Durango Herald Population Women's Issues

Empower Women

“The problems for women in my country are female infanticide and dowry burnings”. This reporter from India was commenting on the Clarence Thomas hearings.
She went on to explain that in some places girls are perceived as a liability. If a baby is a girl, she might be killed at birth. Parents of a young woman in some Indian cultures pay the bridegroom’s family a dowry in installments. If her family falls behind in payments, her husband may retaliate by setting fire to the kitchen when she is cooking. This often kills the wife.

Women in many parts of the world suffer from low status. In most places it is not so obvious as the examples cited above. I worked in an African country where women cannot own property or vote because they have no legal rights. An unfortunate patient who had a large tumor and needed surgery brought this home to me. She was a widow and had no male relatives. We searched before finding a man willing to sign her surgical permit.

Some statistics illustrate the point. Nearly one-half of married women experience domestic violence worldwide. Two-thirds of the world’s 1,300,000,000 very poor people are women. Women make up two-thirds of the world’s 1 billion people who cannot read.

In many parts of the world women perform a great deal of the work, but get no pay. For instance, in some countries women must carry water long distances on their heads. Often the trip is an hour in each direction. Wood for cooking fires also requires another long hike.

Despite the significant roles that women play in the home, the workplace and the community, the social and economic contributions of women are often overlooked and undervalued. One estimate of the value of domestic work that women perform is that it is worth eleven trillion dollars annually. Unfortunately, men frequently handle the money while women barely enter the cash economy. This means that women have no control over what is bought, or even if a sick child is taken to the doctor.

The inferior status of women has a lot to do with the choice of family size. Women who have low status and who have little control over their lives or their bodies tend to have many children. Women choose to have smaller families as they gain status. Not only do they have the strength to make the choice; they also gain the knowledge to make the choice become reality.

Empowerment of women is so important in decreasing our growth rate that it was discussed frequently at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. One of the featured speakers stated that empowerment of women is one of the three most important factors for decreasing the rate of population growth.

What can we do to help improve the status of women in developing countries? Most North Americans can not do much to help directly. Indirect ways are important, however, such as supporting one of the many charitable organizations that aid women in development.

We are in a position to act locally. By improving women’s status here at home, we set a good example for people all over the world. Starting with empowering women with the right to vote in 1920, the United States has led the way in improving their status. They gained more equality with men During World War II by working in many traditionally male jobs. We continue to make progress.

A few people are afraid of empowering women. Some men feel stronger if they can dominate women. Others feel threatened by women. Many men are comfortable to take advantage of the status quo, and are happy to keep women subservient. These reasons do not justify treating women as though they were inferior.

A report prepared by the United Nations identified an approach for eliminating gender disparities around the world. To summarize their strategy, they recommend that at least 30% of legislators should be women (currently only six countries meet this goal). Laws should prevent discrimination against women. Education and health care should be available to all people. Finally, women must have the same ability to borrow money as men do.

Although the status of women is improving in the United States, we can do better still. I urge you to support local groups that assist women. These include the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, and your community’s safehouse. Most of all, daily do what you can to show respect for women.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2004

Durango Herald Environment Population

Drive Gently

We Americans are in love with our cars. We use them for transportation, courtship and entertainment. They mean power, independence and beauty. Unfortunately, they deplete fossil fuels and cause pollution. The car, which has helped to form American culture, may also speed its decay.

Remember, environmental deterioration is determined both by the number of people and by the resources each person uses. Americans tend to use much more than our share of resources. Therefore, we ought to limit the assets we consume as well as limit the growth of our population.

When gasoline explodes in a car’s engine, it releases water vapor and carbon dioxide. Although harmless in the shortrun, the gradual buildup of CO2 over the past century has been a major cause of global warming. Since few people are willing to give up driving completely, we should look at ways to limit its bad effects.

There are many steps that you can take to decrease your use of gasoline. This can begin when choosing a place to live. A home close to work will save time, money and gas in commuting. When buying a car, give thought to saving fuel. Don’t get the largest vehicle that you will ever need, but plan on the most practical one that will serve most of your needs. For those rare trips you can borrow or rent a larger vehicle. Look at the mileage figures and think of long-term savings.

You can minimize the amount that you need to drive. Plan errands with efficiency in mind. Drive to a central parking lot then walk to each store. Work at home when possible to save a lot of gas.

Biking and walking are the ideal. Remember, the bicycle is the most efficient way to transport a person—and always wear your helmet! Not only do walking and biking reduce fossil fuel use, they are also excellent exercise.

Public transportation is much more efficient than everyone driving in separate vehicles. Many cities have inexpensive conveyances that allow efficient use of time by reading or working while travelling. Carpooling is another way of increasing efficiency, both of your time and of the Earth’s resources.

When you do need to drive, there are actions you can take to reduce your fuel use. First of all, don’t warm up the engine. It doesn’t need to be warmed up, and doing so wastes gas and pollutes the air. When you stop for more than a minute, like at a drive-in window, turn off the engine. In the summer, use the air conditioner for higher-speed driving only. You can usually stay cool at lower speeds by opening the windows.

Driving smoothly really helps increase efficiency. Avoid rapid starts and sudden stops—both take a toll on your mileage. The less you need to use the brakes the more efficiently you are driving. It helps to anticipate traffic lights and stop signs so you can speed up and slow down more gradually to match traffic and signals.

At the pump select the lowest octane gas that is safe for your car. Higher than necessary octane won’t give you better performance. Be careful to not spill any gas. A gallon spilled leaks as much hydrocarbons into the atmosphere as driving 7500 miles.

Maintenance also affects your vehicle’s efficiency. Probably most important is to keep tires inflated properly. To get the most out of every gallon of gas be sure that the engine is properly tuned and has clean air and fuel filters. Finally, recycle all used oil, batteries and tires. Improper disposal hurts us all—did you know that the leading source of oil pollution of our waterways is used motor oil?

What does the future hold? Toyota and Honda already sell cars with wonderful mileage. The Prius and Insight both use light construction, smooth aerodynamic design and an innovative hybrid power train. A relatively small gas engine turns a generator. Electricity powers motors connected to the wheels. A small bank of batteries provides a power reservoir for bursts of speed. Much of the energy from braking can be stored in the batteries for later use. This hybrid technology and other improvements promise to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.

It is hard to imagine life without our vehicles. We should use them carefully, however, remembering that they turn valuable resources into pollution. Driving more efficiently will allow more people to live on the planet with less impact.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2005