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Find 34 Million Friends

The best sign of character is how a person responds to adversity. Two wonderful women exemplify this. Congress voted money to support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), but President Bush has impounded the funding four years in a row.

Responding to this obstacle, Lois Abraham and Jane Roberts proposed private funding to restore the shortfall. Until a few years ago they had not known each other. Each was appalled by our president’s action, and each wrote friends asking for donations to UNFPA. They suggested that thirty-four million individuals could each send one dollar to make up the $34 million deficit. The 34 Million Friends Campaign was established by the US Committee for UNFPA. Since then, Lois and Jane have become friends and have worked tirelessly to support international family planning.

Why would Bush stop payment of the UNFPA assessment? He maintained that some of the money was used for coerced abortions in China. This was despite his own staff reporting that no UNFPA money was used to support abortion services. Most likely he took this action to appease right wing supporters.

What is the effect of not paying this money? Without UNFPA’s vital programs, it has been estimated that two and three-quarters MILLION women will be deprived of modern contraception. This projects to 1,300,000 unintended pregnancies each year, over a half million unsafe abortions, and an estimated 645,840 unwanted births. Worse, thousands of women and children will die because of Bush’s denial of the funding. Unplanned pregnancies are often spaced too closely, jeopardizing the mother and all of her children.

Ironically, Bush’s action has actually increased the number of abortions! Women take chances with unsafe abortions because of the large number of unplanned pregnancies.

With our population and consumption already out of control, it is obvious that the world does not need this many unwanted births. The additional unplanned babies will stress their parents, as well as stressing our overburdened planet.

Fortunately, several countries stepped up to help out. Members of the European Union, New Zealand and other countries have contributed much of the support that the United States had reneged on.

The 34 Million Friends Campaign serves two purposes. Part is to get the money that UNFPA deserves and needs. The campaign serves another important function, too. It has also raised awareness of the United Nations family planning program.

To find out more about the good work of UNFPA, go to The Campaign also has its own site, You can get an update, including the amount contributed (well over three million dollars!) Of course, there are instructions to make a donation. For those who don’t have access to the Internet, send a tax-deductible contribution to: The US Committee for UNFPA Processing Center, 34 Million Friends of UNFPA, PO Box 681, Toms River, NJ 08754-9922

How has the money been spent? It has gone to poor countries to make pregnancy and childbirth safer by training midwives, and paid for equipment to deal with obstetrical emergencies. It has supported programs to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. It has paid for family planning commodities.

A large part of the money has been used for surgery for women with obstetric fistulas. These unfortunates are usually teens who conceived their first child too young. Living in areas without adequate medical care or the ability to save babies by cesarean section, these women suffer terrible pain when they are in labor—often for days on end. Their babies are often born dead. The pressure of the fetal skull strangulates maternal tissues, leaving a fistula—an abnormal hole. The young victims cannot control their bowels or bladder. Shame, President Bush, that you withheld help for treating such a heartrending condition!

I applaud Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, women of fine character, for taking positive steps to help world population efforts. They have received much deserved recognition for their hard work. Please join me in sending in dollars of support!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2006

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