Scrupulous Attention to Human Rights in Population Discourse

Laurie Mazur

A constructive approach would set standards for how we talk about – and act on -- on population and environment issues: taking care not to overstate the role of population growth and ensuring scrupulous attention to human rights in discourse, communications, advocacy and programs.

Like Michelle, I was struck by the emphasis on population growth, which has indeed been a taboo topic in recent years. And I agree that the conversation about population is now “roaring back.” (For just one example, check out this debate on Alternet.)

The new emphasis on population growth has again raised the specter of “population control,” but it could also reinvigorate support for sexual and reproductive health and rights. So how should advocates for women’s rights and health approach this debate? Frances Kissling, the former director of Catholics for a Free Choice, grapples with this question in a terrific essay that will be published in my forthcoming book (A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice and the Environmental Challenge). Some organizations, she argues, must continue to insist that women’s rights are an end in themselves. “At the same time,” writes Kissling, “there is no need for these groups to attempt to prohibit all organizations from making links between population, environment, development and reproductive health.”

Instead, a constructive approach would set standards for how we talk about – and act on — on population and environment issues: taking care not to overstate the role of population growth and ensuring scrupulous attention to human rights in discourse, communications, advocacy and programs.

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