My Latest Think Girl Column: Women Globalization, and Population Control: Shifting Our Perspectives
by Julie Fiandt
A complex tangle of issues undergirds the global problems between women, population "control", development, environment, resource maldistribution, and nationalism. Asoka Bandarage's writing begins to sum up the root problem:
"Rapid population growth in the world today is not simply attributable to ignorance, irrationality, and apathy of the poor, or to their lack of access to contraceptives. The fundamental reasons for population growth in the South and population decline in the North (apart from immigration) lie in the evolution of industrial capitalism and Western imperialism."
The extent of this problem in immense; for example, Bandarage writes, "According to U.N. estimates, 1.2 billion people in the world live in deep poverty. More than a quarter of the world's population fails to receive sufficient food for a normally active life, and nearly one-fifth goes hungry every day."
Women in developing countries face both invisibility and hypervisibility amid population growth and control. Women's fertility becomes the target for development agencies and those concerned with economic growth, rather than the economic and social inequalities that encourage poor Third World women to have children. Many women are in survival mode. If women and children do not have access to adequate health care, infant mortality will be high. Bandarage shares a statistic: 14 million children die before their fifth birthday. Women will have more children to compensate for this loss. Also, as she argues, the cost of raising an additional child is marginal in many communities of the Global South, as compared to wealthy countries like the United Sates. In face, these children are often assets, not resource drains, as they contribute to the search for family resources. Third world women are making intelligent decisions, given their circumstances; we must respect their social agency.
Contraceptives while, at first glance, seem helpful in the improvement of women's and children's status, contain many threats. First, for years, pharmaceutical companies have been "dumping unsafe contraceptives on the Third World," as writer Naila Kabeer shows. Also, women have been forced into sterilizations. In other words, women of the Global South face reproductive coercion. For example, Chinese women have had their reproductive rights curtailed with the one child policy. I am particularly concerned that white, middle-class Western feminists, through organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), see contraceptives as solutions to poverty and hunger. (The writer Esther Wangari has addressed some specific examples with IPPF.)
Second, as Bandarage writes, "For many Native American and other indigenous peoples, the primary issue continues to be survival, not population control. Understandably, then, when sterilization and experimental contraceptives are pushed on native women, they see this as a form of genocide." Of course these women would view Western attempts at pushing contraceptive as promoting genocide's agenda: racism, classism and nationalism. Also, women in many countries, such as in India and China, are facing a form of genocide in that, boys are preferred over girls. Birth control and abortion make sex-selection possible, even as they provide reproductive choices.
What can prevent these kinds of problems? Frances Moore Lappe and Rachel Schuman completed a study of over 70 countries and find only six places where fertility rates had declined, as Bandarage points out. These places provided basic necessities. Voluntary family planning became a reality when material resources, health, and education were provided first, and for women particularly. This demonstrates the importance of income redistribution, not just economic growth. In addition, men must carry the burden of helping with childcare and discovering male methods of birth control.
These are just a few starting points in discussing these issues. Ultimately, feminists concerned with development issues of population, development, environment, resource maldistribution, poverty, and nationalism must continue to work for feasible, yet transformative, solutions. To do this, we need an alliance between feminists, globalization activists, environmentalists, anti-racist organizers, peace activists, and more. The women who need it most must maintain this alliance.
Future columns will look at other globalization issues: militarization, environmental concerns, and more.
Committee on Women, Population and the Environment http://www.cwpe.org/
Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment (CWPE) is a multi-racial alliance of feminist community organizers, scholarly activists, and health practitioners committed to promoting the social and economic empowerment of women in a context of global peace and justice; and to eliminating poverty.
Bandarage, Asoka. "Population and Development: Toward a Social Justice Agenda." Silliman 24-38.
Kabeer, Naila. "Chapter 8: Implementing the Right to Choose: Women, Motherhood and Population Policy," Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. New York: Verso, 1994. 187-222.
Silliman, Jael and Ynestra King, ed. Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999.
Wangari, Esther. "Reproductive Technologies: A Third World Feminist Perspective." Feminist Post-Development Though: Rethinking Modernity, Post-Colonialism and Representation. Ed. Kriemild Saunders. New York: Zed Books, 2002. 298-312.
From Think Girl http://www.thinkgirl.net