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Posts Tagged ‘Women’s rights’

In 2012 I was very fortunate to attend several prominent international conferences where population issues – including human rights, the environment, and the global economic reality – were discussed. These events were the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Rio+20 Earth Summit and the Montreal International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas.

iStock_000014852074XSmall Earth

My current work is writing on many issues related to population, especially rights and the environment. We live in a world with 7 billion people that is predicted to be between 8 to 10 billion by 2050.  And we face many pressing problems that need solutions grounded in fairness, equality, and respect for life.

After attending these conferences, along with other events, experiences, and research, I decided to write a report on inclusive, holistic approaches to covering this subject. The result is People’s Rights, Planet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population. It recommends focusing on the following issues to create a path to a sustainable population:

  • Women’s Rights – providing voluntary family planning services to the 222 million women in developing countries who want access to family planning services but do not have access to contraceptives;
  • Youth Rights – providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to the nearly 3 billion young adults under the age of 25;
  • Rights of Nature – recognizing the legal right of ecosystems to exist;
  • Rethinking the Economy – accepting that endless economic growth is unsustainable and more efficient global indicators of human and environmental well-being should be adopted.

While there has been much focus, and rightly so, of the need to empower women as the answer to stabilizing population numbers, I think that other issues are sometimes overlooked. One is recognizing the rights of youth to reproductive health and education. Another – the need to reassess our endless growth economy – isn’t often mentioned as a solution in conjunction with human rights. Lastly, the concept of rights of nature is barely mentioned at all.

This report is my attempt to bring these issues together as a way to craft policies to better our communities and our world. Certainly it could have a big impact on India, which is soon to have the world’s biggest population. Balancing human rights with nature’s rights would help tigers and other endangered species. Creating local, sustainable economies with quality livelihoods would help people and the environment.

The same applies for the U.S. and developed countries. The situations might be slightly different, but in the end, they are not really so different; after all, we all share the same planet.

In my opinion, implementing policies based on the points above are worth undertaking and we have nothing to lose by doing so. It just might make the world a better place, which is what most of us want.

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photo credit: showmeindia.com

We need to hear more about the numerous heroes and heroines in our midst, along with successful grassroots projects, and less about partisan politics and the like.

This week I heard a presentation by Rajasvini Bhansali, or “Vini,” an amazing woman who heads up the International Development Exchange (IDEX) and is one of those people we should be hearing about.

IDEX works with local organizations to overcome poverty. Vini combines incredible intellect with warmth and an engaging personality and uses it for positive action.  I wish our media reported on more people like her.

Vini’s talk was called “India Shining” and it covered mainly positive initiatives on the ground in India.  One of her stories was about water and women in Rajasthan.  If you’ve ever been to that state, you know how dry it is.  It’s a beautiful but very arid region that is home to many rural and desert communities. According to IDEX, desert families spend upwards of 70% of their income on water.

Not surprisingly, water, and water management, is a huge issue.  This is especially so for women, who spend much of their time walking great distances to collect water for their families.  Often it is young girls tasked with this burden.  Fetching water is a priority that is put before school, so few girls are able to gain an education. As water becomes scarcer, the negative impact on women becomes greater.

GRAVIS, a local IDEX grantee with field offices in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, strives to create self-reliant villages.  One such initiative is helping implement a traditional way of harvesting and storing rain water to help Rajasthani communities.  Using taankas, or underground water storage tanks, GRAVIS helped 20 villages construct these tanks that resulted in vastly improved water security during times of drought.  At the same time, it eased the water burden on women.

photo credit: gravis.org.in

A taanka reportedly costs about $250, and the tanks capture, filter, and store rainwater normally collected from rooftops.  Each taanka holds 20,000 liters of water. Once a tank is filled, it can last a family for 5-6 months. Freed from the need to collect water, more girls are able to attend school.  A win-win for the family and community.

Vini talked about how the most durable solutions to poverty come from the ground up.  Not only that, but they come from resurrecting past, even ancient, traditions.  Technology can be a saving grace for our societies, but tapping into knowledge and nature could even be better.

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photo credit: Oxfam.org.uk

Secretary Hillary Clinton and her entourage have come and gone from India, where they discussed many important and pressing issues.  However, women’s issues were not among them.  Of course you can’t cover everything in a short visit, yet I am a little surprised that it didn’t even make the agenda, given Clinton’s strong support of these issues at the State Department (creating an Office of Global Women’s Issues).  Clinton has put a lot of her force behind women rights, saying “The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women’s rights in every country on every continent.”

Women in India are impacted by a host of problems, from poverty to HIV/AIDS to ingrained preference for sons.  The maternal mortality rate in India is shockingly high, at 254 per 100,000 live births, though there has been some improvement in the last few years. I wish Clinton would have focused attention on maternal health; according to UNICEF, worldwide over 500,000 women die of pregnancy related causes every year.  It is unconscionable that this many women are dying in childbirth.  A little attention and investment in healthcare and women’s rights would make a world of difference.

When I was in India in 2009, I met with women and men working to improve the maternal health of Indian women and increase awareness of family planning.  Education and access to health centers, be it public or private, are key.  A high percentage of rural women do not have close or easy access to clinics and healthcare providers, nor do they receive adequate pre (and post) natal care.  Furthermore, they don’t receive much education on sexual and reproductive health, especially available contraceptive options for themselves and their families.  It is crucial that both partners be educated and involved in making decisions and understand the risks and benefits.

Population Services International is one of many groups doing excellent work on women’s health.  One tactic they use in educating people is street theater, where actors talk about the effects of having a large family vs. small and act out as couples having a discussion of family planning. The play I saw was on IUDs – what it is, why couples might want to use it.  During and after the street theater, outreach workers hand out pamphlets with information.  It also doesn’t hurt to have international celebrities on your side — to encourage condom usage PSI has Justin Timberlake marketing one of their Masti condom brand.

I know, we can barely get our Congress to do the right thing on energy efficient light bulbs, so why would they even care about the health of women in India.  That’s someone else’s problem if women in India are dying in childbirth.  This is an obvious statement, but it is about doing what is morally just.  Women should not be dying in childbirth anywhere in the world in the 21st century if it is at all preventable.

Hopefully Secretary Clinton’s next trip to India will make this and other issues directly affecting women a priority.

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