Last year, I traveled to Bolivia to get a firsthand glimpse of the work of our local Member Association CIES. It's hard to forget the twenty-minute drive from the airport to La Paz's city center. Nestled high above Bolivia's capital city, the airport is located in El Alto, which offers a sweeping view of La Paz below and Bolivia's dramatic mountains along the horizon. While El Alto was little more than a village sixty years ago, hundreds of thousands have flooded in from the countryside--escaping increasingly erratic weather and difficult agricultural conditions--to find work and opportunity in recent years.
In my week in Bolivia, we traversed high rivers- rivers that have risen in recent years due to unpredictable rainfall- and windy muddy roads with CIES' mobile health unit to provide contraception and healthcare to those living in remote communities. Woman after woman told me that if it weren't for CIES, they would have no other access to basic health services and contraception. No other health providers, they explained, were willing to brave the elements.
While reaching remote communities is helping to treat the side effects of climate change, the heart of our work--providing contraception--is tackling the root of climate change.
We've said time and again that when you empower individuals and families with the information and services they need to make decisions around reproduction and sexuality, you fundamentality create more a more just and sustainable world.
Over the last few decades, there has been greater acknowledgement of the relationship between population, sustainability, and human rights. And the data clearly shows the environmental benefits of investments in sexual and reproductive health. For example, fulfilling the unmet need for family planning by 2050 could:
- Halt population growth in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Meet up to 29% of the total carbon reduction needed to prevent climate change
- Reduce carbon emissions by 1.4 billion tons per year
It's not rocket science. Still, the international community has been slow to fully fund and implement family planning programs, programs that have a demonstrated effect on population growth, programs that would help millions of women like Bertha achieve a better standard of living and a happier life.
I met Bertha in Casapa, Bolivia, one of the remote towns reachable only by river crossings and nimble driving. "I am the mother of five children," said Berta, who had her first child at sixteen. "I had them all in a row. Why? Because I didn't have the power or the right to say 'that's it,' I didn't have the power to access contraception."
Berta says that thanks to the services they receive from CIES and the discussions the communities have begun to have about these issues, this is changing. Today, on Earth Day, these are the changes we should celebrate, the changes that not only impact the lives of individuals but also improve living conditions for the entire world.
The Sangers – Artists and Rebels on Display May 1st for First Friday Art Walk
Exhibit features the artwork of Margaret, William and Alexander Sanger
WHAT: As a part of First Friday Art Walk, May 1st, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) will sponsor The Sangers – Artists and Rebels, an exhibition of the paintings, drawings and photographs of two generations of the Sanger family, Margaret, William and Alexander. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, took up watercolors after moving to Tucson, Arizona in the late 1930’s painting mostly desert scenes (photo attached). By contrast, her husband, William Sanger, was a professional painter as well as architect, and began displaying his work in the 1910’s (photo of painting attached). A frequent visitor to Maine, many of his canvases are stormy, dramatic and visceral. Alexander Sanger took up drawing and watercolors after his retirement as President and CEO of PPNYC in 2000. He paints, like his grandfather, on the Maine coast and also in New York City.
The Artists and Rebels exhibit coincides with the 50th anniversary of PPNNE and the centennial anniversary of William Sanger’s arrest and imprisonment for distributing information about birth control. In early 1915, with his wife in exile in Europe, he was entrapped by an undercover police officer sent by Anthony Comstock into handing out one of his wife’s birth control pamphlets in violation of the Comstock Laws. His trial in September 1915 was a cause célèbre. William challenged Comstock to his face, stating that, “it is the law, and not I, that is on trial here today.” He spent 30 days in the Tombs.
WHEN: Friday, May 1, 2015
5:00 PM – 8:00 PM Reception with artist Alexander Sanger
(Press can preview the exhibit Wednesday, April 29 or Thursday, April 30)
WHERE: Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 3rd Floor
443 Congress Street, Portland
WHO: The public is invited to view an exhibit of the artworks of Margaret Sanger, her husband William Sanger and their grandson Alexander Sanger, who will be in attendance.
Brief Bios of the artists:
Margaret Higgins Sanger (1879-1966), born in Corning, New York to a sculptor and his wife was the sixth of eleven children. Educated through the eleventh grade, she became a kindergarten teacher and then a nurse. Married in 1902 to William Sanger, she had three children and by the end of 1910, was a recruiter for the Socialist Party and an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Margaret participated in the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912 and then the Paterson Silk Workers Strike of 1913. In 1914, she published seven issues of her newspaper, The Woman Rebel, and was indicted for violating the Comstock Laws, which prohibited the giving out of, or advocating, contraceptive information. In 1916, she opened America’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y. and went to jail for 30 days. In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Thirty years later, she conceived and organized the development of the birth control pill, and founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1965, the United States Supreme Court declared the Comstock Laws unconstitutional. Margaret died the following year, one week before her 87th birthday.
She took up watercolors after she moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1937 for her health. Among her teachers were Ralph M. Pearson and Hobson Pittman, who delivered a eulogy at her funeral. She was part of the Tucson Watercolor Guild and took painting trips into the desert around Tucson and down into Mexico. She also painted with DeWitt Peters on several trips to Haiti in the late 1940’s.
William Sanger, (1873-1961) painter and architect, was born in Berlin, Germany and was educated at Cooper Union. He later studied architecture at Atelier Masquery and painting at the Society Beaux Arts. William studied pictorial composition with Hugo Ballin, Edward Simons and Robert Blum. In 1915, he was arrested for handing out one of his wife’s birth control pamphlets and spent 30 days in the Tombs Prison. In May 1917 with a world war raging, William journeyed to Spain to see El Greco’s paintings first hand. He traveled around northwestern Spain and painted watercolors of the Gates of Glory at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He returned to New York in April 1918. William traveled to Maine in the 1920s, 30s and 40s to paint, venturing as far Down East as Eastport and Grand Manan Island. At his death in 1961, he was working on copper etchings for an illustrated biography of Thomas Paine.
Alexander Sanger was born in New York City, the 4th of 6 children to Edwina and Grant Sanger, his father Margaret Sanger’s second son. Educated at Andover and Princeton, he earned law and business degrees from Columbia and an advanced law degree from NYU. He practiced law as an associate and then partner of the firm of White & Case for 14 years, before setting out to help run a family manufacturing firm. In 1991, Alexander was named President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City, a position he held until 2000. In that year he became, and remains, Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council as well as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. In 2004 he wrote a book, Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century. He operates a website, AlexanderSanger.com where he writes on reproductive rights issues. He took up drawing in 2000, studying with Betty Edwards, and watercolor painting in 2011, taking classes with Joan Iaconetti, Charles Reid and Tim Clark. His photo essay, “The First Day of School”, was exhibited at the Waterman’s Community Center in North Haven, Maine in 2011.
Sangers: Artists and Rebels Art Show in Portland, Maine
On Friday May 1 the gallery at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England will be hosting “The Sangers: Artists and Rebels”, featuring the drawings, watercolors and photographs of yours truly, together with watercolors by my grandparents, Margaret and William Sanger. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the art of my family. This is also the 100th anniversary of my grandfather's going to jail for birth control, preceding my grandmother’s first incarceration by a year.
The gallery is a 443 Congress Street, Portland, Maine and will be open 5-8pm.
The Planned Parenthood family lost a mighty warrior on February 26 - Tom Webber died at age 71, far too young. His lungs gave out, no surprise to those who knew him, since he had a habit of using them at full volume on many occasions, whether he needed to or not. I first met Tom in 1991 at a meeting of the CEOs of the larger Planned Parenthood affiliates. Since I was new, I introduced myself to my new daunting colleagues. Whatever I said, it inspired Tom to come up to me at the first break to welcome me and thank me. Shortly thereafter, as the meeting recommenced, Tom launched into one of his habitual diatribes about some organizational failing, weakness or idiocy. He would lean forward, point his finger around the room and dare anyone to contradict him. It was great theater, and he also invariably made sense.
I know that I have been asked to leave more restaurants because of Tom than any other friend - the list of dining establishments would fill a Zagats of its own. We always had a good time unwinding after our meetings. His good humor and cheer were infectious.
Tom led the Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota for 30 years. He fought the opposition valiantly and never gave an inch. Despite picketing and firebombing, Tom increased services to women and families manyfold during his tenure. So frustrated was the opposition that one of them physically attacked Tom in his office.
There weren't, and aren't, many men who had been named affiliate CEOs at Planned Parenthood. Those of us who have been have a special bond. We viewed Planned Parenthood as a beacon for reproductive rights, human rights and the betterment of the planet. This was a cause that demanded that men and women work together. It was an honor to work alongside Tom Webber. He did so much good for so many.
Once again, we've had a year of ups and downs, a year of strong stands for women's rights and crushing defeats. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most memorable moments of 2014:
- Last month, the Chamber of Deputies in the Dominican Republic put forward a measure to reinforce -- and strengthen -- the country's existing ban on abortions in all circumstances.
Thankfully, Dominican President Danilo Medina vetoed the measure, urging legislators in a letter to decriminalize abortions in cases where the woman's life is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetus malformation. In his letter, President Medina stated that the fundamental right to life of the pregnant woman or girl must prevail, as well as "respect for their human dignity and their mental and moral integrity." He also highlighted the public health necessity to provide these services to reduce the country's high maternal mortality rate, as well as provide services to the most vulnerable.
Just this week, the Deputies voted to decriminalize abortion after hours of intense debate, winding back the original conservative proposal they had on the table. This is a big step forward though the fight is far from over -- thankfully, a strong civil society -- including our Member Association PROFAMILIA will be watching.
- Iran took a step back by restricting access to birth control options in the hope of increasing population growth. In August, Iran's parliament voted to ban vasectomies and all other permanent forms of contraception. Doctors caught performing the procedure could face imprisonment. This new bill marked a dramatic shift from Iran's previous progressive policies and is yet another reminder of the fragility of reproductive rights -- and the need for sustained advocacy.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently put his presidential foot in his mouth when he declared that women are not equal to men. At a meeting in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said that women and men are created differently and not capable of doing the same kinds of work.
Erdogan added that motherhood is the highest position women can hope to achieve, stating "you cannot explain this to feminists. They don't accept motherhood. They have no such concern."
- In July, a United Nations told the Irish government to amend its abortion law, which only allows legal abortion when there is a "real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman."
In its recommendations, the UN Human Rights Committee ordered the country to legalize abortion services for pregnant women facing serious health threats, as well as in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal impairment. It also criticized the burdensome procedures women must endure to have doctors certify that the pregnancy poses a threat to their life, and cited the discriminatory and disproportionate impact the restrictive law has on women who are unable to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion services.
The Committee reviewed Ireland as part of its oversight of states' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty obligating member states to ensure equal enjoyment of all civil and political rights, including the rights to life and to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and paid extensive attention to the very restrictive abortion law.
While Ireland has been reviewed in the past, hopefully, this most recent review will result in dignity and change for the women and adolescents of Ireland.
- While I am a fan of Russian literature, it's no replacement for sex ed. Though that's what some Russian leaders are claiming. This month, Russia's children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said the country would not introduce sex ed in schools because it contradicts Russia's norms and traditions. When asked how children should learn about sex, he said that "children need to read more" and that Russian authors like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy offered children all they needed to know about sex and relationships.
Just think if you had relied on passages like the following from Anna Karenina for your sex ed:
"That which for Vronsky had been almost a whole year the one absorbing desire of his life, replacing all his old desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, terrible, and even for that reason more entrancing dream of bliss, that desire had been fulfilled. He stood before her, pale, his lower jaw quivering, and besought her to be calm, not knowing how or why."
Margaret Sanger at 100 Event at Museum of City of New York
Women Rebels: Margaret Sanger and The Birth Control Movement at 100 Thursday, December 4 at 6:30 pm
This year marks the centennial of the American birth control movement, founded in New York by trained nurse and social activist Margaret Sanger. In March 1914, Sanger began publishing the journal Woman Rebel, which coined the term “birth control” and popularized the revolutionary notion that each woman should be "the absolute mistress of her own body.” Join author and TheNation journalist Katha Pollitt for a conversation with Sanger biographer Ellen Chesler; New York University Professor of History Linda Gordon; SisterSong co-founder Loretta Ross; and Alex Sanger, Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council (and Sanger’s grandson) about Sanger’s legacy and why the reproductive rights movement continues to roil debate in this country today.
With reproductive freedom in jeopardy, Alexander Sanger, grandson of renowned family planning advocate Margaret Sanger and a longtime leader in the reproductive rights movement, has taken an urgent, fresh look at the pro-choice position—and even the pro-life position—and finds them necessary, but insufficient. In Beyond Choice he offers the first major re-thinking of these positions in thirty years.
“Well researched and readable, Beyond Choice should be required reading for both pro-choice and pro-life supporters.” —Governor Christine Todd Whitman