News / USA

Women Bear Brunt of Population Growth

Worldwatch Institute President Robert Engelman addressed consequences of rapid global population growth. (Credit: Women Deliver)
Worldwatch Institute President Robert Engelman addressed consequences of rapid global population growth. (Credit: Women Deliver)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
The global population is expected to rise to nine billion by 2050. Most of that growth will be in developing countries. However, many are asking whether such growth is sustainable, considering the amount of resources that would be consumed. The issues of population growth and sustainability were addressed on the closing day of the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The economies of many developing countries are growing fast. And consumers there are acting more and more like consumers in developed nations. For example, diets are changing, with higher fat, salt and sugar content and there’s a rising demand for cars and bigger homes.

But participants at the Women Deliver conference are asking whether those should be among the aspirations of the developing world? And if so, at what cost to the planet? And what cost to women, who may lack health care and reproductive rights?

Worldwatch Institute President Robert Engelman began the session by mentioning an article in the May 29th edition of the International Herald Tribune. It reported on new strains of viruses for the flu and SARS, both claiming lives. What’s more, the authors say the world sees at least five new, emerging infectious diseases every year.

He said, “They list these causes for this worrisome trend in this order: population growth, deforestation, antibiotic overuse, factory farming, live animal markets, bush meat hunting, jet travel and other factors.”

He pointed out that population growth is at the top of the list.

“Today we are at a moment in history in which our collective activities already undermine the livelihoods and health of hundreds of millions, maybe billions of people – the vast majority of them poor and more than half of them, much more than half of them, female,” he said.

That’s happening, he said, in a number of ways.

“I’m speaking of human-caused climate change, obviously, but also emerging disease, the shrinking size of subsistence farm plots, the fall of soil fertility and aquifers that help feed farmers with water, the drying up of rivers, the ongoing loss of diverse and wild animal food sources and the rising cost of energy and food. Many of the scientists who study these issues consider the growth of human population, which has doubled since the mid 1960s, as at least one important causal factor in these hazardous developments.”

Engelman said that rather than calling for population control, more scientists are recommending empowering women and couples to achieve their own reproductive goals.

“With nearly one in four births worldwide resulting from unintended pregnancy, you don’t have to be a scientist to see that if all the births that occurred in the world were the result of women’s and couples’ aspirations, particularly maternal aspirations, that population growth would slow pretty significantly and possibly would never get to the expected nine billion people,” Engelman said.

Ford Foundation’s Kavita Ramdas questioned what might happen if developing world aspirations follow those of countries like the United States?

“The U.S., with less than five percent of the world’s total population, uses more than 25 percent of the world’s total fossil fuel resources. And in terms of aspirations, new houses in the United States are now 38 percent bigger in 2002 than they were in 1975, despite having fewer people per household than they did in 1975.”

Ramdas said that there’s enough evidence to show it would be the wrong path to take.

“Everything we know scientifically tells us that if the levels of consumption that we aspire to in the rest of the world were replicated across even half of the nine billion people that we are expected to have on the planet by 2050, the impact on our world be extraordinarily severe. So clearly there is a reason for us to be willing to talk certainly about population and women’s rights and the 200-million women who want to use contraception,” she said.

However, talking about empowering women with reproductive rights often collides head-on with reality.

Ramdas said, “For many, many women in the world sex is not something they have much control over. If you do survey after survey in much of Africa and in much of the parts of South Asia, nonconsensual sex is the experience of many, many women. And I think we should also be talking about single people and other people, who also have a right to access to contraception and it’s not necessarily about families.”

Harvard School of Public Health lecturer Alicia Yamin said there’s plenty of evidence that greater reproductive rights would reduce population growth.

“We need to take seriously the threat posed by untrammeled population growth and the effects on women, especially. We also need to take seriously the suffering of women, who don’t have access to contraception. But I hope that in the next development framework we can also take seriously what development should be about – what human beings are as active agents, who should be able to expand their choices, their rights and their capabilities,” she said.

U.N. Population Fund Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said population growth varies. Some countries have an increase, some have none and others have population shrinkage.

“In every particular circumstance,” he said, “when you go around and ask the women -- how many children do you want to have? -- they actually want less than the ones they have. So, what we have denied them is their right to make that choice – to have the number they want and the spacing they want in between them. So, it comes back to the issue of freedoms and choices.”

But he added that sustainability is more than addressing consumption and population growth. It’s also about addressing waste, such as the one trillion dollars worth of food wasted every year. Osotimehin said that sustainability is also about the politics of distribution and access.

You May Like

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

Research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities, and Christians are facing persecution in a growing number of countries in the region More

Chinese Americans: Don’t Call Us 'Model Minority'

Label points to collective achievement, but some say it triggers resentment, unrealistic expectations More

Iran Bolsters Phone, Internet Surveillance

Does increased monitoring suggest the government is nervous? More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Polish Ghetto

When the Nazi army moved into the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid