A Serendipitous Media Happening for 34 Million Friends of UNFPA

Jane Roberts

My adventure on Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan on NPR. How playing golf leads to national media attention. 

I play golf on Thursday mornings and on Thursday, September 23, I was driving home with my radio tuned to Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan on NPR. Lo and behold, he announced that in conjunction with the MDG Summit, a major theme of the week would be “Improve the Lives of Women”. My ears perked up. The first guest was Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. She said what gave her hope for instance was that in Sierra Leone, where one in eight women die in childbirth, that the government  had just announced free health care for pregnant women, for lactating mothers, and for children under five. On the down side, the clinics and hospitals were now nearly overwhelmed with patients. She also spoke of the tragedy of child marriage and of a lack of family planning and of reproductive rights.

I knew this was a “call-in” program and I began to go a little bit crazy.

The next guest was Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank. She    cited a World Bank study which showed that women farmers in Kenya got forty percent more yield with the same seeds, fertilizer, and advice than men farmers.  Shades of Women Deliver, right?

Neal announced that people should call in who had visited a third world country where things were changing. And he gave out the number. My head was spinning so I stopped the car by the curb and wrote down the number then continued on my way.

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The next guest was , oh my heavens, Nicholas Kristof whose book with his wife Sheryl Wudunn , Half the Sky, contains Jane Roberts and Her 34 Million Friends as part of Chapter 8.   I started to wonder if my cell phone was in my purse. I was sure that if I called, there would be NO chance of getting through as there were no doubt lots of callers already in line.

Nick said “Yeah, I mean, if you  think about very poor countries, and in most cases, the greatest unexploited economic resource they have is not some kind of natural resource.  It’s not gold, and it’s not diamonds. It’s the female halves of their population”

“Yes Nick, I say to myself, but you have to mention that women can’t be empowered economically if they can’t control their fertility, if they can’t access family planning.  Please say that Nick. ” 

By this time I am frantic and only 3 blocks from my house. I pull over to the curb, locate my cell phone, which is miraculously turned on, and dial the number. Busy! No chance I say to myself.  I dial again.  Oh my God, someone answers. Very brusque conversation. Who’s this? Jane Roberts, I’m Chapter 8 in Nick’s book. Where are you from? Redlands, CA. What do you want to say? That family planning is the key to economic empowerment, to reiterate what Mary Robinson said about that. Where have you visited?  Mali and Senegal with the United Nations Population Fund. OK, hold on. I couldn’t believe it, was I actually going to be able to talk on Talk of the Nation?

Neal Conan: Let’s next go to Jane, Jane with us from Redlands in California. 

Wow, I actually come up with an articulate paragrah.  “I wanted to reiterate what Mary Robinson said, that if you really want to empower women, they honestly have to be able to control their own fertility. Family planning is such a gift.  I mean, Americans use family planning.  There a huge unmet demand for family planing in the world.  They say 210 million women lack access to modern methods of contraception.  When I was in Mali and Senegal as a guest of the United Nations Population Fund, the clinics were just crowded with women, just begging for family planning, and most of them had four and five kids already.  And they looked exhausted.  So anyway, to me, reproductive health is really, has to be part and parcel with education for empowering women.”  

Nick and Mary both support this and Nick out of the blue adds: “Jane Roberts, the caller, has a sort of extraordinary history herself. She read about President Bush defunding the U.N. Population Fund” and he goes on to give the essence of 34 Million Friends and that we’ve raised an “awful lot of money”. I pipe in that “it’s still going” and that “I think every American could take a stand for the women of the world with a lousy dollar: www.34millionfriends.org everybody.”

They say good-bye and I am giddy driving the last 3 blocks to my house. When I log on to the computer five minutes later, I have two requests for my book. Over the next 5 days, viewership of my 34 Million Friends 2009 YOUTUBE video goes up by 150.

The credit card gifts are off the charts (at least the charts as they have been trending) (I love to hyperbolize a bit) and today, there is a pile of mail in the P.O Box.  What fun! Over the past week I have heard from many friends who heard the program.  Media attention is the key to our issues making it to the fore.  34 Million Friends actually improves the lives of real women. The Talk of the Nation web site says that over 4 million people hear Talk of the Nation every week.  Maybe our little segment played to 100,000. Wild guess. Who knows? I know for sure that I was able to communicate 34 Million Friends to a bigger audience than ever before. If you want to hear the entire half hour you can visit:

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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