Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body charged with upholding human rights around the world, issued a resolution on the importance of the family in achieving sustainable development.
Despite an attempt by the government of South Africa to insert language that would explicitly recognize same sex marriages in the UN definition of family, the final resolution stated that the "family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state."
We also believe that families are fundamental units of society. We pioneered the introduction of family planning in the Americas and the Caribbean more than 60 years ago. Similarly, we agree that families are entitled to protection by society and that laws don't stop at the front door of people's homes: take for example the necessity of laws against gender-based violence and discrimination.
But we don't believe that any international agreements should or can refer to "the family" in a singular sense. The truth is that there are plenty of female-headed households, as well as families led by grandparents, aunts or uncles, and siblings. The antiquated notion of a family as a woman, man, and children has also been challenged -- and successfully won -- by the legalization of same sex adoption in countries like Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico. And of course, the recent Supreme Court decision legalization of same sex marriage heralded the transformation of narrow definitions of family in the United States.
Despite these wins, for years, conservative forces have blocked the attempts by advocates and governments to broaden the definition of the family in various United Nations fora, discounting locally grown efforts to promote the rights of all families as a primarily Northern-based agenda. These efforts have not only hurt the progression of thinking at the global level about the various forms that families take, but have effectively led to exclusionary policies and decrees. And in September, the Pope -- who has promoted the importance of the family in several for a -- is set to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
All families -- whether single-parent, chosen, same-sex, childless or traditional -- have the same right to protection by the State and the right to pursue happiness and live safely without discrimination, violence and hate.
An individual's body is their castle, and their individual autonomy and well-being should be respected and protected.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of State of the World's Fathersat the United Nations. The report, produced by the global alliance MenCare, provides an excellent overview of men's roles within families, in the home, and in the health system. Above all, the report highlights the fact that advancing gender equality not only improves women's lives but benefits men too--even when it means giving up some of their privileges.
The Cairo Conference in 1994, at which I spoke, recognized that men and fathers needed to be involved in the sexual and reproductive health arena. At the Beijing Conference in 1995, where I also spoke, I urged that men not be forgotten as we advanced the status and equality of women and that men's needs be recognized. Now 20 years later, The State of the World's Fathers Report recognizes that fathers and fatherhood matters - for men, for women and for children.
Men who are equal parents with mothers are happier, will live longer and their partners and children will be happier and live longer.
In our field, attention to boys and men--and the recognition that men have their own sexual and reproductive health needs--is often forgotten. Men and boys are also exposed to harmful perceptions of what it means to be a man, perceptions that have far-reaching consequences on their health and well-being--and the well-being of girls and women.
Involving men and boys in sexual and reproductive health and rights is a process that must begin early with quality comprehensive sexuality education programs. Unraveling entrenched discrimination is what sexuality education does best: these programs not only provide boys and teens with factual information about puberty and their bodies; they help unravel long-held norms and give boys a space to openly discuss the pressures they are facing.
My colleague recently had the opportunity to sit in on a comprehensive sexuality education lesson for boys. The instructor showed a cartoon of a man sitting in an easy chair surrounded by crying children. His wife was working furiously around him, a broom in one hand, a cooking pot in another and a diaper draped over her arm. "What's wrong with this picture?" he asked the group. "The man should be paying more attention to his children," answered one boy. Another said that he felt sorry for the woman because she had to do all the work. One boy quietly said that the picture made him uncomfortable because that's the way things were in his house.
These types of programs unravel generations of entrenched discrimination and help boys create a different kind of life and future for themselves. Plus, studies show that sexuality education programs that emphasize gender equality and power dynamics are five times more likely to reduce sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies than programs that do not.
Sadly, the international community has not prioritized funding for services and education for men and boys despite the fact that in many settings, it is men that make the decisions around sex, pregnancy and reproductive health in general. In many countries where we work in Latin America, for example, women have to ask their husband's permission to see the doctor or are forbidden altogether because their bodies "belong" to their husbands.
There are innovative ways to tackle this problem and ensure that sexual and reproductive health education continues throughout an individual's lifetime. In El Salvador, for example, our local Member Association employs male health promoters in 82 rural communities to educate men about sexually transmitted infections and stop the country's high rate of violence against women. And in our clinics in Colombia, trained counselors help couples navigate the complicated decisions around sexual and reproductive health--both with the goal of empowering the woman to make her own decisions and encouraging men to be supportive and participatory in the health of his partner.
It is well known that men seek fewer health services than women - perhaps that is one reason they die younger. Making women and men supportive of each other's health decisions could lead to men seeking better health care. It is in men's interests to be an equal partner in child rearing and consultations about their and their partner and children's health, all the while respecting their partner's autonomy.
But we still have a long way to go in ensuring that men play an active role not only in their own health, but the health of their families. As a man in the movement for sexual and reproductive health and rights, I know it will take each and every one of us- men and women alike- to achieve gender equality in our lifetimes.
How foreign abortion bans hurt children: The wrenching case of a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay shines light on a widespread problem
With Memorial Day behind us and summer here, most kids in New York are finishing school or preparing for camp or dreaming of pools and extended playtime.
But this summer will be very, very different for one 10-year-old girl in Paraguay. Because she’s pregnant.
The girl’s doctors discovered the pregnancy after she complained of a stomachache. But despite the fact that the girl is 10 years old and that doctors have identified the pregnancy — the result of the girl being raped by her stepfather — as dangerous and high-risk, the Paraguayan government has refused her access to an abortion.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven countries ban abortion under all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Paraguay is not one of them. Even though the law of the land states that abortions are legal in instances that pose a significant threat to the health of the mother, the Paraguayan government continues to deny this child access to a potentially life-saving procedure. This constitutes a cruel denial of the girl’s basic human rights, tantamount to torture.
My grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation — to provide education and services to men and women in an effort to end injustices like violence against women and enforced pregnancy. She believed that providing access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare was integral in empowering women to fully engage and participate in their communities and live the lives they want. I followed in her footsteps and, as the head of Planned Parenthood New York City, heard from countless women who needlessly suffered before abortion became legal in New York.
Cases like this 10-year-old’s make it clear that that needless suffering hasn’t ended, especially if you look abroad. For instance, one out of every three women in Latin America is a mother before her 20th birthday. 20% of all adolescent pregnancies occur among girls younger than 15, and are often the result of sexual abuse within the family.
At IPPF Western Hemisphere Region clinics, we provide contraception and abortion services to women and girls who need them. What our clinic staff has seen firsthand is that blocking access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care doesn’t stop them from being needed, or even stop them from happening — it just keeps them from being safe. Due in large part to extensive abortion bans throughout the region, 95% of abortions in Latin America are performed in unsafe conditions that threaten the health and lives of women.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Specifically, in Latin America, girls who give birth before the age of 16 are four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s.
And yet politicians around the globe — including in Paraguay and the United States — have shut their eyes to common sense and public health by continuing to ban and criminalize abortion, even abortion in cases of rape or incest. Children should not be forced into motherhood and doctors should not be kept from providing life-saving care just because of political hurdles.
And in instances like the 10-year-old girl currently pregnant in Paraguay, government officials shouldn’t be able to act counter to the spirit of the law and put young girls in serious danger because of political whims or extreme beliefs.
That’s why a broad spectrum of human rights and international advocacy organizations are calling on the Paraguayan minister of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Antonio Barrios, to immediately intervene and grant the girl access to safe abortion services. By doing that, Dr. Barrios would be upholding Paraguayan law and following the advice of leading international medical authorities — and, potentially, saving the life of a very real girl who has already survived more trauma than a child of her age should ever be forced to encounter.
Sanger is the former President of Planned Parenthood of New York City and the current chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council. His grandmother was Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over 80 years ago.
Katha Pollitt recently penned ( see http://www.thenation.com/article/205049/theres-reason-gay-marriage-winning-while-abortion-rights-are-losing) another one of her astute
analyses of the failure of reproductive rights to gain traction with the
American public. She points out that gay rights are on a juggernaut to legality
and respectability. She sets forth a number of reasons, a few of which deserve
Sexual freedom – the Puritanical culture demands punishment
for women (not men). So true. But Pollitt doesn’t say why. We’ll get to that.
Men don’t see reproductive rights (being for women) as being
that important. Polls show that men and women support (and oppose) abortion
rights almost equally and always have since polling began after Roe. She
doesn’t mention the so-called men’s rights movements, which see abortion rights
as being antithetical to a man’s right to become a parent only with his
consent. Nor does she mention the uncomfortable truth that women oppose
abortion rights almost equally with men.
Pollitt points out that low-income women suffer with
abortion restrictions. So true. She doesn’t mention that many low-income women
also support restrictions on abortion rights. So what is going on? Are they
demented? Under their husband’s thumb?
Pollitt goes on to mention that marriage equality takes
nothing away from anyone, whereas abortion and contraception “give power to
women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy and men.”
Abortion and contraception are about reproduction and who
controls it. It is, in the view of many, a zero sum game – either men control
when a child is to be conceived and born, or a woman does, though ideally it is
a decision made jointly. So why do some women oppose having that control? I
mean, it is their body, their health, and their life.
In a Gallup Poll from 2012 (the most recent I could find
with this breakdown) those with a household income of over $75,000 called
themselves pro-choice versus pro-life by 58-36, whereas with those with a household
income of less that $30,000 the ratio swung the other way, 41-46.
One reason might be that low-income women, and men, see
family formation and a male income as vital to survival and see restrictions on
their own, and other women’s, reproductive rights as contributing to this. Male
reasons include increasing paternity certainty that their children are theirs
(DNA testing may be too new to have changed evolved behavior) –hence the
Puritan culture that punishes women for infidelity. Restrictions on
contraception and abortion also decrease the ability of husbands to stray with
impunity – this is in a wife’s interests. Since contraceptive sauce for the
goose is contraceptive sauce for the gander, women will give up this right for
a, in their view, more vital goal. Restricting the reproductive rights and
liberty of the “other woman” helps keep husbands home.
Women and men have reproductive strategies, sometimes
individually sometimes in partnership. Contraception and abortion are
inextricably intertwined with these. It is all about reproduction. There is a
battle of the sexes, like it or not. It’s just that not all women see reproductive
freedom as being in their reproductive interests, just as not all men see
reproductive freedom for women as being antithetical to theirs.
Margaret Sanger and her family members are best known as birth-control pioneers. Yet three of them were also artists. Now their watercolors are on display at the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s gallery in Portland, Me.
The work includes pieces by Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who took up painting after moving to Tucson in the late 1930s for her health, making mostly desert scenes. Her husband,William Sanger, was a painter and an architect, who began displaying his work in the 1910s; much of it featured stormy landscapes of Maine, where he was a frequent visitor.
Their grandson Alexander took up drawing and watercolors after his retirement as president and chief executive of New York City’s Planned Parenthood in 2000. He, too, paints on the Maine coast as well as in New York, where he is chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Council.
“I’m proud to be following in my grandparents’ footsteps in multiple ways,” Mr. Sanger said in a telephone interview. Particularly “haunting,” Mr. Sanger said, is his grandmother’s painting of a woman with three children walking away from an adobe church in the desert — which is something of a self-portrait, he said. Margaret Sanger had three children, and was indicted on charges of violating the Comstock law, which made it a crime to offer contraceptive information through the mail. “My grandmother’s holding a little girl’s arm and that’s my aunt, who died at age 5 of pneumonia,” he said. “The death was closely connected to circumstances — that my grandmother was in exile out of the country for a year. This is the one painting that she kept till the end of her life.”
The show, “The Sangers — Artists and Rebels,” which runs through May 29, coincides with the 50th anniversary of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Information: 207-232-4123. ROBIN POGREBIN
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.
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