Friday, October 10, 2008
On July 22, 2002 the Bush Administration refused to release $34 million to the United Nations Population Fund to please the Republican Party’s religious right and anti-United Nations constituencies. Colin Powell had testified that UNFPA did invaluable work in the world but it was he who sold women down the river by announcing the decision. He should have resigned.
Everything that UNFPA does saves and empowers women. It provides prenatal care, assisted birth, family planning. It educates against early forced marriage, female genital mutilation and violence against women. One hundred eighty countries supported UNFPA last year, but not our own. That is ugly.
For the last six years Lois Abraham (co-founder with me of 34 Million Friends of UNFPA) and I have been joyfully relentless in asking 34 million Americans to take a stand for the women of the world and their access to reproductive health care and family planning with at least one dollar. This grassroots effort is called 34 Million Friends. It is sending a positive message to the world.
What is at stake? The fate of the world’s women and girls and thus the fate of the world.
Women’s access to education and health including access to family planning is essential for reducing poverty, saving the environment, and for any chance at peace and stability in the future. Women’s equality in all realms including decision making power at every level of government is essential for balance and sustainability.
If the next President releases the funds Congress annually votes for UNFPA, then that President will have the values I have. He will support, help reform, and strengthen the United Nations. He will know that to reduce poverty and misery, people must be educated and healthy. His foreign assistance will line up with those values. He will believe that 500,000 women shouldn’t die in childbirth every year. He will believe that access to family planning will greatly reduce the 40 million abortions which take place in the world every year, representing twenty percent of the pregnancies.
He will believe that population matters. There are 6.7 billion people on the planet now, with over 80 million births over deaths each year. Nothing good can come of a predicted world population of 9 billion by 2050. This growth will come in the most poverty stricken countries many of which are politically unstable due at least in part to the low status of their women and girls. For instance, Pakistan which suffers from poverty, inflation, political instability, religious extremism and gender inequality, has a population of 164 million – rising to 304 million by 2050.
If Americans are paying attention, they know that there is increased hunger due to climate change but also to expanded use of grain for bio-fuels by the richer countries. Surging population in many of the countries where hunger reigns also plays a role. Ethiopia and India are examples.
They know that conflicts over resources (fresh water, fish, oil, wood, agricultural land) are increasing. They know that energy costs are rising and that the poor are least able to pay.
The question of whether the next US President will release congressionally approved funds to the United Nations Population Fund will be a symbol of how he understands the world. Under Barack Obama, our country will join 180 countries in supporting the women of the world through UNFPA. Under John McCain the question is wide open.
Would he be enough of a maverick to take a stand for the world’s women and against the extremist fanatics of his own party? Too much is at stake. I won’t take that chance. I’m a one issue voter.
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