“This is our water,” the woman said and pointed to a parched hole from which a small stream of earth-dyed water trickled. She bent over with her water jug to demonstrate how the women in her village angled the jugs to obtain the water with as little mud infiltration as possible.
This was their water source? What the women, their children and their families were drinking? Washing? Cleaning with? Using at the local clinic? I was shocked.
As Earth Day approaches I’m reminded of that moment again. At the time I was visiting a project site for Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt Movement and it was the first time I saw the devastating impact climate change has on women. In that part of rural Kenya, there were no trees. For various reasons deforestation was almost complete, and it had stripped the land of its natural bounty. The environmental changes affecting the area were devastating, in particular for the women who had to walk miles to this tiny stream. Lost pregnancies and infants were high. Medical care was scarce. And family planning was almost non-existent.
The women were passionate about wanting change. They were thrilled the Greenbelt Movement was helping them learn how to plant trees to reenergize the soil, provide shade, and serve as a resource. They were excited to be starting their own business as a women’s cooperative, making baskets, which they sold to a vendor who exported them to the United States. But as much as they were learning about the land and economics, they were not learning about family planning.
Last year the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations Secretariat wrote, “if current family planning efforts are not strengthened and current levels of fertility were to remain unchanged, then world population is projected to reach 11 billion by 2050, rather than the 9.2 billion that is projected in the medium variant.”
How does this affect women and the planet?
“Population growth will interface with climate change in ways that intensify several other mechanisms, especially shelter, food, and water scarcity. Population growth also puts additional stress on already weak health systems and exacerbates vulnerability to the adverse health effects of climate change,” according to The Lancet from May 2009.
And women bear the biggest burden. Many women are the primary sources of water and food for their families. Women are also at risk for dying in unhygienic conditions during pregnancy and childbirth.
Family planning is one of the many interventions that, if invested more strongly in, could make an incredible impact now. It is wanted by couples (200 million women in the world want, but lack access to modern contraceptives), has a proven track record of improving health and saving lives (the recent study on the decline in maternal mortality indicated family planning was one of the biggest contributing factors), and the technology exists right now in simple and effect forms—no more waiting for crazy experiments to put air conditioners into the atmosphere to cool the earth. Not to mention of course that it’s also a woman’s right to control her own body.
To ensure the future health of the upcoming generations, we must leave behind a habitable, healthy planet and family planning can play a great role. Better contraceptives and the establishment of organized family planning programs can meet the demand for families and decreased fertility. When people are able to manage family size, they have more time to gain knowledge and participate in local governance, they are then better able to contribute to their local communities, become involved in environmental care programs and help their families move out of poverty.
To help women like the ones I met in Kenya, we need more projects that combine reproductive health and conservation. That way not only will there be greater involvement in natural resource management, but women can also make decisions about their own bodies and futures.
So this Earth Day take action to ensure more women have access to the reproductive health care and family planning they need. Sign this petition to show your support for reproductive health care. Together we can make a big change for women, our world and our future.
ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING EARTH DAY:
HOW ARE ANIMALS AFFECTED?
THINGS TO PONDER
THOSE MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Pathfinder International: Sarah Day, Uganda
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