UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro stated that Global development now requires “a holistic approach to address the multiple, intertwined and complex challenges of our time”. Taking a view of the manifold ways in which human impact is inextricably linked with issues like poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation is crucial. At the base of all of these issues remains the central fact of pressure from overpopulation, which could have a direct correlation with lack of access to education for underprivileged women. Are grassroots organisations that address inequality and empower women the way to tackle our population problem, and in effect address many wider concerns of Global development?
By Abigail Andrews
It would seem that the ‘crisis of overpopulation’ might be the catchphrase of our century. We have more than tripled from the two billion scientists predicted Earth could sustain at a European standard of living. We are depleting our resource, and while scientists are clambering to come up with solutions as to how we sustain the predicted nine billion by 2050, much less emphasis is being given to curbing the problem by addressing its cause. If the number of people on earth is causing many of our problems, then shouldn’t we be focusing more on halting population growth?
‘Population control’ has uncomfortable connotations, and sanctions like China’s one child policy fulfil these expectations with cruel and sad consequences. Forcing population control on people violates their human rights. But there is an alternative based on choice, that is, the choice of women over their own fertility. The UN stated in 2009 that giving disadvantaged women access to family planning and educating them on reproductive health would reduce greenhouse gas more than bringing a complete halt to deforestation. But surpassing this, the Global Health Review (GHR) suggests that a comprehensive secondary school education vastly reduces the total fertility rate (TFR) of women in developing nations, where birth rates are highest. A doubled effort at providing secondary education decreases TFR by 26% while doubling family planning services would decrease TFR by 9%. Secondary education itself fulfils the roles of family planning programs because it increases accessibility to, and understanding, of fertility options.
Schooling also increases income by 10% for each additional year of study as GHR quotes. The chance of the security of employment and an increased income means women have the choice to better the quality of life of fewer children, rather than having more children to ensure at least some survive into adulthood. Statistically, educated women are also more likely to partner with someone of a similar education level, therefore bringing up the economic status of the household.
It is easy to dislocate oneself from these faceless figures and statistics as a member of a developed country. The struggles of another nation are emotive but invite little obligation. But there is now a dire need to take a more holistic understanding of the population crisis. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said, ‘global problems demand global solutions’. It is imperative now ‘to unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good’ and it is the responsibility of everyone really, as human beings contributing to the issues caused by overpopulation, to take this on. Empowering women on the other side of the world could be key to safeguarding everyone’s future, and the future of successive generations.
The impact that consumption in the developed world inadvertently has on countries left behind does require that we step up to our responsibility. A more holistic understanding of the Earth as an organic whole, even if only allegorical, is the best way to comprehend the situation. Take the case of tourism; it is essentially the responsibility of anyone who has travelled anywhere impacted by tourism to be conscientious when considering how we have affected that community and what duty we have to address this.
This is especially important in countries that are developing unequally. Bali for example has received huge amounts of investment in its tourism sector, and has developed rapidly. But the most disadvantaged often do not benefit from this development and are actually impacted by inflation, environmental damage and loss of land. Education has become too expensive for many Balinese and this particularly hits women. Girls are less likely to be put into schools because a boys education will be more beneficial to a family; men receive a higher wage for the same work; all business are registered by a man.
The poverty cycle continues, as women remain in the home generally having larger families. The environment is impacted and quality of life remains low, and often elements of culture are affected by the tourism. And on and on and on.
But small steps are being taken by grassroots organisations to break these cycles. R.O.L.E Foundation is working in Bali, taking an approach that empowers women with choices while also preserving the environment and the community’s cultural heritage. BaliWISE is an initiative as part of R.O.L.E, based in Nusa Dua, that gives free education, job skills training and employment options to women in need. The schooling is worked around women’s individual commitments to their families, and allows them the chance to advance their skills and seek better employment while still filling their family role. They provide meals, accommodation and transport to help those whose social and economic constraints mean they otherwise couldn’t consider education. You can see more about the amazing work they do here.
One particular campaign they are running which is a great example of empowering women and preserving heritage is Weaving Futures, which aims to become a women’s weaving cooperative using only environmentally friendly organic and natural cottons and dyes. Weaving plays an important role in Balinese culture, but the art is being lost because the traditional method is being replaced by machine, putting more out of work for greater profits. Weaving Futures will offer local women a chance to support their families and themselves, while rekindling an important tradition.
A conscientious traveller will want to help their host community to retain what makes them unique as a culture, and helping out campaigns like these is a way to give something back from a computer screen on the other side of the world. More holistic and pragmatic approaches like this have a much better impact long-term, investing in futures and committing to lifting communities out of poverty so that they can stand on their own feet.
R.O.L.E is just one example of the many grassroots organisations that are sprouting in small communities to address larger issues of global development. The correlation between overpopulation, and lack of access to education and work for women in developing countries, is starkly obvious. But taking a holistic approach is an undeniably powerful way to address worldwide concerns and make more pragmatic efforts against inequality, planting hope for the future.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP: Donate to grassroots organisations! The Weaving Futures campaign is raising money to transform from a sponsor dependent project to an independent profit-share cooperative. To do this they need an office and a small-business skills learning center. The budget of the cause includes 3 weaving looms, desks, computers and office equipment including a printer/ scanner, Internet connection and a projector and screen for training sessions. Could you donate money or tools to empower a community while helping preserve their culture? Or share this article to spread the word about their work! See their campaign page here.
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