A family-planning advocate and U.N. supporter answers questions
You didn’t give many details about how 34 Million Friends took off. What’s the story? — Raj Sundaram, Los Angeles, Calif.
I just started emailing a list of population activist friends I knew around the country, then reached out to environmental groups, women’s groups, human-rights groups, health groups, ad infinitum! I devoted probably six to seven hours per day for 20 months.
Who has the responsibility to make sure these funds are allocated correctly? — Jerry Broadbent, Bucoda, Wash.
At our website you can see what the money has gone for. The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) makes the final decisions, but with foundations paying the huge bulk of administrative costs, all the money we collect goes to programs on safe motherhood, family planning, emergency obstetrical supplies, transportation and communications equipment, and training midwives and doctors. Some $500,000 has gone to repair obstetric fistula, a tear between the birth canal and rectum or bladder that occurs when very young girls give birth with no assistance and have long, long labor.
Why do you think that Bush is so bad on so many women’s health issues? — Tamara Hale, Hurst, Texas
On reproductive health and family planning, the Bush administration is over the fence in right field. With its ideological views and religious fanaticism, it is harming the women of the world in untold ways. It has altered government websites — for instance, withdrawing the conclusion of scientists that there was no link between abortion and breast cancer. There was such an outcry over that, they reinstated the scientific conclusions.
Have you joined with Rotary International in their worldwide population and female-education campaign? — Dan Murchison, Birmingham, Ala.
I am in close touch with the Rotary International program. In fact, right now I am with the Population Institute at its meeting in Washington, D.C., on the 10-year anniversary of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development. Werner Fornos, the head of the Population Institute, was one of the founders of the Rotary program. I have also spoken at several local Rotary clubs in California. We all need to talk about population and reproductive health issues and support the women of the world, the families of the world, in choosing the number and spacing of their children.
Why is Ralph Nader so bad? — Amanda Hollingworth, Toronto, Canada
We need a president in this country who supports women’s rights and health without putting artificial barriers in the way, like gag rules and not funding UNFPA. Ralph Nader may well take away votes from a man who is very, very supportive of women’s rights and health.
Would you consider population your primary environmental concern? — Ruth Brenhurg, Bismarck, N.D.
Population, the environment, and consumption are so closely linked that to separate them is hard. The availability of fresh, clean water for people and the planet is probably my primary environmental concern. But for me, women are the key, their education and rights. When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world.
I would like to know if you feel that men should have the same reproductive rights as women. — Stephen Knox, Albany, N.H.
The whole thrust of reproductive rights is to include men. All over the world, women have no good choices, because family planning is not available. There is a huge worldwide shortage of condoms. I want choices available — and responsibility from both women and men.
What do you think about the recent Sierra Club board elections and the focus of some board candidates on population and immigration issues? — Fritz Dyentra, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
I voted for the Sierra Club slate but for the former governor of Colorado [Richard Lamm] too because I thought there should be a voice talking about these issues. But basically, a human being is a human being, no matter where they live. So I am not anti-immigrant in any sense.
What do you think of VHEMT and similar groups? — Justin Volta, Arcata, Calif.
Actually, I was on a panel with the guy who started the Voluntary Human Extinction movement. I thought he was very provocative and interesting. We stay in touch.
Tell us more about the specifics of Bush’s “pro-life” policies and how they are depriving women of reproductive-health choices. — Jen Desmond, Salt Lake City, Utah
The “gag rule” is blackmail. If organizations want the United States’ money, they cannot give women information of their legal rights. “Abstinence only” money is also blackmail — if organizations accept U.S. money they can say nothing of contraceptives.
What do you see in the future (of America, of the world) for reproductive health and rights? — Sharon Smolinski, Littleton, Colo.
I see a tough struggle. One of the most important things to do is educate ordinary citizens as to what is at stake.
How far are you now toward the monetary goal you’ve set? Have the funds you’ve received so far gone to the U.N. already? What was their response? — Jamie Limbach, San Francisco, Calif.
The UNFPA is elated with the nearly $2 million we have raised. With this money we/they are saving lives and lessening misery each day. This campaign is sending a wonderful message to the people of the world from the American people. All the money goes to the UNFPA as it is received. The bulk of our administrative costs are covered by grants.
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