She’s Doing It: Jane Roberts’ 10 Years Making Global Women’s Rights Reality

by Gloria Feldt on July 11th, 2012
in Create a Movement, Leadership, No Excuses, Power Tools, She's Doing It and tagged , , , , , , , ,

This is a guest post by a courageous leader for women globally. Jane Roberts saw an injustice and took action to set things right. On this July 11, World Population Day,  join me in support of her efforts to raise awareness and money to ensure that women around the world can have healthy pregnancies when they choose and access to preventive family planning services to plan and space their childbearing.

Also on 11 July, the UK Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with UNFPA and other partners, will host the  London Summit on Family Planning, a groundbreaking convocation on family planning. The aim of the summit it to mobilize global policy, financing, commodity, political will, and service delivery commitments to support the rights of an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use contraceptive information, services and supplies, without coercion or discrimination, by 2020.

July 22, 2002, ten years ago this month, I read in the Los Angeles Times Colin Powell’s  announcement that the United States of America, my country, was not going to release the $34 million Congress had approved for the U.N. Population Fund. Powell, a proponent of UNFPA, sold his soul.

I knew that this dereliction of duty and this ugly mean spirited step would mean more cases of maternal mortality, more unwanted births, large numbers of unsafe abortions, increased cases of obstetric fistula and increases in the myriad forms of gender based violence. That night I thought of asking 34 million Americans and others for one dollar. Lois Abraham, whom I didn’t know at the time, had the exact same thought. Ten years later our grassroots movement 34 Million Friends is still going and has given hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to take a stand for the women of the world through UNFPA. Our web site at has a new 10th anniversary home page with my new and short youtube video.

July 11 is World Population Day. Two hundred thirteen thousand people per day and/or seventy-eight million people per year are being added to the world’s population. Human beings are a rapacious species.  Rio+20 showed that governments will not sacrifice their power nor individuals their creature comforts for long term sustainability.  Rio+20 showed that population remains the unmentioned elephant in the room. Sustainability is a joke.

Rio+20 showed that women remain at the low end of the totem pole and that the lip service paid to the centrality of women to both development and sustainability issues is just that: lip service.

I predict that the family planning summit in London to coincide with World Population Day will, in the long run, be more important than Rio+20. It is being sponsored by DFID, Department for Foreign and International Development (UK), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with additional support from UNFPA and USAID.

Dr. Gary L. Darmstadt who heads the family health division at the Gates Foundation views the summit as an opportunity to unleash unprecedented political commitment to making access to family planning pass from a right to a reality.

Dr. Babtunde Osotimehin has stated that UNFPA will increase its allocation to family planning from 25 percent to 40 percent.  That is a huge positive step. Family planning is at the very core of all that reproductive health entails.

And what about you? 34 Million Friends would welcome a 10th anniversary gift and/or give the gift of family planning directly at the UNFPA web site.  Family planning is central to women’s health and to women’s equality. It is too important to leave to governments alone. It is the most noble of causes going forward for people, the planet and peace.

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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3 Responses to She’s Doing It: Jane Roberts’ 10 Years Making Global Women’s Rights Reality

  1. Aletha says:

    I wonder if Ms. Roberts would care to respond to this indictment of the agenda of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by Betsy Hartmann posted at Common Dreams

    Published on Monday, July 9, 2012 by Common Dreams
    Will World Population Day Open the Gates to Coercive Contraception?
    by Betsy Hartmann

    On July 11, World Population Day, the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are hosting an international Family Planning Summit in London to launch an ambitious $4 billion contraceptive program initiated by Melinda Gates. Its aim is to get 120 million poor women, mainly in Africa and South Asia, access to modern contraception as well as to stimulate research into new birth control methods.

    On the surface it all sounds good, wrapped in the language of saving and empowering women. But many reproductive health and human rights activists worry that the summit represents a serious backslide to the bad old days of population control when contraception was deployed as a technical fix to reduce birthrates. Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s family planning strategy blames population growth for exacerbating all matter of social ills, from stressing government budgets to contributing significantly to “the global burden of disease, environmental degradation, poverty and conflict.” It as if the fertility of poor women causes these problems, and not the exploitative policies and practices of the rich and powerful.

    A recent critical statement issued by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Amnesty International, and three international women’s networks calls for human rights to be at the center of the forthcoming summit. Signed by over 320 women’s groups and activists from around the globe, the statement points to the danger of a return to coercive contraception and forced sterilization. “The Family Planning Summit must ensure that the clocks are not put back on women’s human rights: women’s autonomy and agency to decide freely on matters related to sexual and reproductive health without any discrimination, coercion or violence must be protected under all circumstances.”

    These fears are justified. The Gates initiative focuses on India, for example, where the government’s family planning program, supported by international donors including the U.K. government, is forcibly sterilizing poor women from disadvantaged communities, especially in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. An April 15 expose in the London Observer describes cases of pregnant women being sterilized and bleeding to death after miscarrying. While donors are not directly implicated in these practices, their failure to adequately monitor how their funds are used contributes to the abuse.

    A certain political blindness is at work in the Gates initiative. The assumption is that you can just pour in money and contraceptives to health and family programs that already discriminate against the poor and miraculously they will turn around and help women. Add to this the imperative to drive down birthrates and you get a recipe for coercion.

    But coercion is not the only problem. Another serious concern is which contraceptives Gates and its associates are pushing, and why. Even when population programs don’t employ force, they often limit contraceptive choice to long-acting methods like injectables and implants that are viewed as more effective in preventing pregnancy and hence reducing population growth. What is the safest and most appropriate method for the individual woman is simply not the priority.

    I agree that Rio+20 was a joke, lip service at best, but family planning is too important to leave to the likes of Bill Gates. I would not trust anything that man wants to do, not necessarily for the reasons Ms. Hartmann cites.

  2. Gloria Feldt says:

    I well understand the concerns about coercion in the family planning field. The big advance of the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development was to shift the focus from population to putting women at the center of the issue. However, the next step is to affirm reproductive rights as women’s fundamental human rights as well as rights to health care and to make their own sexual and childbearing decisions.

    That said, I have received funds for programs from the Gates Foundation, and though they are very public health oriented in their focus, there is nothing in any of their global efforts that would lead me to suspect they are pushing or funding coercive family planning programs. In fact, they were traditionally skittish about funding family planning at all, so this London meeting was a huge step forward in getting them to use their big platform for it.

    There remain over 250,000 couples in the developing world who want modern contraception and can’t get it. It is critically important for any funding or programs to carry with them requirements that the programs be 100% voluntary. Often these programs funded from outside cultures that have potentially coercive practices can actually serve as a prod to make the government programs cease coercion.

    It will be a great day when every woman has full and unfettered access to all medically approved and barrier contraceptive methods to be sure. Meanwhile, if you were a woman with six children and no source of support for them, you’d be very glad to be able to choose from a smaller array of contraceptive methods and you’d want the method that is most effective.

  3. Aletha says:

    Gloria, you say of the Gates Foundation “they are very public health oriented in their focus.” Others say their focus is on techno-fixes, that the result of their philanthropy is anything but promoting public health. In my eyes, most of the ideas Bill Gates has promoted to fix the problems of the world are downright dangerous. Unfortunately most politicians tend to agree with his approach, which is partly why none of these problems are getting fixed and most are getting worse.

    One thing Bill Gates said a few years back I found extremely telling and completely inaccurate and unforgivable:

    “Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment,” Gates said. “They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it.”

    Uh huh. Right. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. The Gates Foundation happens to own a lot of stock in biotech companies, reportedly half a million shares of Monsanto alone.

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