The Catholic Church has a new Pope. The doctrinal position of the Catholic Church against the use of artificial contraception and its uncompromising views of abortion will not change. As a non-believer this is tragic. Many religious people and the non-religious like me view this as murderous resulting in the misery and death of believing women and their children. Contraception is a great scientific and humanitarian advance of the 20th and 21st centuries. It saves both women’s and children’s lives and allows women to make choices for their lives. Right now in rural poverty- stricken areas of the world where there is no access to contraception or medical care about 1 in 15 women will die in childbirth. Was this God’s plan for human evolution? Pregnancies right on top of one another are the root cause of millions of infant deaths with babies born weighing two and three pounds. They slide in and then out of the world. Common sense tells you that, with the sexual urge being probably equal to that of the urge to assuage hunger and thirst, contraception is a wonderful contribution to the health and welfare of mothers and children. And I’m convinced that there is no God to care one way or another. Of the 200 million pregnancies every year twenty percent end in abortion. That’s 40 million. Astounding you may say? Yes, but not so astounding when your common sense tells you that abortions have existed ever since human beings developed the intelligence to know that it was possible. With half of the 40 million abortions every year being illegal and unsafe and causing tens of thousands of deaths and over five million cases of injuries, hemorrhages and infections requiring post abortion care, common sense would tell you that letting women be the arbiters of their own reproductive lives is a good option. Giving all women and families access to contraception as promised in human rights documents, but more honored in the breach than in the implementation, would also be common sense. On March 14, Dr. Babtunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund wrote a letter to the New York Times: “The time has long passed when anyone can or should be allowed to dictate or restrict women’s rights. No young girl should be forced into marriage. Each woman should have the means to exercise her human right to choose when and how often to have children. Finally, the world should affirm, once and for all, that no argument can every justify violence against any woman on any grounds whatsoever.” Amen to that! International Women’s Day was March 8. Ending violence against women was the theme as it was for the New York meetings just ended of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. On March 8, I was in San Jose and spoke at the Silicon Valley chapter of the United Nations Association about gender inequality being both the moral scourge and moral challenge of the age. I also spoke about the ubiquity of violence against women here and all over the world. It took our own House of Representatives weeks to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Restricting women’s access to contraception and abortion has recently been a mantra of the Republican Party. That is one reason why President Obama won and why more votes were cast for Democratic members of Congress than for Republicans even though gerrymandering kept the House in Republican control. Other forms of violence against women which have been in the news of late are child marriage (usually driven by poverty and involving millions of girls under 15 and sometimes as young as 8), female genital mutilation, rape used as a weapon of war and as a power play by roving gangs, and sex trafficking which again is more often than not a consequence of poverty. Sexual harassment and assault of women in our own armed forces has been rampant. Sexual harassment and assault in the streets have flourished in Egypt since the “Arab Spring”. During its decades as an underground Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood has long preached that Islam required women to obey their husbands in all matters. Osama Yehia Abu Salama, a Brotherhood family expert speaking at a recent seminar for women training to become marriage counselors intoned, “Even if a wife were beaten by her husband”, he advised, “show her how she had a role in what happened to her.” And “daughters should not have the same inheritance rights as sons nor should the law (on gender equality in the Egyptian Constitution) cancel the need for a husband’s consent in matters like travel, work, or use of contraception.” I have a request for followers of all branches of the obviously patriarchal Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Please use common sense in these matters. Your “holy” books were written by people who didn’t know what we know today. And what they wrote with all the contradictions, inconsistencies, and impossibilities, has been and still is the root cause of horrific religious conflicts, sectarian violence, other crimes (stoning for perceived sexual misdeeds), and extreme human rights abuses. Common sense tells us that life is a struggle, that we humans are earth bound, that we should consider all humans beings of equal value, that increasing happiness and mitigating misery for the greatest number is the most noble of endeavors for believers and non- believers alike. Do unto others is really enough! Two thirds of the illiterate people on the planet today are women and girls. Cultural, economic and religious forces want to deny girls an education. On Tuesday, March 12, I attended a sold out showing in Ontario of “Girl Rising” a documentary consisting of 8 true stories of girls in different countries hungering for and fighting for their right to education. There were some really good men in this film who were fighting for their daughters! Imagine your life if you were illiterate. Kakenya Ntaiya, who wrote the first chapter of my book “34 Million Friends of the Women of the World” and who has built the school for girls in Kenya which she promised to do if her village permitted her to study in the U.S., has just been named a CNN hero. Two thirds of the extremely poor (living on less than $1.25 per day) are women and girls. When food is in short supply, girls are offered less food than their brothers. In much of the world when a girl is born the parents lament instead of celebrate. All this is a kind of passive violence with devastating consequences. Think about it. There has never been a human being who has not come out of the womb of a woman. So logically, the more physically and mentally healthy the woman, the better for the generations to come. Common sense! And then there’s the planet. When I was born in 1941 there were 2.8 billion human inhabitants of planet earth. There are now over 7 billion. The median age on the planet is just over 25 which means that there are going to be a lot of babies. Seventy-eight million people per year are being added to the world’s population, i.e. 215, 000 people per day, the great majority in the poorest countries where women have the lowest status. All of these people will want adequate food and water, a place to live, education, health, a job, and energy for an acceptable standard of living. I don’t think the planet can support 9.3 billion people by 2050 at what we in America would consider an acceptable standard of living. Climate change is going to wreak havoc on food supplies. There are right now over a billion people living in food and water stressed areas. There are right now millions of climate refugees and these numbers will grow. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami are going to affect more and more populated areas. These will be a big test for human beings’ ability to cope. In Edward O. Wilson’s brilliant book “The Social Conquest of Earth” he describes the tribal nature of the human species. We are social beings but our loyalties lie mostly within our tribe, i.e. our family, our school, our club, our church, our race, our culture, our country. That is good in many ways. But today, we must expand our tribe to include all people. In a way this goes against human nature, but the 100 billion neurons in human beings’ three pound brains, working together, can conceive and implement common sense best practices for people, the planet, and peace. Common sense!
Cheers, Jane Roberts 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund www.34millionfriends.org