Family Planning is a Green Technology

Frances Kissling

Two hundred million women worldwide want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to contraception. Recent research suggests that filling this gap is a humane and cost-effective human rights and environmental strategy.

This article was originally published in Salon.

Recent research has demonstrated that among the many strategies that
need to be brought to bear to reduce global warming, one of the most
humane and cost-effective would be meeting the global need for
contraception. Two hundred million women worldwide are without it as
they try to prevent becoming pregnant.

But if President Obama
tries to include family planning in any attempts to address climate
change, he’s likely to face another thorny battle with the religious
activists who supported his election. Religious leaders, even
evangelicals, have jumped on the climate-control bandwagon but remain
at best unwilling to admit the important role that family planning
could play in achieving a smaller human footprint on the environment.
At worst, they are actively opposed to expanding contraceptive
possibilities for women in the developing world.

A study by Thomas Wire of the London School of Economics, "Fewer
Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost," commissioned by the U.K.’s
Optimum Population Trust, demonstrates the impact that improved access
to birth control could have on the planet:

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[E]ach $7.00 spent on basic family planning over
the next four decades will reduce CO2 emissions by more than a ton. To
achieve the same results with low carbon technologies would cost a
minimum of $32.00. If we just meet that need that women have already
expressed for fewer children and access to contraception, we will save
34 gigatons between now and 2050, equivalent to nearly six times the
annual emissions of the US.

Were this 1960 or
even 1990, there would be understandable and widespread opposition to
the idea that the way to solve environmental problems is through
contraception. During that era, conventional wisdom held that the world
faced imminent crisis unless we drastically reduced the number of
people competing for land and food, and it became easy to justify
draconian measures to control female fertility. Women’s rights
activists, for example, had long reported on the negative effects that
an obsession with reducing population had on women.

In 1983, the
United Nations awarded China its first annual Population Prize,
willingly overlooking the massive human rights violations that
accompanied China’s one-child policy. Massive forced abortions,
sterilization following the birth of the first child, houses bulldozed
to find and punish those who violated the policy offended the
conscience of women’s rights advocates. Less draconian policies in
Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India were cited by human rights
advocates as examples of what happens when having "too many people" is
defined as the problem — and reducing their numbers is seen as an
easier solution than compelling those of us in the developed world to
reduce our consumption, or forcing corporations to stop clear-cutting

Family-planning programs in many developing countries
that received foreign assistance from the developed world were often
sub-standard, offering women no choice but whatever contraceptive was
being pushed at the time, usually a long-acting method that women could
not control. Developing country governments, eager for the funds, set
targets that poorly paid family-planning workers had to meet in order
to get a bonus. If they could convince a woman or her husband to get
sterilized the bonus was even higher. After all, the experts admitted,
consumption and corporate greed were responsible for a hell of a lot
more environmental degradation than poor people having kids — but
stopping Japanese and American lumber companies from chopping down
trees in Brazil was too difficult. And, even if population programs
were occasionally coercive, many believed they were in poor people’s
interests as fewer babies meant less poverty and more opportunity for
women and families in the developing world.

But the other side of
the coin, even in those early years, was always the undeniable fact
that women wanted family planning. It improved their lives. As
individual family size dropped, families were able to send girls as
well as boys to school, girls got married later, women entered the
workforce and their physical health improved.

Steve Sinding,
former director of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health program
and an ardent advocate of rights-based family-planning programs,
stresses that such programs have been a global success story,
comparable to the Green Revolution and the eradication of smallpox.
Along with four former USAID program directors, he issued a recent
report that describes successes between 1965 and 2005. Excluding China,
they note that during those 40 years, the use of family planning by
women of reproductive age in the developing world rose from 10 percent
to 53 percent and average family size from six children to just over

A major paradigm shift in the population and development field has
achieved great changes in the quality of family planning programs over
the last 15 years. The U.N. Population Fund and women’s health
activists shifted the conceptual frame for family planning from
demographic imperatives to human rights, resulting in the end of
officially sanctioned targets for sterilization and family planning and
to a basic women’s health approach in which choice and voluntarism were
key values. Population control was out and reproductive health was in,
and many of the objections to past family programs were mooted.

the shift in paradigms, while it improved the quality of many services,
did not solve some stubborn problems. Certain statistics remain
constant. Half a million women a year still die in childbirth and 200
million women who don’t want to get pregnant still do not have access
to family planning. And the change in emphasis also came at a stark
economic price. When we started framing reproduction as a health and
human rights issue instead of a population, environment and national
security issue, the money dried up. The funds moved to other issues.

the same time period that we dramatically reduced the death rate from
HIV and AIDS, we have made no progress — no progress at all — in
reducing maternal mortality. And, although the cost is minimal, $3.9
billion a year to meet that unmet need for contraception, it is not

Will linking climate change to family planning help women at the
same time it helps the planet? If we can’t convince governments to
support family planning because it is good for women, perhaps the
mounting evidence that contraception is almost five times cheaper than
conventional green technologies as a means of combating climate change
will do the trick. And can we avoid a resurgence of the old order where
women too often became the means to someone else’s ends?

feminist leaders think we can keep providing quality services and
preserve the world’s commitment to the basic human right of women and
couples to decide freely on the number of their children. This is, many
tell us, the century of women.

So where is the remaining
resistance to acknowledging family planning as one of the solutions to
climate change? There is well-placed concern that once again, the
developed world will not deal with its own consumption problem, but
instead put pressure on poor people to have fewer children, even though
we know that all those poor people leave a very small carbon footprint
compared to Americans. We, after all, applaud the one-child policy in
China but would consider a one-car-per-family-of-four policy in the
U.S. a violation of our basic human rights.

But there is also
resistance from antiabortion groups. Supporting family planning has
become a policy liability. American environmental groups bowed out of
advocating for family planning in the 1990s when antiabortion groups
attacked them as "pro-abortion." The environmentalists have stayed
scared ever since.

I vividly remember a press conference where
the then-head of the Audubon Society refused to stand next to Gloria
Feldt, the then-head of Planned Parenthood. More recently, asked by the
Washington Post to react to the London School of Economics report about
climate change and family planning, David Hamilton of the Sierra Club
responded, "I don’t know how to say ‘no comment’ loud enough."

may be why the Obama administration is not biting. When asked by the
Washington Post about the recent studies, the administration declined
to comment. I suspect the president needs to consult with his
faith-based council about whether the religious community that he has
so diligently courted on every issue under the sun, including climate
change, is willing to support family planning — an issue totally
lacking in controversy for most Americans. Over 90 percent of women use
contraception at some point in their reproductive life. In the 50 years
since the pill was introduced, the U.S. fertility rate has dropped by nearly half, from close to four children per woman to two.

would seem to me that increasing funding for international family
planning as well as for low-income women seeking family planning in the
U.S. is a win-win proposition. We could help women avoid pregnancy when
they are not ready to parent, prevent abortions, reduce maternal
mortality worldwide and reduce CO2 emissions. That $47 cost of abating
a ton of CO2 emissions through family planning compares favorably to
$24 for wind power and $451 for solar and $91 for plug-in hybrid
vehicles. This is surely a no-brainer.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.