Environment, Family Planning

Earth Day 2007: Improving the Status of Women Will Make a World of Difference

As we celebrate the 37th Earth Day, the world is increasingly—albeit
belatedly—focusing on how to address the growing problem of human-induced
climate change and the environmental destruction that contributes to it. One
critical, but often overlooked, part of any comprehensive program to tackle
climate change is addressing gender inequality—particularly in terms of
reproductive health—in the developing world.

The interconnections between the status of women and environmental
sustainability are significant. For example, more than 200 million women in
poor, developing nations wish to delay or end childbearing but lack access to
modern contraceptives. In countries such as Ethiopia and Pakistan, more than
one-third of married couples have this “unmet need” for contraceptives. This
deprivation of basic reproductive rigpopact—which often leads to larger than
desired family size—takes a heavy toll on women and results in rapid population
growth. As a result, the burden on the global environment and the destruction of
natural resources are made even worse.

Currently the world adds 6.3 million people a month and is on track to add
another 2.5 billion people by 2050. It’s important to remember that these
updated projections from the United Nations assume that birth rates will decline
in the developing world. If birth rates remain static, the planet could easily
add 5 billion people by 2050, creating a greater and more dire strain on the
environment.

A 2005 documentary produced by PAI called “Finding
Balance: Forests and Family Planning in Madagascar
” profiles Voahary Salama,
a local organization whose innovative approach is improving women’s lives and
helping ease population pressures on the environment. Considering that 38% of
pregnancies worldwide are unintended, providing women with the ability to
determine the timing and size of their families can make a significant impact on
global population growth. With greater access to reproductive health programs
and services, women will live longer, healthier lives—increasing their
children’s chances of survival—and population growth rates will slow.

Tragically, despite the need and demand for voluntary family planning, U.S.
funding for these programs has been cut by 41 % (adjusted for inflation) since
1995, despite the fact that the number of women of reproductive age in the
developing world has increased by 275 million since 1995. To make matters worse,
President Bush’s proposed budget for next year recommends another massive cut of
25%.

This Earth Day, PAI challenges governments around the world to show a
commitment to reversing human-induced climate change by supporting voluntary
family planning programs. The lives of women and the future of the planet are at
stake.

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