To promote the 20th World Population Day on July 11, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) tied this year’s theme—“Fight Poverty: Educate Girls”—to combating the ongoing financial crisis. It’s a no-brainer that, as UNFPA points out, “women and children in developing countries will bear the brunt of the impact.”
But UNFPA takes it a step further, arguing that investments in education and health for women and girls lead to increases in productivity, agricultural yields, and national income. According to UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid, “an investment in contraceptive services can be recouped four times over—and sometimes dramatically more over the long term—by reducing the need for public spending on health, education and other social services.” Ban Ki-Moon agreed: “There can be no better investment on this day or any other.”
However, I fear this approach will fall on deaf ears, particularly in the United States. World Population Day usually fails to get much U.S. media attention—partly due to its unfortunate timing in the beginning of vacation season—and this year was no exception.
One of the few U.S.-based outlets to mention it at all was the Huffington Post. Contributor and Nike Foundation President Maria Eitel posted some comments on the economic “girl effect” from her colleague Lisa MacCallum, who says that education has “just about everything” to do with population.
And despite the valiant efforts of UNFPA and others to promote family planning and girls’ education as a key solution, I doubt that the world’s (mostly male) leaders will prioritize girls in the midst of this economic mess.
As WorldWatch’s Robert Engelman observes in the Christian Science Monitor, “Like nearly all other politicians, however, Mr. Obama doesn’t talk about population or its connection to problems from health and education all the way to food, energy security, and climate change. The topic is still too sensitive, despite the recent upsurge in attention.”
Maybe Obama’s actions speak louder: He rescinded the Mexico City policy, increased funding for family planning, and restored U.S. funding for UNFPA. Secretary of State Clinton is a strong advocate, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we are now an administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care.”
In the meantime, women will keep having babies. As Obaid said to the World Bank, “In war or peace, natural or man-made disaster, prosperous economy or financial crisis, women continue to get pregnant…But getting pregnant in the first place can be managed only if women are able to manage their fertility and determine where, when, and how many children to have.”