American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
World Population - Six Billion
Asoka Bandarage is author of Women, Population and Global Crisis: A Political-Economic Analysis (London: Zed Books,1997) and Associate Professor of Women's Studies at Mount Holyoke College, MA.
On October 11, 1999 global population is said to have reached six billion.
Since the Industrial Revolution and Thomas Malthus, policymakers have identified rapid population growth as a major cause of environmental destruction, poverty, and social conflict. In recent years, analysts have also argued that population decrease in the industrialized North and population increase in the poor countries of the South are detriments to global economic prosperity and political democracy. Since World War II, a vast international network of financial and technical support has been set in place by the rich countries of the North for population control in the poor countries of the South.
Bill Gates has donated billions of dollars for global population and reproductive health efforts. Other leading US entrepreneurs like Ted Turner and Warren Buffett have also given large sums of money for global population stabilization in recent years.
Given the continuing conservative backlash against women's reproductive choice, these contributions are laudable. Indeed, the shift of emphasis in international family planning from population control to women's rights and reproductive health, since the adoption of the Program of Action at the Cairo Population and Development Conference in 1994, is an important achievement.
Despite this shift in language and emphasis, in many poor countries in the South, family planning programs are moving in authoritarian and coercive directions. Experimental contraceptives such as Norplant, "vaccines," and the nonsurgical sterilization method, Quinacrine, are given to women without proper informed consent procedures and quality health care. In Peru, economic incentives are used to encourage women to undergo sterilizations dangerous to their health and at times, even their lives. In Bangladesh, fertility and population growth rates have come down sharply, but without significant improvements in standards of living and the social and economic position of women.
In fact, fertility and population growth rates are declining far more rapidly in the South today than they did during the demographic transition in the West. In many countries, for example in sub-Saharan Africa, population growth rates are slowing down due to mortality increases associated with poverty, war, and AIDS. Still, population control enthusiasts are calling for further reductions in fertility and population growth rates in the South.
Widening economic inequality, not overpopulation, is the main issue of our time. According to the United Nations, in 1960 the 20% of the world's population living in the rich countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% of the world's population. By 1995, the share of the top 20% had increased to 82 times the income of the bottom 20%. The North accounts for about 75% of the world's energy use, emission of two-thirds of greenhouse gases and 90% of CFCs. The US, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are responsible for 85% of the global arms trade. The North, which has declining population growth rates, poses greater threats to global environment and security than the poor South, where fertility and population growth rates are higher.
Women's rights and reproductive choices are undermined by the processes of globalization. In regions ravaged by economic crises and wars such as Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, health care budgets are slashed and poverty and diseases are on the rise. Despite its liberal and humane approach, The Cairo Program of Action is inadequate to deal with the economic and social destruction associated with globalization, militarism, and deepening global inequalities. Broader plans of action which call for regulation of transnational capital, more equitable distribution of global resources, and curbs on the international arms trade are urgently needed.
Bill Gates and other corporate leaders need to support international policies for poverty eradication, demilitarization, and a more just sharing of global resources. It is only then that they can genuinely contribute to women's empowerment and reproductive health. It is time to move away from the quantitative focus on population size and growth rates to a more qualitative focus honoring the right of all to food, shelter, health care, education, and decent livelihoods. Substitution of a World Social Justice Day for a World Population Day would mark a step in the right direction.