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Putting Reproductive Rights and Population Growth in Perspective

Written by Carmen Barroso for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This post is published as part of our series in recognition of International Human Rights Day 2010 on Friday, December 10th.  Read more International Human Rights Day 2010 posts here.

You may remember the book by Heidi Hartmann The Unhappy Marriage of Feminism and Marxism, published in the 1980s.  Well, I was a daughter of that marriage.

In the 80’s with the support of the Ford Foundation, I was on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a methodology for sex education with grassroots women. The purpose was to promote the right to decide and, very advanced for that time, the right to seek pleasure. As you see, true to form to the feminist lineage.

But I was also mindful of the leftist milieu that nurtured all progressive thinking in the country and to which feminists were held accountable if they wanted to be part of the “luta geral.” So, our sex education project also included a critique of population control. Our concern was both with coercive practices and with an ideology that seemed to promote population stabilization as a substitute for a fairer global economy, for a new economic order, as it was called then. Lyndon Johnson’s statement that five dollars spent in family planning was more productive than one hundred dollars spent in development seemed to justify this view of the population agenda as a threat to the right to development.  

The methodology we were developing was participatory. We used cartoons or photographs to start consciousness-raising discussions. One of the cartoons depicted two women. One of them was saying: "Did you see the TV last night? They said we are poor because we have too many children." The other responded: "That is nonsense. They should distribute income instead of the pill."

Even if this dialogue sounds bizarre, it reflected our mentality. Fortunately, I had then one of the teaching moments of my life.  The grassroots women of the periphery of Sao Paulo were unanimous in pointing out the flaw in this dichotomy: they all wanted better income distribution AND the pill.

Many years have passed and I have since tried to contribute to a virtuous synergy between a macro and a micro approach to population and reproductive rights. Read more