Feminist Population Policy?

I should start by apologizing for my absence last week. I ended up without internet access for much longer than I anticipated on my last field visit.

I wanted to post about something that came up in response to my post last week and which I keep thinking about. I was surprised to find some Feministe readers in defense of population policy and, I think (though I might be mistaken) even in defense of coercive policy as a necessary tool to reduce population numbers. I understand the powerful wish to avoid exporting Western values and I think some of the responses posted in defense of population policies here may have been rooted in the wish to convey disapproval of my working here on the belief that I am imposing my “Western” values against coercion upon Indian women and political leaders. Please be assured that there are many women and social activists here who are vehemently against coercive policy and are working hard to combat it where it exists in state and national level policy. My feelings of aversion to coercive policy are not new to India.

But back to the arguments posted, I was surprised to hear the concern over high population numbers in India and the need for punitive population policy being voiced as in line with feminist values. So many background questions came to mind afterward–With regard to the discussion that popped up about the world’s limited resources and growing population, I pose a question I have been asked here by social justice activists: Can the answer to the population problem be found in reducing the numbers of people in India who live on infinitesimal amounts of food and water a day, or is it possible that the answer is in changing the gross consumption rates and energy and resource- indulgent lifestyles of the West? To the concern voiced about growing population numbers in India, I’d ask another question that has been posed to me by study respondents here in India: Has science ever actually defined the number of people the world and it’s resources can support, or is this fear of a “population bomb” about something else, more to do with which babies are being born than how many are being born? I’d welcome feedback from Feministe readers about both of these questions, but the biggest one I’m eager to pose to you is this one: Is there such thing as a feminist population policy?

Feminists in India and around the world have taken up staunch oppositional sides on this question. Some have argued, especially in years in which important international decisions about population policy are being made, that there has to be such a thing as a population policy that is feminist, because there must be ways to safeguard the health and rights of women and families while bringing down the fertility rate. This argument states that these policies continue to be introduced, and so it is important that feminist voices be a part of the conversation as the policy is drafted—to protect the rights of women and families and also, I think, maybe because the alternative is too grim. Standing outside the halls of power trying to stop the policy from existing at all is a different struggle altogether than trying to influence an already ongoing conversation in which funders and political leaders the world over are heavily invested. And yet, many feminists in India argue vociferously that fighting the creation of population policy itself is the only answer to the rights violations, coercion, and general lack-of-priority for the health and lives of women that they feel they have seen in Indian policy. So long as there is concern over “population policy” instead of “health policy,” and moreover so long as government health efforts and initiatives are housed under the larger framework of population policies, then the policy cannot be in line with feminist values because it’s not about the lives of women but about controlling the numbers they produce. Thus, the question. Is there such a thing as feminist population policy?

Having posed the question, I should add a few points. First, I am not decided on the issue and think there is much more to be learned, so understand this is not a rhetorical post I’m writing. Second, to give further context, there are a number of policy influencers in India right now who feel optimistic about the future of this country with regard to the population policy versus health policy question. The National Rural Health Mission is, for example, a high-level project of the Indian government right now and it is not housed (at least officially) under any larger population policy framework. Further, there are growing numbers of influential stakeholders in India who are committed to shifting the focus from punitive population policy to increasing the availability of quality services like vaccinations, contraceptive methods, as well as increasing the availability of schools and raising the social status of women as the means to curb population growth. Coercion, at least when on the record with a tape recorder on, does not seem to be on the table as a desirable option. How coercion is defined is of course often another important question– offering Rs 500 for the first and second child born but not for the third is thought by some as a simple reward where for others it is a coercive incentive targeting poor families who are the only ones who would need Rs 500 badly enough to base their reproductive decisions on it. …At any rate, all of this is to say that the landscape in which I am asking this question is constantly shifting. So I pose this question about feminist population policy not only in reference to India, but in general. What do you think? Is a feminist population policy possible?

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39 comments for “Feminist Population Policy?

  1. August 3, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Well, obviously, in terms of philosophy, I would imagine most feminists are for stopping the world’s overpopulation problem. It seems like basic logic that every country needs to start having less babies, and Western countries need to stop consuming so much. I think you make an extremely powerful point, though, that many who argue for reducing population are more concerned about which babies are being born than how many babies are being born, though I think that of the people making that argument, feminists probably (hopefully!) constitute a small percentage.

    Ideally, we’d solve the problem with education and the broadening of opportunities for women. If you have more options socially and financially, you are less likely to have to get married and have a bunch of kids to maintain yourself socially and financially. But that’s certainly a much more difficult goal to attain than simple legislation about population, which could, in theory at least, improve quality of life for vast amounts of people, both male and female.

    It is a conundrum! I have no idea how to fix it!

  2. August 3, 2008 at 7:27 am

    To strengthen what Lauren O said, a higher education level for women is so highly correlated with reduced family size (and all sorts of other good things) that in my opinion the most feminist population policy possible is a policy that ensures equal education for all.

    Any population policy that focuses on reducing brown babies is in my opinion racist. Passing legislation controlling the personal decisions people make about how to structure their families is worrisome to me, as a lesbian, since these laws are frequently made to punish me and my life situation as well.

  3. lilacsigil
    August 3, 2008 at 7:39 am

    I know that it’s easy for me to sit here in Australia and say it, but it’s not the number of Indian (or African) babies that’s the problem, it’s the lack of opportunities for the young people of those countries. In a subsistence-level society, of any era and any skin-colour, children are valuable in more than just emotional terms. Yes, improving girls’ and women’s lives (and therefore boys’ and men’s) is harder than sterilising poor women, but it’s not one that should be pushed aside. And what’s the best way of reducing the number of babies born? A stable society, complete with food, education, and at least basic healthcare. A place where women can make choices beyond “will I starve today?”

    As for action by people who are not directly involved, like you, I try to donate 10% of my (admittedly measly) income to organisations for health and girls’ education. I don’t have kids and I do have a roof over my head, which makes it much easier to do this, but I feel ashamed of my government’s and nation’s tiny contributions when we have so much.

  4. Dianne
    August 3, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Wealth and education, especially education of women, tend to cause declines in fertility. So why not stop worrying about how many children a given women should be allowed to have and work on decreasing poverty and illiteracy and increasing access to birth control options, all of which will automatically decrease the birth rate. Seems a win-win option to me.

  5. PurplePurple
    August 3, 2008 at 10:21 am

    As a feminist who works for a feminist non-profit dedicated to population and the environment, I can absolutely say that a feminist population policy exists. It involves increasing access to contraception and comprehensive sex education, and empowering women. I believe that women, when given the option, will generally choose to limit their family size (they usually know how many mouths can be fed, how many children can be well-cared for) in order to provide their families and themselves with the best care and opportunities.

    I don’t promote these methods in order to stem population growth, I offer them as a way for women to live better lives. Of course I think world population growth is a problem considering our deteriorating environment, but we will not solve the problem coercively, forcing women into corners when they already have such limited control over their reproductive rights.

  6. August 3, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Just chiming in to agree that focusing on population rather than consumption & waste production has seriously racist consequences (policing brown bodies), as well as sexist ones.

    And as I was formulating the point that fertility rates tend to decline as wealth & education goes up (even across countries and cultures), Dianne made that point as well!

    So yes, I think there can be a feminist population policy, but it would be to NOT focus on fertility/pregnancy/children, but instead on consumption/waste reduction, education, (environmentally sustainable) economic development..

  7. August 3, 2008 at 10:38 am

    The distinction that has to be made is between micro- and macro-level policies. That is, I think it’s reasonable to make policies that on the whole tend to suppress population growth, but not to impinge on an individual’s reproductive freedom. And as mentioned above many of these policies are good in their own right and in other ways. Education of women, of course, is the best example of this.

  8. August 3, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Great conversation. I am all for education and access to reproductive health options. What is also key is to make sure that the efforts are sensitive and sustainable – they have to include the local women in the planning and try to make use of the infrastructure that is already there. Changes that are done in harmony with the people the changes are targeted at are much more likely to be adopted, defended and continued by the people in the community.

  9. August 3, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Can the answer to the population problem be found in reducing the numbers of people in India who live on infinitesimal amounts of food and water a day, or is it possible that the answer is in changing the gross consumption rates and energy and resource- indulgent lifestyles of the West?

    It’s not either/or. It’s both.

    Why is it important to stop the increase in the numbers of people in India (or anywhere else) “who live on infinitesimal amounts of food and water a day”? Because the idea is for people to not have to live on scraps, but to allow them to live economically secure, productive lives. An increase in their standard of living will inevitably increase their resource consumption, something that won’t be possible if world population continues to increase. (I’ve seen analyses that say that increasing everyone’s ‘footprint’ to bloated American levels would kill the planet.) And without an increase in a woman’s standard of living, it’s hard to see how impoverished women will be able to opt for the ‘seeking fulfillment through personal growth instead of having large families’ choice that many women in the West are able to avail themselves of.

    Access to education, health care and the complete line of family planning options are essential. Providing people with incentives to choose smaller families may be an important policy option as well.

  10. shah8
    August 3, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I’d just like to say this:

    Ethical population control is a hard occupation. It also takes a very long time. It will not solve any of our immediate difficult circumstances. It will not prevent any damnation already rolling our way. We will not see the positive effect of this policy, on a global basis (and it has to be global in an era of globalization) in our children’s time, or our grandchildren’s time. The reward will happen to people we really will not know or can imagine to know.

    Knowlege of this central fact is not widespread among advocates, and we should not allow for a umbrella population control advocacy unless policy-makers are aware and willing to accept that situation. This is because the main alternatives to acceptable and ethical population control do not gently gradiate into the shadowy realms. Genocidal mentalities are always going to compete heavily for the mindshare of the people interested in population control.

    A couple of asides…While the focus by western advocates has been on racist and sexist attitude problems, the primary conflict is regional in most countries with a serious population initiative–The cityfolks (who are reassured by a one or two child policy) against the countryside (who have social, medical and economic needs for more children), and overshadowed by many issues, mostly removing population from areas deemed of interest to commerical and government expertise.

    And the other is a blog…Inform yourselves!

  11. Lisa
    August 3, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    For people who are interested in exploring the history of population policy and its very un-feminist roots, I recommend checking out Betsy Harttman’s book, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs. The thing I found most “shocking” in her book – mostly because of my prior ignorance about what exactly population policy was – was the role of environmental/conservation groups in promoting these anti-women programs. For a shorter discussion that addresses the role of groups like Sierra Club and also Friends of the Earth in promoting racist population policies, see the link below about what Harttman calls the “greening of hate.”

    Betsy Hartmann, “Conserving Racism: The Greening of Hate at Home and Abroad,” located on the website, Mostly Water: http://mostlywater.org/conserving_racism_the_greening_of_hate_at_home_and_abroad

  12. August 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I wanted to add, in addition to educational opportunities, sex education, and health care, that an important part of stemming population growth is ensuring that women are active in the decision of how many children they decide to have. I’m no expert in Indian policy, but I do know a good many of people (women) in the world don’t feel they have a choice in how many children they have as that decision is left up to the husband or the state.

    One example is Poland, where the largely Catholic views prevent women from feeling that they CAN use birth control because of their religion. This has led to many married women abstaining from sex out of fear of getting pregnant … and of course, abortion being illegal, they don’t have that option either.

    I believe a big part of reducing population will have to involve changing the society’s views that women shouldn’t use birth control or make decisions on how large her family size is. If women are led to believe, like Catholics, that large families are “blessings” even when they don’t have the money or ability to care for large families, then they are going to continue overpopulation problems not because they want to, but because they feel they have to.

    Of course, the autonomy women will be granted following such a societal thought change will largely come from opportunities for education and careers, but I’m not sure if there’s anything that can immediately be done until the mindset exists.

  13. August 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Scientists have definitely put work into trying to figure out how many more people are living on the planet right now than there would be if we had a more sustainable world economy. The numbers I’ve seen are minimum 1 billion “extra” people (the number the oil-based agriculture has made it possible to sustain, but also who can’t be fed should these techniques become unmanageable because we run out of oil) to 3 billion people (if we cut the world population in half, that would have a dramatic impact on global warming). There’s very little doubt, in my mind, that beefed-up agriculture has saved at least a billion lives, but the downside to that is if it disappears—which rising oil prices makes entirely possible, as does peak oil—then that’s more than a billion people who could literally starve to death because we have more people on the planet than sustainable agriculture can feed.

  14. August 3, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    All that said, I agree that there’s way too much liberal hand-wringing over the problem. Voluntary reduction of family size is plenty solution enough in most places. I think that white people in privileged classes in Western countries should also feel more responsibility to have one or none themselves.

  15. August 3, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I get very concerned when people start talking about “overpopulation”. I just don’t feel we have any idea what overpopulation is or what it would look like. There is a lot of unexamined racism, neocolonialism, and misogyny (not to mention bourgeois values) in most of the dialog around the topic. Half of the time you find hand-wringing over the demographic shift in North America (oh noes, too many brown people having babies, we need more pale babes) (see my take on this: http://redjenny.blogspot.com/2007/06/white-woman-burden_8408.html). The other half it’s all about too many babies too many babies – bad women, bad brown people, bad poor people, bad bad bad!

    Having said all of that, there are already population policies being developed and implemented, and it would be a bad idea to just ignore them, when feminists can work through them as ways of improving women’s lives. We can use these policies as ways of improving women’s access to all kinds of rights, like contraception, jobs, education, healthcare. It could be a way of bringing different progressive groups together instead of a divisive issues – http://redjenny.blogspot.com/2006/10/connecting-movements-solidarity.html

    Sorry for all the shameless self-promotion, but this is a topic I think about often, and write about occasionally.

  16. Anu
    August 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you for these posts of yours. As an Indian feminist, this is a point of view I am quite familiar with from discussions in India but find troublingly lacking here in the US.

  17. Jenna
    August 3, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    I agree with PurplePurple. Educate women, provide them more opprotunities, and access to contraception, and those women will likely have fewer children. Policies that tell people they can only have, for example, 1 child (like in China) is very anti-feminist and unethical, especailly when it forces parents to, in some circumstances, have abortions they don’t want, or even kill their infants. (And of course, it’s often the female infants who are killed.)

  18. drydock
    August 3, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    For a feminist-style critique of Malthusian population politics, people might want to check out these two essays. I couldn’t find an online link.

    How Deep is deep ecology? And review on Women’s Freedom? by George Bradford

    As far as the Sierra club goes, there was a vote to support an anti-immigrant initiative that came up around 10 years ago and it was rejected as I remember.

  19. LadyTess
    August 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Other people have said it but I want to reaffirm it again. In my belief the feminist Population Policy is just as Lauren O stated it:

    Ideally, we’d solve the problem with education and the broadening of opportunities for women. If you have more options socially and financially, you are less likely to have to get married and have a bunch of kids to maintain yourself socially and financially.

    I mean, look at Europe. “Demographic Winter” scare tactics by people who don’t see the “right” europeans reproducing. But more of our women work and enjoy life and don’t think they need to marry and have children. I’m not saying we are perfect I’m saying that personally I think it’s the better solution.

  20. shah8
    August 3, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Well, Amanda, you were the one that got me started on this frothing-whenever-the-subject-comes-up business.

    Now, part of the reason why I froth is because the mentality is a bad one for many reasons. I mean, I was a smart-alek *child* when I last thought that overpopulation was such a neat way to solve many problems with one policy. Now I know so much more about what something like this entails, so much more about how the public will react, and so much more about *why* people latch onto this, I have genuine trouble focusing on just a few of the most convincing reasons why concern for overpopulation is genuinely horrific in most cases.

    We genuinely shouldn’t worry about overpopulation. Mother Nature will take care of most of that task, and if you believe this is a cruel mindset, please don’t. I do not mean that we should not attempt to preserve as many lives as possible. I simply mean that we should not *anticipate* that we should reduce population before Gaia does it for us. Simply offering a genuine education for everyone, regardless of class, race, sex, region, or any other reason will do so much more. Giving women access and rights to legitemate family planning tools, lectures, and medications will do so much more. Reducing race and class supremacy ideals around the world will do so much more. Putting all of these good things under an umbrella of population issue is simple asking for some would be Alexander who would simply slice the gordian knot in half and say, “It’s a hell of a lot easier and faster to simply kill off a whole bunch of people”. After all, it’s what Americans have done since the first colonies, and it was what Germany attempted to do to jews and slavs. Relieve population problems by killing other groups of people.

    And Amanda, if you think you actually can moderate this issue into some “ethically satisfactory” manner, then, since you discuss peak oil in this context, I suggest you hang around on theoildrum.com long enough to see what happens when people start talking about overpopulation and what we should do about it. This are LIBERALS, secular humanists who are comfortable holding completely Strangelovian dialogues about how to deal with overpopulation. Most people prefer to think this way, because the topic is too intellectually and empathetically demanding, otherwise. Do you understand that we are genuinely not capable of establishing an ethical framework of public discussion and policy around this topic?

    Lastly, a few notes:
    1) The burden of any Erlicher is simply thus: Can we solve Overpopulation quick enough to avoid or mitigate the worst of what said Overpopulation causes? Despite all the other problems I have with overpopulation advocacy, this is the core that must be answered.

    2) The fallacy of technocornucopians is simply that we can preserve the American Way of Life with sufficiently advanced technology. That is wrong, of course. However, this fallacy has nothing to do with preserving lives. We are *quite* capable of developing already present technology that can support 7 billion lives without huge amounts of oil, and even more. The actual problem at issue here is that we can’t afford white supremacy anymores. The American (and European) Way of Life is all about showing status–white house, picket fences, wife at home with appliances. Much of the huge gobs of resources, in oil, water, critial minerals, are all about supporting our ability to display wealth. That is what much change.

    3) The sentiment that the wealthy should also do its parts to reduce population has a not at all dissimilar aroma to the sentiments delivered by Thibault:
    “Autre motif d’orgueuil, que d’�tre citoyen! Cela consiste pour les
    pauvres � soutenir et � conserver les riches dans leur puissance et
    leur oisivit�. Ils y doivent travailler devant la majestueuse �galit�
    des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les
    ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.”

    I mean, what proportion of wealthier women actually object to the idea of having 2 or fewer children?

  21. August 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    As others have said, the fact is that feminist goals — namely educating and empowering girls and women, and making health care (specifically reproductive health care) available to all — just so happen to be by leaps and bounds the most effective ways to reduce population. A feminist population policy is not just possible, but, as far as I can see, the only policy that is both just and effective.

    As for how many people the planet can sustain: research about the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans has definitely been done, and though it remains imperfect, it’s my impression that we’ve already gone over it. The fact is, though, that having rearing one or two children in the US is considerably more damaging to the planet than having three or four or more in poorer places.

  22. bleh
    August 3, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    *Both* getting education & economic independence to women, which allows them to limit and control family size *and* reducing consumption in so-called developed countries should be part of the efforts to reduce environmental damage

  23. Lisa
    August 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I don’t think we really need to do anything. These kind of population booms (and busts) happen in the animal (we are one) kingdom all the time. Generally, when food is plentiful, animal populations soar, at some point the population exceeds the food and there is a bust. Alternatively, diseases may take their toll. In humans, war is another way of population control.

    In Africa, where current population already seems to have grown beyond the limits of the land, population is being controlled by AIDS and famine. In Asia, where lands are more fertile and other resources are available, the population control will likely come not from famines, but from diseases such as avian flu. In Europe, the population control has tended to come through internal wars.

    In US, we still have a significantly lower population density as compared to most of the world. We could probably sustainably have a population a couple of times higher than it is now but it will be associated with declines in other parts of the world as we decrease the amount of food we export.

  24. August 3, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    In regards to ‘overpopulation’ and the ‘extra people’ in the world: I firmly believe that if we stopped feeding our grain to mistreated animals and then eating them instead of the grain, we could feed many, many more people. Since when does a cow destined for McDonalds deserve more food than a young child, in whatever country? Since it is possible to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, which is something many people do, why do we even discuss the lack of food as a ‘too many people’ problem, when we feed our animals our food?

  25. August 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I think the facts bear out that a non-coercive feminist population policy is possible whilst coercive ones only create problems.

    A case in point for the first part is here: http://www.gapminder.org/video/gap-cast/gapcast-8—turkey-meets-france.html

    Greater access to services in Turkey have naturally led to its birth rate matching France.

    A case in point for the second part is the fun we’re in for when more children of China’s one child policy age. (Although of course the Chinese were in an especially difficult situation.)

  26. August 3, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Giving women the chance to choose is all important. But a real choice. Not just contraceptives and abortion, education and equal rights (although these are the ESSENTIAL building blocks of any decent approach we could take) Improve access to affordable sterilisation (my OH and I have asked for this repeatedly; but doctors won’t do it because we are young and have no children… they seem to not realise that is kinda the point). The problem is making that happen whilst still making sure that women of colour don’t find themselves coerced into it… which has already and still does happen.

    Decreasing the West’s consumption rate will help, but only by so much. Even if we got really ambitious, and the entire Western portion of the globe decreased the per-capita consumption rate by, to pick two numbers completely at random, 10% within 10 years, it wouldn’t do much overall good if the population grew by a further 25% in that period.

  27. Lisa
    August 3, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Just want to say, I am NOT the Lisa who wrote comment 23!
    And Harttman’s point about Sierra Club is that regardless of whether or not they passed the anti-immigration bill, there were MANY members who sought to push it through.

  28. August 4, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Considering that there are actually people upset over declining European birth rates, I would say, it’s clear that we can trust women, given the choice to have fewer children, will do just that. Opportunity for more personal advancement, autonomy over their bodies, and availablity of contraception and abortion have had huge effects in Europe–why should India or China be different? And coercive policies create backlash–and enforcement of them would by nature be brutal (forced abortions, sterilizations, etc.) What good is saving humanity if we’ve lost the right to control our own bodies? We will still be less than full persons.

    Women can be trusted, government-run reproductive coercion cannot.

  29. Farhat
    August 4, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Personally, I think a lot of population growth reduction could be achieved just by not incentivizing birth and babies so much.

  30. August 4, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Freedomgirl, that’s a good point about eating meat. People wouldn’t even need to become completely vegetarian to make a positive impact that way; carnivores among us could all start out by just cutting their huge meat consumption in half.

  31. August 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Personally, I think a lot of population growth reduction could be achieved just by not incentivizing birth and babies so much.

    Huh? You mean, mothers get paid more than nonmothers? Are more likely to be hired? Are more likely to advance in the workplace? Have more disposable income? Have more respect? Are more likely to be regarded as intelligent? Pray tell, where are these incentives you speak of?

  32. denelian
    August 4, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    i hurt today, so i didn’t read all the comments, and i admit that my knowledge of India is more on the macro than micro (i studied India’s politcal system in general, but not in depth, and i have a lot of classes so extra research that doesn’t turn into a paper isn’t a good idea at the moment)

    all that said – i remember when i first read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. part of the background is that the Moon is a forced penal colony that grows wheat that is primarily used to feed the people of India. who, at least in the book, are so beyond poverty that families will pass down a YARD of PAVEMENT to live on. i don’t know that its THAT bad in India, but everything i have read mentions a sweeping and pervasive underclass who have very little in way of opportunity and have no way to not have lots of children. and then i hear about, say, a policy in a province that limits children, but a high ranking politician is able to exceed the limit.
    and the professors who have discussed what THEY feel is the problem – the caste system, which means that policies, if they are created, either punish the lower castes or reward the higher castes, for nothing more than where they fall on the arbitrary scale of “caste”.

    in general, i admit to a very UN-femist view on procreation – i feel that EVERYONE should AUTOMATICALLY be on birth control, and have to apply for a counter. and i am well aware of how that will be abused, which is why i don’t advocate for it, and won’t until and unless i (or someone else) comes up with a system that will be fair. i also admit that my reasons have nothing to do with ‘overpopulation” and everthing to do with my childhood – bad genes and abuse don’t make for a happy one.

    as for the incentives… i agree that many young women, at least here in the US, think that having a baby will “get” them something – respect and adulthood not least, but i know when my youngest sister got pregnant and i told her she had options she told me should could live on welfare. blame Regan for that – the meme of the “Welfare Queen” is so pervasive that some young women BELIEVE it, and think they can get rich (even though they can’t). other incentives? tax breaks and such, and the fact that almost everyone thinks that THEY are at least middle class. so many people don’t KNOW where they fall, compared to everyone else. people don’t really think babies are expensive, and so many magazines essentially tout them as important “accessories”… its kinda sickening, like the hype over Angeline Jolie’s kids. and “Baby Gap”. argh!!!

  33. Roving Thundercloud
    August 5, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    The point has been made repeatedly (and correctly) that educating women leads to lower birth rates, and of course access to affordable [free] contraception and health care would help as well. But how does that address the heavy social pressures in place to have many children, and to keep having them until you have “enough” boys? How can one educated woman stand up to the force of her family, much less her society? There is another componenent involved. Can the education of females work alone, or do we have to “amend” entire cultures to get rid of concepts such as caste and dowry in order to accomplish lower birth rates?

    On another tangent, I have to disagree with shah8 and Lisa (23) that we should just let it go unchecked until Nature takes care of it for us. That course would allow a lot of needless suffering. Much better to prevent or at least slow the process, so that suffering is at least somewhat limited. We are not mere animals in the natural cycle with no idea of what’s going on; we are blessed with the ability to solve or ameliorate these problems and so are ethically bound to try.

    And Freedomgirl, thanks for your post–I’ve never heard it put quite that way before. We also use crops for fuel. In neither case is it that a cow or a car “deserves” the grain more than a person does, but that those of us with money would rather eat a burger or drive a car, and our money elevates that grain out of the grasp of the poorer ones. So yes, driving less and eating less meat (even if not going entirely meatless) would help shift the demand for grain and free it up for others, I would hope.

  34. August 5, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Of course the sad truth is that even WITH the grain that’s “wasted” on livestock feed, biofuels etc, there’s probably more than enough left over to feed the world.

    It’s the political and economic situations (like dictatorships that won’t let aid workers into a country after a cyclone) that prevent the food from getting to people.

  35. Nathaniel
    August 8, 2008 at 7:28 am

    Promoting lower population levels is usually done out of the theory it will protect the environment rather than feminism. The deeper problem with promoting lower population levels doesn’t seem to actually protect the environment.

    If you look at China, which has coercion in it population control efforts, the amount off pollution it released increased the fastest after it started population control programs. Population control only controls the number of people, not the number of devices that generate pollution or the overall amount of pollution generated.

    Because stopping population growth misses the real problem it doesn’t protect the environment.

    An ironic thing about falling the population growth is that it frequently occurs when people can afford more and are likely to purchase more devices that pollute-leading to the problem of “western” style consumption and pollution.

    Getting back to feminism, it argues against forcing women to be mothers, as it does this logic says it should do the same against forcing them not to be.

  36. Nathaniel
    August 8, 2008 at 7:30 am

    “about falling population growth is”

    Sorry for the typo.

  37. Nathaniel
    August 8, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Oh, and Michael, I would recommend you check out a book called World Hunger: 12 Myths.

    It argues there is enough food to feed everyone but that it isn’t shared.

    I know its off topic, but I wanted to mention it as you made reference to food.

  38. Nathaniel
    August 8, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Oh, and Michael, I would recommend you check out a book called World Hunger: 12 Myths.

    It argues there is enough food to feed everyone but that it isn’t shared.

    I know its off topic, but I wanted to mention it as you made reference to food.

    I just realized I should have edited my earlier post to mention it, sorry.

    And thank you Feministe for questioning if coercive population control is actually feminist. I think the idea population control is environmental should be questioned.

  39. Nathaniel
    August 8, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I apologize for my multiple posts. I hit edit the last time and that seems to add a new post rather than change the last one. That said, please read through my comments and make your own-my uppermost ones are the most relevant to the topic.

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