Rupert Walder

Should we use the "p" word again in order to reach out to policy makers who continue to take a polite, but not very political, interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights as a development issue?

This was a busy week concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights where Bush's top adviser on HIV and AIDS tells us we are losing the battle against the virus, where The World Bank reminds us that governments are not living up their promises to support family planning programmes, and here in the UK the new head of The Science Museum says global warming will only be re-dressed if we get rid of a few billion people.

Since I don't believe anything any of Bush's experts say on anything (especially sexual health), and have always thought the Bank was just a little too self-validating and aggrandizing in its reporting back to the outside word, I'm stuck with the Head of The Science Museum Chris Rapley, and his draconian take on how to create a balance in this very unbalanced world. (Rapley, by the way, is quick to qualify his statement by saying he does not advocate genocide but investments in ways to reduce the birthrate such as improving contraception, education and healthcare.)

At the beginning of July, the UK-based Optimum Population Trust published a report called Youthquake about the escalating population problem around the globe. The report's author, Professor John Guillebaud, said: "No one is in favour of governments dictating family size, but we need to act quickly to prevent it. Worldwide, as this century progresses, those who continue to place obstacles in the way of women who want to control their fertility will have only themselves to blame, as more and more regimes bring in coercive measures."

With finite resources and finite political interest in their messages, is it time for sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates to be using the dreaded "p" word again? It seems a shame to go back to pre-ICPD language, but it may be a necessary compromise in order to reach out to the real policy makers and policy brokers around the globe who continue — as far as I can see — to take a polite, but not very political, interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights as a development issue. If we want sexual and reproductive health and rights on the development agenda, should we be placing it back in terms (and terminology) that actually matter to the architects of development?

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In a decade or two's experience working in the press and communications offices for a number of reproductive health organizations, I was regularly reminded never to mention population. The fear was that we would be painted as "population controllers" by the anti-choicers. Globally, the stakes are getting a little too high to worry about criticism from minority groups, and it may be time for sexual and reproductive health organizations and activists to work with the allies that they do have, rather than in fear of — fundamentally inconsequential — detractors. A little bit of pragmatism and lateral thinking would not go amiss to spread the word a little further.

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