Making Reproductive Rights a Reality in July: 34 Million Friends of UNFPA
July 22, 2002, ten years ago this month, I read in the Los Angeles Times Colin Powell’s announcement that the United States of America, my country, was not going to release the $34 million Congress had approved for the U.N. Population Fund. Powell, a proponent of UNFPA, sold his soul.
I knew that this dereliction of duty and this ugly mean spirited step would mean more cases of maternal mortality, more unwanted births, large numbers of unsafe abortions, increased cases of obstetric fistula and increases in the myriad forms of gender based violence. That night I thought of asking 34 million Americans and others for one dollar. Lois Abraham, whom I didn’t know at the time, had the exact same thought. Ten years later our grassroots movement 34 Million Friends is still going and has given hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to take a stand for the women of the world through UNFPA. Our web site at www.34millionfriends.org has a new 10th anniversary home page with my new and short youtube video. My book is also available to be downloaded in PDF form at the web site.
July 11 is World Population Day. Two hundred thirteen thousand people per day and/or seventy-eight million people per year are being added to the world’s population. Human beings are a rapacious species. Rio+20 showed that governments will not sacrifice their power nor individuals their creature comforts for long term sustainability. Rio+20 showed that population remains the unmentioned elephant in the room. Sustainability is a joke.
Rio+20 showed that women remain at the low end of the totem pole and that the lip service paid to the centrality of women to both development and sustainability issues is just that: lip service.
I predict that the family planning summit in London to coincide with World Population Day will, in the long run, be more important than Rio+20. It is being sponsored by DFID, Department for Foreign and International Development (UK), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with additional support from UNFPA and USAID. Dr. Gary L. Darmstadt who heads the family health division at the Gates Foundation views the summit as an opportunity to unleash unprecedented political commitment to making access to family planning pass from a right to a reality. Dr. Babtunde Osotimehin has stated that UNFPA will increase its allocation to family planning from 25 percent to 40 percent. That is a huge positive step. Family planning is at the very core of all that reproductive health entails.
And what about you? 34 Million Friends would welcome a 10th anniversary gift and/or give the gift of family planning directly at the UNFPA web site. Family planning is central to women’s health and to women’s equality. It is too important to leave to governments alone. It is the most noble of causes going forward for people, the planet and peace.