Wednesday, November 23, 2011

7 billionth baby

A few weeks ago, the world welcomed its 7 billionth baby. On October 31, Ted Turner authored an article for CNN titled “7 billion reasons to empower women.” He points out the fact that the 7 billionth baby mark is especially concerning because of how quickly we’ve met it. In 1950, the world’s population was estimated to be 2.5 billion. It’s estimated that humans will number over 10 billion at some point after 2083. As Turner points out, by 2010, we could have almost 50% more people on earth than at present.

What does this mean for the human race? It means that it’s time to start talking about women’s reproductive rights in whole new light. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof recently authored an op-ed titled “The Birth Control Solution.” He suggests that the true key to battling world poverty and climate change threats is to focus on family planning, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Kristof blames unfettered population growth for terrorism as well. He states, “youth bulges in rapidly growing countries like Afghanistan and Yemen makes them more prone to conflict and terrorism.” He also suggests that family planning has met its greatest challenges from politicians and religious groups. Kristof points out that this is a modern challenge, and reports, surprisingly, that birth control traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. Currently, however, that’s not the case.

Beyond concerns of fostering terrorism, climate change, poverty and dwindling resources, perhaps we should focus on the greatest threat of our growing world population: women’s health. In response to the news about the 7th billion baby’s birth, author Madison Park reported on the very real threat that childbirth can pose to women in underdeveloped parts of the world. In her piece, “In giving life, women face deadly risks,” Park reports that “Pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death among women living in developing countries.” This data is reiterated in Turner’s piece, previously discussed, where he reported that, “In the developed world, one out of 4,300 women will die as a consequence of pregnancy. That number is one in 31 in sub-Saharan Africa, and a staggering one out of eight women dies giving birth in Afghanistan.” These numbers are not acceptable. And in looking at these populations, it’s clear that what many of them have in common is lack of sex education and access to birth control. With higher birth rates come greater complications, and a heightened risk of danger to women’s health.

So where do we go from here? A good place to start is with a discussion about the recently released United Nations report titled “ Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Among the various health topics touched upon in the UN Report, is women’s health. What’s their suggestion? “Public morality cannot serve as a justification for enactment or enforcement of laws that may result in human rights violations, including those intended to regulate sexual and reproductive conduct and decisionmaking.” For those countries that criminalize abortions and birth control, the UN suggests that it’s time that these regulations end. “Criminal prohibition of abortion is a very clear expression of State interference with a woman's sexual and reproductive health because it restricts a woman's control over her body, possibly subjecting her to unnecessary health risks.”

Why is it that governments are willing to risk the health of their female citizens for “moral” reasons? And what do these reports suggest about the religious and political wars against women’s reproductive rights in our own country? How do we combat these backwards approaches?


Alejandro said...

It seems as if explosive population growth in the poorest third world nations will continue to worsen unless governments in these countries, backed by international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO's), take serious action to put a stop to this. You can look, as as a model, to China, which has for several decades implemented the highly controversial one-child policy (referred to in China as the "family planning policy").

According to the Chinese government, this policy has prevented some 400 million births since 1978. Other countries have taken much less drastic measures, but with apparently little success. It is seems as if an effective, yet humane, solution would be for the poorest countries to educate their citizenry about the benefits of having fewer children while promoting different methods of contraception, from oral contraceptive pills to increased use of condoms.

hanestagless said...

I also read Ted Turner’s op-ed calling upon the international community to provide family planning to empower women around the world. Overpopulation is a global problem and requires a global solution. His call for international family planning is certainly a key part to improving the safety and sustainability of our planet—it is certainly better than Turner’s call last year for an international one-child policy. (For a couple reasons a one-child policy is not a good idea, see Brooke Borel’s critique)

Yet, family planning alone is not enough to halt overpopulation and improve women’s situations. I am glad that Nicholas Kristof goes a step further and acknowledges the need for girls’ education and women’s rights in stopping overpopulation—“educated women mostly have fewer children.” Kristof also touches on a third goal—“starting with an end to child marriages”—that should be made more explicit: delaying child bearing in girls. Child bearing limits a girl’s options when she has children too young. The Population Council, a global nonprofit focused on achieving a humane and equitable balance of people and resources, advocates for all three approaches: family planning, education, and delayed childbearing.

It is important to note that while population growth is a worldwide problem, growth rates are not evenly distributed worldwide. Fertility rates in regions like Japan and Europe are significantly lower than other regions like Africa and parts of Latin America.

This means that while the global community is negatively impacted by population growth, governmental intervention is limited to those countries with the high population growth rates. Countries like the U.S. can provide aid to help girls in these regions. However, when it comes to changing laws to expand women’s rights or improving the education system for girls, international efforts become more limited.

This only emphasizes all the more what the articles, your post, and Alejandro’s comment mention: the need for local governments to back these efforts. AMA previously discussed individual organizations such as The Girl Effect. These organizations cannot tackle the problem alone. Their efforts must be combined with those of the international community and most importantly, the local government.

Caitlin said...

This discussion reminds me of a policy put in place by India's Indira Gandhi, who served as India's first prime minister after it became independent. Her solution to a growing overpopulation issue was to put into place a policy which required the forced sterilization of men and women during the country's "state of emergency" in 1976.

Clearly, Gandhi's choice to force sterilization was wrong. It is similar to many other countries' choices to force sterilization in order to combat overpopulation in poor communities. The International Criminal Court has declared it to be a crime against humanity when conducted in any systematic way.

With that historical backdrop the question becomes even more difficult to answer--when the government begins to be concerned about population, people who have previously been effected by forced sterilization could likely speak out against any control. I don't blame them.

Girl Talk said...

I agree with the Population Council's three-way approach of family planning, education, and delayed childbearing. The problem in developing countries seems to be a lack of on-the-ground implementation of these concepts. I know there are groups that provide condoms and try to educate women in remote parts of developing countries, but I think that in order for effective change to be made, there needs to be a widespread effort on multiple fronts. Abortion, sex education, and birth control are each their own beasts.

The structure of many governments in developing countries certainly doesn't help the problem. Many are oppressive, especially toward women, condoning or turning a blind eye to sexual abuse. This isn't directly related to the post, but South Africa has a serious problem with corrective rape. Rape and murder of gay females has been on the rise, the government actually released a statement saying that sexual hate crimes are not a priority. This is despite the fact that same-sex marriage was actually legalized there in 2006.