My Fantasy Talk to Thousands including Ban Ki-Moon and UNFPA ED Babatunde Osotimehin
The work of the United Nations Population Fund is THE most important on earth. Listen to the words of Ban Ki-Moon (seated right there) “In women, the world has the most significant but untapped potential for development and peace.” If that is true, and it is, then that is our task, to unleash the power of women for development (which means cutting poverty and all of the scourges which poverty entails) and for peace, which means doing what is necessary for women to be equal in all realms of civil society and particularly in the political process of making wise decisions for minimizing conflict and enhancing human potential for the long term.
Listen to the words of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin , executive director of our beloved UNFPA (seated right there) in a letter to the New York Times. “The time has long passed when anyone can or should be allowed to dictate or restrict women’s rights. No young girl should be forced into marriage. Each woman should have the means to exercise her human right to choose when and how often to have children. Finally, the world should affirm, once and for all, that no argument can every justify violence against any woman on any grounds whatsoever.” Amen to that!
The most recent State of World Population Report put out by UNFPA is entitled By Choice Not By Chance (show on screen): Family Planning, Human Rights and Development. In it things are said which are a little more “daring” than in previous years. For example: “Relative to previous generations greater numbers of young people and adults of reproductive age are having sex outside of marriage with no immediate desire to have children. Ensuring their access to family planning regardless of their marital status requires an acknowledgement of sexual activity for pleasure and intimacy BEFORE and AFTER marriage as well as within it.” And also “Though religious practices and social norms suggest that marriage is a pre-requisite for sexual activity, the State has an obligation to ensure access to family planning to all people irrespective of their religious beliefs and sexual practices without discrimination.” In this instance UNFPA is dealing with the REAL WORLD, not an idealized world. Good for them. Did you know that the median age on the planet is just over 25? Believe me there are hundreds of millions of young people whose sexual urges are pretty darn strong. Planned children prosper.
I want you to watch this vimeo put out by Population Action International on the devastating effects of a lack of access to family planning on individual women. It’s about two minutes long. http://www.populationaction.org/empty-handed/ (Show vimeo) People, all of you, nearly all of you, in this room have used family planning at some time in your lives. Family planning is a great gift of the 20th and 21st centuries. It gives you choices for your individual lives. Here in the U.S. we take it for granted. At the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt in 1994 the whole world adopted this language: “Couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and the means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.” Wow, there it is in black and white. Yet this promise of universal access has been more honored in the breach than in the implementation. More than 220 million women lack access. Let’s be honest. With the world’s present balance of power, if men could become pregnant, there would NOT be a shortage of family planning commodities, right guys? The lack of access to family planning is, at its root, a manifestation of gender inequality. UNFPA is the world’s leading source of family planning education and commodities. It is doing this crucial work in the sweat and toil of everyday life out there in remote, rural, hard-to-reach areas for women and families in dire need of its services. Thank you UNFPA!
Shall we be honest about abortion? UNFPA by its charter is prohibited from supplying abortion services. But its family planning programs prevent abortions by the millions. There are (write these figures down (put on screen) well over 200 million pregnancies in the world every year, about 80 million more births than deaths (that is to say that 220,000 people are being added to the world’s population every DAY! That’s right, you heard it right! And of these 200 million pregnancies, fully 20 percent end in abortion i.e. 40 million. Of those about 20 million are legal and for all practical purposes safe. But 20 million are not, they are either do- it- yourself or done by clandestine suppliers. Now what is the result? Well, it is tens of thousands of deaths and several million cases of injuries, hemorrhages and infections requiring post-abortion care, PAC, it has its own acronym. What in the world, literally, are we doing? UNFPA knows this. They see the carnage every day. And they see governments adopt budgets that put a low priority on family planning and on reproductive health in general. They see governments who won’t allow an abortion for an 11 year old rape victim or for a woman with extremely serious health problems whose developing fetus has no brain and would never survive. They also see the U.S. either deny funds to UNFPA entirely under (let’s be honest again), Republican administrations and/or eke out minimum donations of between $30 and $40 million under Democratic administrations. People, when the world takes care of women, women take care of the world. UNFPA takes care of the world’s women. What is the U.S. thinking!!
Now two speakers for short presentations.
1. A woman from somewhere in the world who has benefited from UNFPA’s family planning, how it has empowered her and made her life and the life of her family better.
2. A woman who sought out an illegal abortion and who has permanent injuries which preclude her from having children. UNFPA has assisted her with post abortion care.
(Me again) Remember what Dr. Osotimehin said in his letter that nothing ever justifies violence against women. Well, let’s expand our definition of violence against women to include first of all dying in childbirth. There is no excuse in the 21st century. And for me, lack of access to family planning and legal safe abortion are also forms of gender-based violence. When you really think about it, why not! Let’s be brutally honest. With the world’s present power structure, if men could become pregnant paternal mortality would be a thing of the past, family planning would be universally available, and abortion would be safe and legal everywhere.
Another form of gender based violence is early forced marriage. It is now the “soupe du jour” all around the world with people speaking out including THE ELDERS who have made it one of their signature campaigns. Look up www.THEELDERS.org. But years ago, UNFPA was speaking out about this. I remember watching their wonderful video called “Too Brief a Child: Voices of Married Adolescents”. It was heart-rending. Early marriage is driven by poverty, illiteracy, and gender inequality. Let’s hear from ???
Short presentation by a girl from Yemen? India? who escaped early marriage with the help of UNFPA. Her ability to continue to go to school etc.
People, let’s look at the big picture. When I was born in 1941, you don’t have to do the math, there were approximately 2.8 billion people on the planet. There are now well over 7 billion and according to very recently revised figures by the U.N. Population Division, the world population in 2050 will be nearly 9.6 billion, 3 hundred million over previous estimates. This growth will come in the poorest countries with the least resources for the infrastructure necessary for schools, transportation, sanitation etc. These countries with high population growth rates also have high rates of maternal mortality, high infant and child mortality and guess what, women have low status.
And then there is climate change. With droughts and floods and extreme weather events, will the U.N.’s World Food Program be able to keep up? I don’t think so. Look at the Sahel right now. Will the U.N. Children’s Fund be able to stem the tide of malnutrition and stunted growth (both body and brains) for the millions of children who essentially die aborning or before the age of 5 because their mothers never should have gotten pregnant in the first place? Will there be enough fresh water for 9 billion thirsty people and for other living things on the planet? NO! Let’s get real. And energy, won’t 9 billion people want a job that uses the planet’s resources and energy for a life style which we here would find acceptable? The planet can not do it. No it can’t. And there will be conflicts over these resources of food, water, energy (often couched in religious terms) and the U.N. will become nothing but a crisis response crisis management organization asking for billions of supplementary funds for this and that humanitarian and environmental crisis. I think the Secretary General and Dr. Osotimehin know this in their heart of hearts. It is difficult though to be brutally honest. People want to hear optimistic forecasts which show possible usually technological solutions. Balderdash!
Gender inequality is the moral scourge and the moral challenge of the age. At her hearings to become Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Of particular concern to me is the plight of women and girls who comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unschooled, unfed, and unpaid.” That is an enormous statement, just enormous. Unhealthy illiterate and poverty stricken girls and women have no real choices for their lives. They are disempowered in the extreme. UNFPA strives to give them the choices that we all are able to make. Just imagine your lives if you couldn’t read! I have to show you this little booklet from a UNFPA (put picture on screen) sponsored school in Senegal. On the front in French, for all kids and their parents to see: “Little girls have as much right to food, education, and health care as little boys.” We live in a world where you have to SAY THAT? Good grief! But UNFPA is there saying just that!
I have a vision. My vision is this and I say it in my book “We have to imagine a world where all people, men and women in equal partnership with no artificial legal, cultural, religious or economic barriers work together for the greater good. We must imagine a world where all people regardless of their GENDER are judged, as Dr. Martin Luther King might have said, only by the content of their character.” There is such a long long way to go.
But yet, only then, only if this vision which is shared by millions of people worldwide and of course by our two highly honored guests, becomes reality, can we as a people and as inhabitants of this planet realize an acceptable future. UNFPA is at the forefront of this struggle. And it is the most crucial struggle on earth. I’ll close with a quote by the former Ambassador to Africa for HIV/Aids, the Canadian lion Stephen Lewis: “I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.”
Be generous with your money and your time. Educate people, particularly young people, educate politicians. Educate the world. As I said at the beginning: THE WORK OF THE UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ON EARTH!
(And you can take a stand at www.34millionfriends.org.)