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Hello bloggers,

I thought I’d reproduce for you here the note I sent out to my friends and family to mark International Women’s Day this year.

Things with me are alright. thanks to those of you who have emailed to day hello — it’s always good to hear from you.

Best,

TG

Dear friends and family,

today marks International Women’s Day!  It’s a day of worldwide celebration for the achievements women have made, recognition of the difficulties and challenges women still face daily, and recommitment to fighting gender-based discrimination through the promotion of women’s substantive equality.

I encourage you today to reflect on the sacrifices women have made over the years in order to further women’s political and social equality in the face of much resistance from society at large that believes women should know their place, that women are naturally inferior to men, that women already have enough equality.

Here in Canada, there is still much to be done to further women’s equality.

  • Aboriginal women still don’t have equality in their communities in terms of property rights and representation in the governance of their communities, and are at a highly disproportionate risk of becoming victims of domestic and sexual assault. Before European colonizers arrived in Canada, Aboriginal societies were gender-egalitarian — meaning that our Canadian government has created this gendered hierarchy in Aboriginal communities with such measures as Indian Residential Schools and the Indian Act, which prevented Aboriginal women from holding land, voting in their band’s elections, taking away their status if they married a non-Aboriginal man, and preventing both Aboriginal women and men from learning their cultural traditions and languages to pass on to their children.
  • Access to abortion services in Canada are measly and inadequate. Women often incur travel costs to get from their small rural/isolated Northern communities to larger urban centres to access abortion services, taking time off work and often necessitating child-care services; most often, these expenses are not reimbursed by our health care system (there is a small travel budget for Northern women). Women in Prince Edward Island have to travel outside their province to access abortion services in Halifax; there are 0 abortion providers in PEI. Women in New Brunswick have to obtain letters of referral from 2 separate doctors stating that an abortion is “medically necessary” in order to access abortion services at the 1 hospital in the province that provides them. Women who need timely access to abortion services (which is in their best health interests) often have to pay out of pocket for abortion services at private clinics because the wait time to access services in a hospital setting is too long. Despite that abortion is not illegal in Canada, and that our government’s health care policy holds as one of its 5 pillars “accessibility,” Canadian women still face challenges in accessing abortion services – including vilification by many conservative and religious groups.
  • Women are still being sold into slavery in this country in the form of trafficked persons. 80% of all trafficked persons are women, who are forced into domestic and/or sexual exploitation once they arrive in their destination country. Here in Canada, statistics estimate that about 800 women are trafficked to Canada every year. Canada only took a legislative stand against human trafficking in 2006, after the release of a highly embarrassing report exposing our government’s complete negligence on the issue. Since then, 10 cases of human trafficking have been opened. These women are going largely unnoticed through our borders and in our communities, and they need help.
  • in Canada, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, despite that Canada’s economy is soaring – our economy is the fastest growing in the G-8. A quarter million people in Canada are homeless, 1.7 million households live on less than $16,400 USD a year, and the majority of these are households run by single women. 5.5 million live on less than $8200 a year (24% of all tax filers), and again, the majority of these are women. As our Employment Insurance program is sitting on a billion dollar surplus, only 3 out of 10 unemployed women are eligible for benefits according to current criteria, which disadvantage workers with part-time or irregular hours, which, again, are mostly women, thanks to society’s expectation that women are the primary care-givers for children and the elderly. Social programs are increasingly out of reach for the poor due to reduced spending in the service of increasing Canada’s GDP – in fact, it appears as though one of the primary reasons for Canada’s economic success (GDP has increased 55% in the last 10 years) is BECAUSE of social program funding cuts, meaning the economic success of this country is dependent on the poverty of women.
  • Lesbian women are still suffering widespread discrimination in Canadian society, and face legal barriers to being able to care for their partners during end-of-life situations and inheriting property from their partners – even homes that they have been living in for decades. these situations are deeply painful, as the families of these women’s life-partners swoop in and take away every evidence that their daughters were gay and had partnerships with other women.
  • Transsexual and transgendered women face unique barriers to equality. Sex reassignment surgery is under or non-funded by the Canadian health care system, and ancillary services to allow for greater integration into their physical gender are completely outside funding. Pre-surgery transsexual women often turn to prostitution in order to fund their surgical and aesthetic interventions, and when in prison are placed in male detention facilities and have difficulty obtaining the hormonal therapy needed to maintain the process of transformation.  In order to have any government funded access to sex reassignment surgery, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, they must go through psychological counselling and live for a year as a woman, despite being considered legally and physically a man.These women face deep misunderstanding by society and are highly vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic male violence.

These are only some of the problems affecting women in Canada. Immigrant and refugee women, sex workers, (dis)abled women, and women of colour all face significant and specific kinds of barriers to equality. Federally, the slashed funding to Status of Women Canada means awareness about women’s issues in Canada is waning, and the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program and the courts’ aversion to allowing equality groups to intervene in cases involving women’s issues means women’s equality is not being adequately advocated in our justice system. Our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being interpreted and applied by our courts in such a way as to limit rather than protect and enhance women’s equality.

There are different problems affecting women in other parts of the world. Women are raped en masse as part of genocidal wars in Congo. Girl children as young as 8 are married off in India. Girls as young as 4 are subject to female genital cutting in northern Africa. Women are displaced in the Sudan. Women and girls are not permitted to go to school in Afghanistan. Women aren’t even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Girl children are abandoned in China. Women are forcibly sterilized in Tibet. Women are being denied access to contraception worldwide through USAID and PEPFAR, and have no way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even when they know they risk transmitting HIV to their fetuses.

It’s pretty obvious that there is still much work to be done, both at home and abroad, to gain full equality for women. this International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about what I can do to help. I believe women are not second-class citizens. I believe women do not deserve 15, 25, 50, or 65% equality. I believe women deserve 100% equality, no matter where they live or what barriers they face.  Today, I recognize the courage and dedication of women who have been fighting this struggle since before I was born, since before my mother was born, and I am deeply honoured and grateful for the important progress they have made on my behalf. Today, I rededicate myself to continuing this struggle, for myself, for my sisters, for my mother, for my aunts, for my cousins, for my friends, and for all of our daughters.

to the women in my life — I celebrate you today! You are, quite literally, the reason I do what I do. Thank you for your inspiration and courage.

to the men in my life — I look for you to be partners in the fight for women’s equality. This takes some strength, but I know you’re up for the challenge.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to attend a session held by a local anti-trafficking group, during which I heard the most wonderful speaker, Benjamin Santamaria. He spoke less about what his organization does, and more about the issue overall, and the culture under which this problem has been permitted to flourish.

Human trafficking is a terrible problem; it’s hard to know how many people are trafficked every year, but women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sex as well as domestic slavery. Victims generally are stolen or sold from less developed nations and taken to wealthy western countries for these purposes, or are held within their own country or a neighbouring country and used by wealthy westerners who come to less developed countries for the purposes of sex tourism. It seems a lot of trafficked persons have family situations that make them vulnerable, from extreme poverty to abuse to orphanism. These are often people that are vulnerable because nobody is looking for them; they are disappeared and nobody knows.

Ben talked a lot about white western culture as a culture of domination. [this particularly incensed the young woman I was attending the talk with, for typical white liberal “white people shouldn’t have to feel guilty for what our ancestors did” reasons, but that’s not really what I want to talk about just yet; please keep it in mind for later, however.] He spoke of “white is right” attitudes, about how white settlers on this continent felt they conquered the indigenous populations who were already here (they didn’t), and that gave them the right to [attempt to] obliterate indigenous culture, language, and spirituality, replacing them with the laws, language, and religion of the white homeland (didn’t do that, either, but not for lack of trying – for the indomitable spirit of indigenous peoples). He spoke about the continuation of those attitudes in the here and now, and the richness that is missed by shutting ourselves off from learning from other cultures. He spoke about a lack of sprituality the dominance of religion can bring. He spoke about the soullessness of capitalism, the attitude that everything can and should be commodified – even human beings, human lives.

but, while this is a large problem that takes place at a societal level, Ben was careful to offer a solution. He expressed that the solution of public policies and international treaties was important, but that the underlying attitudes of individual people are what will really matter most.

hold on.

We spend a lot of time here and on other forums talking about patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, capitalism as being overarching structures, a “culture not a conspiracy.” We say, “we’re not talking about YOU as an individual; we’re talking about your default position within relations of power that are larger than just you, don’t take it personally, try to see yourself and your position as one within the matrix.”

Well, it hit home to me, listening to Ben speak, that this is true, but it also isn’t the end of the story.

Going back to how the woman I was sitting with was infuriated by Ben’s slam against white culture. She was completely and utterly pissed off by this, ranted on afterward about how white people have a culture too, and it’s just as important as other cultures, and how other cultures can’t be so great really because after all, look at how they treat their women. [yup, seriously. this is a woman who has done a lot of international development work. just goes to show you, I guess…]

I felt none of that righteous anger toward him for saying such things. I was nodding along with him! I wasn’t offended by anything he said about white people at all! Why is that? I thought about it for a while. At first, I just felt like, “well, he’s not talking about ME.” Not in a pin-a-rose-on-my-nose, I’m-not-a-racist way, but more in a culture-not-conspiracy kind of way. but then, that wasn’t quite it, either.

What Ben was talking about was individual responsibility. He was talking about how these attitudes are ingrained in the fabric of our society, but that we are individually responsible to and capable of unravelling ourselves from that fabric. He described a lot of things that we could do, individually, to change how we felt and believed some of the underlying attitudes that make human trafficking possible, that make it possible for people to be bought and sold on a global marketplace and used like they mean nothing.

He spoke about spirituality – not religion, not dogma, but spirituality. Belief that everyone has a soul, a spirit, a spiritual life that needs nourishment, that needs fulfilment. He spoke about sexism, and how men must not force women to do or be what we don’t want to do or be, but allow us to develop into our own beings, support us, get the hell out of our way. He talked about the mistreatment of the animals we use, from labour to entertainment to food. He talked about racism, and the belief held so dear by so many that white culture is dominant because it is superior. He spoke about capitalism, the commodification of everything under the sun – the land, the water, the sun itself – and how screwed up that is, because the earth is for everyone, it can nourish all of us, and yet we scramble to get our little tiny piece of it all for ourselves. He spoke about not buying these things, not buying into the capitalism matrix, not buying goods from countries where humans are trafficked, not watching TV, not watching CNN.

And you know? yeah. I felt myself nodding, moved by this message. YES! We are, individually, responsible for the attitudes and beliefs that we hold. We can only, ourselves, change those attitudes and beliefs. And that is the difference. When we work to achieve attitudes of love for others, of spirituality, of equality, of harmony with the world around us – that is when the guilt fades, that is when the righteous anger dissipates.

I know I’m not perfect. I know that my placement within the social stratification system of this country, this culture, gives me unearned privileges that I can’t exactly back out of. But. I know that I am trying. I know that in my heart, I am moving from those negative, overarching, dominant and dominating atittudes, maybe a little everyday, as an individual person. And so, I know he wasn’t talking about ME.

I say this not to hold myself up as a shining example of light, or for congratulatory backslaps and praise. I say this because it clicked a little deeper for me that day.

We ARE individually responsible, within this culture of domination. We must be HELD individually responsible for atrocities that happen to others, because OUR ATTITUDES OF DOMINATION have led to, have supported, have made possible, those atrocities. It’s not about guilt. It’s about movement. It’s about change. It’s about evolution. It’s about revolution.

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Aulelia hipped me to this one: an interview with hip-hop producer Palow Da Don, in which he calles himself “King of the White Girls” and talks about how submissive white women are, how uppity black women are, and how he prefers a woman who knows her place in the “divine order” of things.

AllHipHop.com: Now, you call yourself the “King of All White Girls.”  Elaborate on that for me.


Polow Da Don:  Just the “King of the White Girls.” I ain’t self proclaimed but I run with it. [Laughs] There was a stage in my life where I went crazy with dating white women. I have nothing against black women, but they’re raised differently. White women are raised to respect and serve their men.  Black women are taught to question [their men]. Black women look at submission as being weak. White women look at submission as being a woman. And anyone who has a problem with this statement is ignorant.  Just look at the divine order; it goes man, woman, child.

mmmm.  if you can stomach reading this idiot’s incoherent misogynistic and racist bullshit, and the equally idiotic comments on the article, here’s the link.

I don’t know about y’all, but I am utterly disgusted with this asshole. Black women are too hard to control because they aren’t submissive? so avoid them, because they challenge the “divine order”? and your fucking male privilege? And white women are better because we’re submissive? we define ourselves as women by being submissive?

give me a fucking break.

do I look submissive to you? I didn’t think so.

Why the man is hating on black women I have no clue. Black women are not a monolith. When can people actually get treated like individuals? hmm? when? instead of all the same as one another? because we’re not all the same. Not black women, not white women, not women. period.

just because he has had better luck dominating the white women he has met than he has had dominating the black women he has met doesn’t mean he gets to make broad generalizations about either group of women. Man’s not looking for a partner. not in any sense of that word. Man’s looking for a fucking servant, someone he can dominate and control. Misogynist motherFUCKER!

ok, that’s my 5 minute rant for the day. gotta run, more packing to do!

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well, today is Canada Day, a day to celebrate all things Canadian, fly our flag high and proud, and talk about all the things that are wonderful about our great country. I’ve done this kind of thing before, and I will admit that each year on Canada Day I’ve felt kind of happy and proud to be Canadian.

However, I can’t help but feel this year that, because I love my country, I should talk about what I consider to be the greatest and most serious blight on the face of our nation, and that is the ongoing brutal colonization of Canada’s indigenous peoples.  It’s something that I feel all non-indigenous Canadians should be extremely embarrassed by, and should be actively trying to correct. We have all benefitted from the brutalization, ghettoization, displacement, colonization, and genocide of First Nations people here in Canada, and we should be ashamed.

Indigneous peoples in Canada have had their land stolen, their communities displaced, and limitations put on their way of life as nomadic and communal people. They have had their children stole and put into residential schools where they were beaten for speaking to one another in their own languages, effectively losing indigenous languages for entire generations to come. Indigenous peoples are completely ghettoized and segregated onto reserves, where sometimes very basic municipal services such as clean water and sewage are denied, and every single infrastructural improvement done on a reserve has to be approved by some white male “Indian Affairs” bureaucrat in Ottawa – they can’t even change the fucking name of the department to reflect how indigenous peoples living in Canada self-identify and wish to be called. Poverty among First Nations peoples is epidemic, as is alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration, and lack of education. Native women are the most raped women in our country, and are abused and killed by their domestic partners at a much higher rate than any other racial group of women. Indigenous customs and traditions have been alternatively mocked and co-opted by mainstream Canadian culture. First Nations people who have stood up for their rights are commonly referred to as terrorists.

I’d say probably the majority of white Canadians think they should shut up and stop their whinging because they’ve been “given so much” by the Canadian government, and they should be “realistic” about property claims because it’s not like Canadians are going to cede their deeds at this point in the game ’cause by god we all work SO HARD for every little thing we get and why do those “indians” want to take that away from us when they’ve already been “given so much” – they’re just wasting all those golden opportunities to be under-educated by a system that teaches nothing but lies about indigenous peoples and to live tax-free in an uninsulated house with no running water and no central heating and no sewage on a scrap of land especially “reserved” for them.

To be fair, there are many bands that are well-off and many indigenous people who are well-educated. However, when are we going to acknowledge that these other situations exist? When are we going to do something to change the fact of rampant sexual and domestic violence against indigenous women? about levels of violence among indigenous men? about rampant poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse? about devestating living conditions? When are we going to start respecting indigenous peoples instead of trying to figure out one more way to screw them over?

It breaks my heart to know that our indigenous populations are suffering in such terrible ways. And sadly, that makes me quite a bit less proud to call myself Canadian today.

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A reader, Alec, sent me an email yesterday with a link to this article, about the level of representation in the current US Congress as it relates to the population at large. It’s pretty clear that the Congress is not really representative of the US population demographics. Check it out:

 Males – As of the 2006 congress, 83.7% of the Congress is male, while the percentage of males of the voting age population (18 plus) is only 48.4. If this is further evaluated to include the over-representation of white males, the figure is even more staggering: 36.3% of the voting age population are white males, yet there are 79 White Male senators making up the Senate (79%).

[…]

The Wealthy/Educated – In the Senate, fifty-six senators hold degrees in the law, seven have MBA’s, and four have MD’s. The majority of COngress members come from upper-middle class to upper class income backgrounds, and the jobs themselves as Representatives and Senators pay $165,200 per year putting them in the top 5 percent of American household incomes, which does not reflect spouses income either (top 5% is deliniated by $157,000 per household).

On a similar note, the front-runner candidates for President in both parties (many of whom are currently serving in the Senate) had incomes that placed them in the top 1% of the population. Rudy Guiliani made 16.1 million dollars in 2006 with $45 million in assets, John Edwards $1.25 million in income and $29.5 million in assets, Barack Obama reported $938,000 in income and over 1 million dollars in assets, and possible third party candidate Michael Bloomberg has over 6.5 billion in his personal fortune.

Jews – While comprising 1.8% of the total United States population, Jews make up 7 percent of the Congress. This disproportional representation is extended higher in the Senate, where 13% of senators are Jewish.

Please take care to note the incomes and assets of the presidential candidates. Make extra-special attention to whose personal wealth is lowest. Yes, that’s right, it’s Barack Obama – the only black presidential contender. hmmm. interesting.

 So that’s over-representation. The even sadder news is the flip-side of that coin, the under-representation, of women and people of colour. Check this out:

Women – Women of voting age represent 51.6 percent of the voting age population yet are 16.3% of the Congress, putting America below the global average of 17% female representation at parliamentary level. As of 2007, the US ranks 68th in terms of women holding office in the legislature — this puts the US just above Turkmenistan, and just below El Salvador and Panama. [emphasis mine – TG]

and women have all the rights we need? what do those rights actually mean when societal forces are in place to prevent them from being exercised and upheld? This is a clear-cut example of the very important difference between formal and substantive equality.  Who will fight for these important differences to be eliminated than feminists? feminism is far from over.

Moving on:

Latinos – Hispanics represent over 14% of the U.S. population, while their Congress representation is 3% in the Senate and about 5% in the House.

African-Americans – The Senate is 1% African American and the House is roughly 9.2% African American compared to the 12.3 percent of American population that are of Black or African-American descent.

This is absolutely pathetic. And wholly related to the above point, about class. Note me, and note me well: class does not run deeper than race. Race and class are deeply interwoven, and that’s not because of class discrimination, it’s because of racism. People of colour are proportionately far far poorer than whites in these wealthiest of countries of ours, and it’s because they’re not white. Plain and simple. Get it through your heads, kids. Saying that blacks and hispanics are excluded from politics because they’re poor is a pretty pathetic excuse for an excuse. Stop and ask yourself : why are they poorer, statistically and significantly, than white folks? it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

 Thanks to Alec for providing me with some fodder for a post!

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I wrote recently about white racism, and the post stirred up a lot of stuff for a lot of people. One of the things that kept coming up was that I was “redefining” the words “racist” and “racism,” and people didn’t like that – they wanted me to come up with another word for either what I was talking about or for the “really bad” racism out there (like there’s two kinds?). My response was that I was not going to make up another word when the one we have is just fine. My feeling is that people who want me to make up a new word for certain kinds of racists, either the not-so-bad ones or the really-very-bad ones, just don’t want to deal with their own racism, and that they want to preserve the commonly accepted definition of “Racism” – a race-neutral definition that simply states and discrimination on the basis of race is racism – for their own purposes, to hide behind and use to maintain systems of power.

So I thought I would talk a little bit about this phenomenon of naming, of defining. There’s kind of an understanding that definitions are objective, are truth. And I wholeheartedly disagree. Why? Because there is power in defining, in naming. And who gets to name and define something usually has the power.

I’m going to continue with the example of defining “Racism/Racist.” Tim, a commenter on the other post, was concerned that my “redefinition” of these terms did not match up with “common usage” – that use of the terms carry “moral force,” assume an action, involve some great evil on part of the actor. Incidentally, while Tim didn’t say this specifically, most people who disagreed with my usage of the terms preferred a “race-neutral” definition, so that white people could also be considered victims of racism (reverse racism). This is what I said to Tim in response:

The term “racism” has been defined by white people. I’m saying, the POC I have engaged with and listened to and read don’t experience racism that way. And so, I’m gonna go with their definition of racism. Why should I take the definition of racism white folks have provided at face value, as objective, as free from their intentions, free from their power relations and oppressions? Why should I do that, when what I see and hear when I talk with and listen to POC about this is that white people’s definition of racism hurts POC more with its “colourblindness”? The problem with accepting the “common usage” definition of “Racism/Racist” is that you assume some kind of objectivity, some kind of “truth” about the word beyond the meaning that those who have the power to name have given it. Naming and defining is not free from relations of power. And I refuse to accept that those who have the power get to decide the definition, to suit their own purposes of minimizing and wriggling out of the consequences of what they have done and continue to do.

Other commenters, like Tim, disagreed with my use of the terms, and suggested that I should come up with a different word to describe what I was talking about: either for the not-so-bad racists, or the really-very-bad racists. I think this is really just an effort at not accepting responsibility for the part they play in racism, and at distancing themselves from racism and racists who are really-very-bad. Another way of insisting that  they’re really not racist, after all. One such commenter was Kyassett, who wanted another word for what I was describing, because there is a “huge difference” between the horrible acts of hatred that some racists like the KKK, the Nazis, Japanese internment camp organizers, etc., have done and “simply existing as a white person.” I responded thus:

I don’t think it’s a difference in kind between the violent acts of hatred the KKK is guilty of and the system of privilege whites benefit from. It’s a difference of degrees. So one word fits all.

Disgusted Beyond Belief was another one of these such commenters, insisting that the “only valid definition of racism is a race-neutral one,” and as such I needed to come up with a new word for what I was talking about. He couldn’t get past a lot of what was said in that thread, unfortunately. This is what I said back to DBB:

I’m not going to make up some word for “Racist” when the one we have works just fine, so that folks like you get to feel better about the degree of racism present in yourself, have someone worse to point your finger at and say “they’re the real problem”, so you get to forget and deny and feel more comfortable about the role you play in maintaining racism, so you can be let off the hook and still go about your days clinging to your ideologies. The word we already have fits just fine. The definition of racism POC have advanced, as something that is not individual, but systematic, is much truer than the wormy squirmy definition white supremacists have come up with to include themselves and be able to deflect charges of racism and accuse POC of the same thing they have been accused of, when it’s clear and obvious that there is a massive difference between any kind of prejudice that a white person experiences at the hands of a POC and what POC as a group experience at the heels of white society.

I hope the gist of this is clear. Naming and defining are acts that involve power. White folks have defined racism in such a way as to maintain our own power, to be able to say that we couldn’t possibly be racist because we experience racism too (at the hands of POC, of course), to appropriate the burden of racism from POC for our own purposes, to say that we couldn’t possibly be racist because we haven’t done anything so bad as those really-very-bad racists, to erade and deny the experiences of POC. All of this makes it clear enough to me that accepting a white-controlled definition of “Racist/Racism” is not nearly critical enough.

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I thought I’d post a paper I recently wrote about the link between environmental protection and population control, and how population control practices and policies are bad for women of colour. I wish I had had more space to really delve into things a bit further, but this was only a 6 page assignment.

 

Population Control & Environmental Protection: Misplaced Coercion

Population control programs in less-developed countries have often been implemented under the guise of environmental protection and to the detriment of indigenous people, as part of a global campaign of environmental racism. I will argue that this practice is unethical and coercive, and that what is really required is for developed countries to reduce their own consumption of global resources.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’sbook, The Population Bomb, set off a maelstrom of debate and panic among scholars and the general public alike. Ehrlich argued that the environment was in distress due to unrestricted population growth, and that if left unchecked, the earth’s resources would be exhausted. In a supporting article, Ehrlich urged developed countries to spend resources on programs aimed at family planning (Ehrlich, 1971: 14). Garrett Hardin argued that the population-environment crisis is a “tragedy of the commons” where some are taking more than their fair share of the earth’s resources by having too many children, and that this will lead to environmental destruction. (Hardin, 1971: 67; Hardin 1974) His solution is conceptually simple: “If we want to keep the rest of our freedoms we must restrict the freedom to breed” (Hardin, 1971: 67). While neither explicitly cite less-developed countries as the source of the over-population problem, the implicit meaning is clear: societies where having many children is the norm (not developed countries) are responsible for environmental destruction, and population control programs must be implemented there.

The idea that population growth, if left unrestricted, would cause environmental devastation for the entire world was quite influential during the 1970s and 80s. Indebtedness by less-developed countries to Western “benefactors” was growing, and structural adjustment policies became the main option for continued aid – and came to include population control policies. In 1986, the World Bank reported “The current objective of population control programs is to curb population growth in developing countries” (World Bank, 1986, in Pillai & Wang, 1995: 12, emphasis added). In Senegal, the World Bank required that the government adopt a population control policy as a condition for receiving SAP loans (Banderage, 1999: 65). Population control programs have relied heavily on contraception funded and provided by Western government-sponsored organizations such as USAID, UNFPA, and the World Bank, and the U.S. government has consistently been the largest donor for population control programs in less-developed countries (Pillai & Wang, 1999: 12, 46; Banderage, 1999: 65).

The “disaster ethic” held by Ehrlich and Hardin focuses on ends rather than means. Ehrlich wrote, “[T]he price of personal freedom in making childbearing decisions may be the destruction of the world” (Ehrlich, in Banderage, 1999: 37). This model associates overpopulation with everything from women’s subordination to environmental destruction, and blames the victims: “the primary targets of programs were women’s bodies” (Silliman, 1995: 256). Population control programs have become equated with primarily female fertility reduction policies (Pillai & Wang, 1999: 46), and have historically been implemented only in less-developed countries, poor communities of colour in developed countries, and populations such as the physically and mentally disabled, where poverty is wide-spread and basic needs are not met due to social inequalities. The preferred methods of population control programs are long-term or permanent methods controlled by family planning authorities and clinic personnel, not by the women themselves (Silliman, 1995: 256).  These programs have often been coercive, involving uninformed and non-consensual implementation of sterilization and long-term pregnancy-avoidance products such as Norplant, Depo-Provera, and IUDs, and reproductive technologies considered unsafe, untested, and unapproved or banned in developed countries (Wangari, 2002: 306-307).

Sterilization accounts for 45% of contraception in developing countries, and extraordinarily high sterilization rates exist in some countries: 85.5% in Nepal, 69.7% in India, 66.1% in the Dominican Republic, 49.2% in China, 47.9% in Sri Lanka, 44% in Brazil, 41.3% in Thailand, and 37.7% in Mexico (Banderage, 1999: 68). Furthermore, although vasectomy is a far less complicated procedure, “female sterilization is the most favored method of family planners and the most widely used method of fertility control in the world,” and abuse and coercion is not uncommon (Banderage, 1999: 69). Highly unethical methods such as monetary incentives for sterilization “acceptors” and providers, punitive measures for those refusing sterilization, the requirement of a sterilization certificate for employment, lack of informed consent, and even direct force have been used against women and men in less-developed countries in order to reduce birth rates (Banderage, 1999: 71-80). In some instances, sterilization took place in non-sterile and unsanitary conditions and post-operative care was minimal to non-existent, as in Bangladesh, and India, where “speed doctors” perform some 300-500 female sterilization laparoscopies in mass sterilization camps (Banderage, 1999: 72, 77). In China, whose population policy is to achieve negative population growth, eugenic sterilization of mentally disabled and Tibetan women combines with a coercive set of incentives and disincentives in their infamous one-child policy (Banderage, 1999: 78-79). Non-surgical methods of female contraception, such as oral contraceptives, IUDs, Norplant, and Depo-Provera, have been administered in less-developed countries even when they had been banned or untested in developed countries. Esther Wangari writes, “This is blunt racism against the people of colour. Their bodies and their families become nothing but testing and dumping grounds for the new and banned reproductive technologies of the West” (Wangari, 2002: 308).

Meanwhile, developed countries continue to over-consume, directing their attentions to resources in less-developed countries. Large Western-owned corporations exploit heavy debt burdens experienced by less-developed countries to make resource extraction deals for timber, oil, and mining products in less-developed countries. Less-developed countries desperate to increase exports and repay loans are at the mercy of corporations eager to plunder third-world resources: “In a rush to lay claim to valuable resources, foreign companies destroy the local environment and endanger the cultural and often physical survival of the indigenous people who populate it” (Weissman, 1993: 188).

There is reason to be deeply suspicious of the deployment of reproductive technologies in less-developed countries by Western development organizations, while simultaneously, structural adjustment policies restrict economic development and allow for the depletion of third-world resources by Western corporations (Wangari, 2002: 302).  Social and cultural factors are not considered by population control programs; for example, failure to bear children can lead to ostracization and brutality for women, and for poor families in less-developed countries, children are economic assets and not liabilities (Banderage, 1999: 159-160). Each child adds only marginal cost, but the economic return on the labour they provide for their families is far greater. The environmental problems faced by the world are not caused by the poor in less-developed countries; the poor are as much victims as the environment, and are scapegoats for the real culprit: unequal distribution of power, wealth, control of resources, and overconsumption in the global population (Banderage, 1999: 187; Wangari 2002: 306).

Afffluent lifestyles in developed countries pose a serious threat to the global ecosystem. Developed countries are responsible for consuming the majority of the world’s animal meat – and subsequently 40% of the world’s grain used to feed livestock; own the majority of the world’s automobiles –a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming; and account for approximately 75% of the world’s raw materials and energy use (Banderage, 1999: 229-232). Furthermore, “although industrialized nations in the North are responsible overwhelmingly for production of greenhouse gases, the effects are global; some of the worst effects are felt in some of the poorest countries” (Banderage, 1999: 233).

The real population problem does not lie with less-developed countries, but in the population of the developed countries who are consuming resources at an alarming rate. Yet, these populations have not been targeted on the same scale for consumption reduction as less-developed countries have been for population control and fertility reduction, which have been justified in the name of environmental and resource protection. This apparent discrepancy comes from the fact that “the rich contribute to market expansion through their profligate consumption, while the poor, who lack purchasing power, are superfluous to capitalist growth” (Banderage, 1999: 234).

In conclusion, less-developed countries are being blamed for environmental destruction and resource consumption, and are being coercively and unethically targeted with contraceptive measures aimed at population/fertility reduction, the subjects of which are overwhelmingly poor women of colour, while the real culprits are overconsumptive populations in developed countries. The solution to the problem of environmental degradation, then, does not lie with population control policies implemented in less-developed countries. The solution to the problem of global environmental degradation must target the source: unequal distribution of power, wealth, control of resources, and overconsumption in the global population. Esther Wangari writes, “It is Western countries, it appears to me, that need ‘family consumption planning clinics’” (Wangari, 2002: 306, 308). I couldn’t agree more.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Bandarage, Asoka (1997). Women, Population, and Global Crisis: A Political- Economic Analysis. London UK: Zed Books.
  2. Ehrlich, Paul (1971). “The Population Crisis: Where We Stand” in Population, Environment & People, ed. Noël Hinrichs. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 8-16.
  3. Hardin, Garrett (1971). “Population, Pollution, and Political Systems” in Population, Environment & People, ed. Noël Hinrichs. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. 59-68.
  4. Pillai, Vijayan K. and Wang, Guang-zhen (1999). Women’s Reproductive Rights in Developing Countries. Aldershot UK and Brookfield, VE: Ashgate Publishing.
  5. Silliman, Jael M. (1995). “Ethics, Family Planning, Status of Women, and the Environment” in Population, Consumption, and the Environment: Religious and Secular Responses, ed. Harold Coward. Albany NY: State Unniversity of New York Press. 251-261.
  6. Wangari, Esther (2002). “Reproductive Technologies: A Third World Feminist Perspective” in Feminist Post-Development Thought: Rethinking Modernity, Postcolonialism and Representation. London UK: Zed Books. 298-312.
  7. Weissman, Robert (1993). “Corporate Plundering of Third-World Resources” in Toxic Struggles: The Theory and Practice of Environmental Justice, ed. Richard Hofrichter. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. 186-196.

Thoughts, folks?

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