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Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women's Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems

Written by Dr. Carmen Barroso and Carl Pope for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.


This fall, world population will reach seven billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check, with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines the causes and consequences of population and environmental changes from various perspectives, and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes. Here, RHRC asks two experts, Dr. Carmen Barroso, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, and Carl Pope, former Executive Director and current Chairman of the Sierra Club, to explain the connections between environmental and population issues and how the movements can work together. All of the articles in this series can be found here.
RHRC: When did you start to see the synergy between environmental and population issues? CARMEN: I remember when we didn't see them. In the 1980s, I was living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a sex education program with local women’s organizations.  True to our feminist lineage, we were advocating for women’s right to decide in matters relating to sex and reproduction. Working in the context of Brazil’s left movement, our sex education also included a critique of population control, which was a prevalent symbol of imperialism at the time.
Our concern was both with coercive practices, such as sterilization without consent, and with the notion that population stabilization could somehow be interchangeable with a fair global economy, the “new economic order,” as it was called then.  At that time, there was considerable tension between social justice-oriented feminists and environmentalists who championed population control. Today, more than thirty years later, environmentalists and reproductive rights movements share a lot more commonalities, rather than differences, in our approach and commitment to justice and autonomy. In fact, IPPF’s governing council recently adopted a policy on climate change and sustainable development.We know that population growth is just one of the several drivers of environmental problems, but we can’t ignore its connection. CARL: In the late 1960s, I was working to advance family planning methods in small villages in Bihar, India as a Peace Corps employee.  I was struck by the fact that so much of the challenge of enabling villagers to make decisions about family size had to do not with their “ignorance” or “lack of interest” as often described by government bureaucrats, but with the indifference of that bureaucracy and the lack of genuine access to either education or health care. Continue reading....