By Anna Louie Sussman
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Population control policies have been linked to the subordination of women's rights through coercive abortions and sterilizations. But in the age of C02 anxiety, a wary discourse is growing about the importance of reproductive rights to climate.
At another panel associated with the U.N. Commission on Women meeting--on gender and the Copenhagen discussions--Cate Owren, program director at the New York-based nongovernmental organization the Women's Environment and Development Organization, said references to women and gender equality were steadily eliminated from drafts of documents throughout the negotiations leading up to and during the Copenhagen climate talks.
Speakers at the panel noted how women were particularly affected by climate change and acknowledged the potential roles they could play in mitigating it. But no mention of population was made throughout the session.
"We've partnered with UNFPA where we've ventured a little bit into population issues, but to be honest we treat it very, very carefully," Owren told Women's eNews after the event. "We are very, very careful about the way we talk about populations. But of course we're deeply concerned about what we call population dynamics--migration, urbanization and changes in makeup of our societies--that will deeply affect climate change."
Sandeep Bathala, director of the Sierra Club's Global Population and Environment Program, stressed that the two issues were not anathema to one another.
"It is possible to have a rights-based approach," she told Women's eNews in an interview. "'Control' is not something we work around. We work around empowerment and access."
Frances Kissling, founder and former president of Catholics for Choice and one of the key figures behind the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development, sees an old adversary in the climate-change corner.
"These are the old pop-control people coming forward," she said. "They have this one new statistic that's sexy, the $7."
Kissling said that "historically, arguments about environment and population growth lent themselves to the justification of coercive measures." At the same time, she acknowledged a growing openness within the women's community to ideas on population.
"There's a diversity of opinion and a new interest in linking population and climate change," she said.
Robert Engelman is vice president of programs at the Worldwatch Institute and author of "More: Population, Nature and What Women Want" and the 2009 UNFPA State of the World's population report.
"It's obvious we'll be more successful combating climate change if we have a smaller population. That is logically unassailable," he said in a telephone interview.
"Population and gender are different but related. They're both especially significant connections to climate change that are under-discussed," he added. "If a bridge could be built between them, then we could have a lot more impact with policymakers."
Anna Louie Sussman is a freelance journalist whose work has also appeared in the Nation, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
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