Posts Tagged ‘Rio+20’

The world’s population and its dynamics play an enormous role in shaping the world we live in and in shaping the world future generations inherit. The sustainability of our lives depends not only on the type of energy we use, but also on how many people there are on our planet and the quality of their lives. The rate at which the global population grows, how healthy it is, how young or old it is, how much of it is employed or unemployed, whether the majority chooses to live in cities or rural areas; all of this matters. Access to family planning influences all of that. Discussing voluntary family planning should therefore be part of any discussion on population and population should be part of any discussion on sustainable development.

Neglecting population issues can jeopardize food security, economic growth, global health, political stability, and further endanger our already ailing earth. Efforts towards sustainable development will not work as long as these efforts remain cut off from  population dynamics in general and family planning in particular.

Plenty of people realize this. This is nothing new. Along with others, this has been pointed out by everyone’s favorite climate change activist, Al Gore. Why then is access to family planning, something that leads to healthy children, healthy mothers, healthy economies, and healthy countries, left off of the slate for the upcoming Rio + 20 Conference to take place this June in Brazil?

The Rio + 20 Conference will serve as a follow-up conference to the Earth Summit that occurred in 1992 in the same city. This conference is intended not only to measure how the world has progressed since 1992, but is also supposed to help chart a sustainable path for economic growth for the future. Like any large summit with delegations attending from most of the world’s countries, work on the outcome document, an agreed upon statement essentially, has begun well before the summit. Watching the progression of the outcome document can tell observers a little bit about what will actually be achieved. This has already begun for Rio + 20 with the release of a zero draft. Absent from the zero draft unfortunately, is any mention of family planning.

A zero draft is only a rough collection of ideas put on paper, so there is time for progress, but it is still troubling to see that population issues have been left out of these initial brainstorming stages.

Making progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is mentioned, and family planning is integrated into goal number five, but that is still not really enough. To make progress on something, to include something as one of a set of tools, it has to be mentioned specifically, it has to be named. That has not been done so far.

Alluding to the issue will not do. Alluding, however, is all that this document does.

Here is some sample text to prove the point:

We acknowledge, however, that there have also been setbacks because of multiple interrelated crises – financial, economic and volatile energy and food prices. Food insecurity, climate change and biodiversity loss have adversely affected development gains. New scientific evidence points to the gravity of the threats we face. New and emerging challenges include the further intensification of earlier problems calling for more urgent responses. We are deeply concerned that around 1.4 billion people still live in extreme poverty and one sixth of the world’s population is undernourished, pandemics and epidemics are omnipresent threats. Unsustainable development has increased the stress on the earth’s limited natural resources and on the carrying capacity of ecosystems. Our planet supports seven billion people expected to reach nine billion by 2050.

There it is. Did you see that? You may have to go back and look again, but it’s there. That’s right, it does say population. It even says how many people we have on our planet and how many more we will have in roughly four decades. But that’s what’s so frustrating about this document. It’s as if everyone knows what the issue is, but just doesn’t say it. These are highly educated delegates from around the world so they can’t simply be ignorant, can they?

Let’s pause for a minute to consider something.

Can the world make significant progress on the issues in the text above without increasing women’s voluntary access to family planning? How healthy can a population be if significant amounts of its women begin bearing children before their bodies are fully able? What if women cannot determine the spacing of their pregnancies and begin another pregnancy before they have recuperated from the last?

Moving on…

Maybe we are just supposed to guess at what they mean. There is a lot of talk in the document about the three pillars of sustainable development: economic factors; social factors; and environmental factors. Are we just supposed to assume that population issues like voluntary family planning are included in social factors? Why doesn’t the document just come out and say it?

Here’s another bit of text:

We call for removing barriers that have prevented women from being full participants in the economy and unlocking their potential as drivers of sustainable development, and agree to prioritize measures to promote gender equality in all spheres of our societies, including education, employment, ownership of resources, access to justice, political representation, institutional decision-making, care giving and household and community management.

Close, but no cigar.

Maybe the document is vague in general and doesn’t mention other specifics?

Not really.

The document mentions green jobs six different times. Green economy, twenty four times. Biodiversity, six times. Even climate change is mentioned seven times.

The word population is used twice. Family planning, zero. Contraception, zero. Sex education, zero. How about even the word sex? That’s right, zero.

Why is the document specific about some things but not about others? Why does this document not include any reference to family planning? Are they just stupid? No.

Here is the likely reason in one word: cowardice.

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