boost. When women are empowered they raise household incomes by increasing their earning power and control over household decision-making, breaking the cycle of poverty for future generations.

There were, apparently, some encouraging signs at Davos, Nicole Schwab, the daughter of the founder of the WEF, is introducing a certificate to companies that have high standards on equal pay, female representation, and employee satisfaction with gender equality. The hope is that this certificate will help increase female participation and encourage companies to do more to promote gender equality.

Young leaders also spoke out. The head of the WEF’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme told the press that the forum’s goal is to have membership in its Young Global Leaders be at least half female within five years.

As important as women and women’s empowerment is to the future health and economic well-being of the world, women should have been featured more prominently in the discussion. There were a number of laudable goals announced at Davos this year, but as Karl Hoffman of PSI noted in his blog, they will fall short, “if we cannot help women and families get the access to family planning they want and need to help them control their family’s growth and their own reproductive health.”

Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate