Million For a Billion

April 11, 2011 • Family Planning, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Bob Walker for this OpEd by Jonathan Porritt.  See

Published by Jonathon Porritt on Monday, February 28th, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Million For a Billion

For those of you who care about population issues, here’s a small thing you can do right now. Sign up to the Population Institute’s “Million for a Billion” campaign petition on

Its aim couldn’t be simpler: recruit a million people to help persuade world leaders to boost the total level of international support for family planning assistance by at least $1 billion a year.

Do this against a backdrop where 215 million women in the world today still do not have access to family planning services, or to the right to decide for themselves the number of children they have or when to have them; where there are 75 million unintended pregnancies every year; and where 20 million women die every year resorting to unsafe abortions.

International funding for family planning support has not only shrunk dramatically in terms of the total funds available (family planning represented 55% of the total primary fund for population assistance back in 1995, but in 2008 it accounted for a mere 6% – largely because of the huge increases in funding from HIV/AIDS), but remained far below the minimum targets agreed by governments.

And if you’re wondering why you should bother about this, let me briefly tell you the tale of two recent reports.

The first is the blockbuster report from the UK Government’s Office for Science on “The Future of Food and Farming” – the purpose of which is to “identify the decisions that policymakers need to make today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to 9 billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably”.

It’s a strong report. Very good on some aspects of food security (such as the importance of eliminating food waste and the need for governments to start putting a lot more money into both R&D and support for farmers in developing and emerging economies), very weak on others (for instance, on the need to balance global supply chains with local self-reliance), and predictably pro-GM in an embarrassingly knee-jerk kind of way.

But its unforgivable failure lies in its abject inability to address population issues – despite the reference to the 9 billion above. Whilst it eloquently emphasises the role that women play around the world, stressing the importance of “promoting the agency of women in ways that will accelerate hunger reduction”, it has nothing to say about a woman’s right to manage her own fertility – including the timing, number and spacing of children. Nothing to say about a woman’s right to guaranteed access to a choice of contraception, or to be able to rely on improved reproductive healthcare.

The report joins up practically every other aspect of food security – but its authors were just too cowardly to address this one.

By contrast, the latest Worldwatch Report on “Population, Climate Change and Women’s Lives” (Report 183, is one of the best documents I’ve ever read explaining the linkages between climate change, population and women’s rights. The overall tone is set early on:

“In crafting policies, population change should be viewed as one element of the historic effort to bring women into equal standing with men. Women and children in poverty are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, despite their disproportionately low contribution to the problem. Removing the obstacles that hold back more than 3 billion potential agents of change – women and girls – is both pragmatic and necessary.”

From that point on, the report then navigates its way within enormous skill through the shoals of controversy that surrounds climate change policy from a population-driven perspective. It gently rebukes those who continue to argue (regardless of the wealth of available evidence) that addressing the needs of the 215 million women without access to contraception has nothing to do with effective policy-making on climate change, and by taking a rights-based perspective all the way through (“the only acceptable way to slow global population growth is as an outcome of improving the well-being of women worldwide”), it lays to rest once and for all those hoary old myths about post-Imperial plots to keep poor countries (and poor women) in their place.

It’s so good I could give you quotes from practically every page. But read it for yourself.

And then ask yourself if there is one single, teensy-weensy residual reason not to sign up to the “Million for a Billion” petition.

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