This week I had the opportunity to attend a working meeting on integrating women, reproductive health, and environmental issues into the Post-2015 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, and FP2020 hosted by the Wilson Center Environmental Change and Security Program, Center for Environment and Population (CEP), the Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program and the Aspen Institute’s Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health. The meeting brought together a group of impressive stakeholders from the areas of women’s health and rights, climate change, and sustainability and included a special screening of the Wilson Center’s documentary “Healthy People, Healthy Environment” about empowering women and leveraging women’s rights to make a positive impact on the environment.
The panel from the Women Delivering Development Meeting from left to right: Sean Peoples, documentary director; Kim Lovell, Sierra club Global Population and Environment Program; Mary Mavanza, Jane Goodall Institute; Suzanne Ehlers, FP2020 and Population Action International; D. Carmen Barroso, International Planned Parenthood Federation; and moderator Vicy Markham of the Center for Environment and Population.
What exactly is the connection is between women and environmental sustainability? The answer is quite simple, but maybe not so obvious. Women give birth to children, the world’s population is growing rapidly and the human race is fast leading to potentially devastating environmental consequences. The connection between women and environmental sustainability lies in the fact that if we’re overpopulating our planet and women are having more children than they are prepared for, these factors will have serious long-term environmental impact. The good news is that the situation can be remedied in large part by education, access to birth control and the empowerment of women to make their own family planning choices.
Half of the world’s pregnancies are unintended.
The Wilson Center documentary “Healthy People, Healthy Environment” was an interesting example of how to integrate women and family planning into environmentally sustainable programs. The film focused on a village in Tanzania suffering from the unsustainable practices of over-fishing by the men and deforestation by the women who were cutting local trees down to use for cooking. Additionally, the village had a serious lack of access and education for family planning and were dealing with overpopulation taxing their natural resources. The remedy for this potentially environmentally devastating situation was two-fold: educate women on sustainable alternatives to current environmentally unfriendly practices and provide an alternative and educate and empower women on family planning so they can educate their communities and become empowered in their everyday lives.
Predictions estimate a world population of 9.2 million people by 2050.
An overarching theme of the meeting was that environmental sustainability must be framed from a justice and rights-based approach backed up with accountability that has teeth. Health, including reproductive health and environmental health, must be considered basic human rights for all, including women and the future generations. Women don’t just raise, educate and teach habits to children; they raise, educate and teach habits to the next generation who will inherit and be responsible for this planet. As Suzanne Ehlers from Population Action International said, climate justice frameworks will not work without women.
22 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception
Women’s access to reproductive health services and education really is, as Dr. Carmen Barrosso the Regional Director for the International Planned Parenthood Federation put it, a win-win investment. In addition to framing environmental sustainability and reproductive health as rights-based, together they can be framed as economically sensible. Compared to other environmental investments, the cost for modern family planning methods per person in developing countries is roughly $5. Cost-effective family planning methods just makes sense as a great investment for environmental sustainability.
Women are crucial to environmental sustainability frameworks and must be included in these programs, policies and actions. In doing so, not only will women have access to services that will slow population growth and help stabilize environmental sustainability; but women and children will have better health outcomes, improve security and women will be empowered with the ability to make their own health and family planning choices. Empowering women has a ripple effect on the entire community. This isn’t just an investment in women or in the environment, it’s an investment in the future.