The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released a report yesterday calling for improved access to reproductive health services and education for women as crucial steps in the fight against global poverty. The UNFPA’s “State of the World Population 2002” report shows that gender inequality and inadequate reproductive services lead to high fertility rates among the poor, in turn perpetuating poverty and inequality. The report reveals that half of the world’s six billion people live under impoverished conditions, earning less than $2 a day. In developing and developed countries alike, women are much more likely to perform the bulk of the unpaid labor. Fertility rates are shown to be linked to economic growth, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and increasing the education levels. With education, women have fewer and healthier children, who are more likely to be educated themselves.
However, several factors continue to limit the overall benefits that come from educated, healthy women with access to family planning services. One is the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. For the first time, women make up half of all cases of HIV/AIDS, and in the most severely affected region of Sub-Saharan Africa, women are 58 percent of all those infected. Mozambique’s Prime Minister is quoted in the report as saying “HIV/AIDS is transmitted through the most intimate and private human relationships, through sexual violence and commercial sex; it proliferates because of women’s poverty and inequality.” The UNFPA report underscores the importance of empowering women to stem the AIDS crisis, citing certain cultural and social beliefs about women as contributing to their vulnerability in this epidemic.
The report was released in the United States in both Washington, DC, and New York City. At the DC release, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) criticized the Bush Administration for refusing to release $34 million appropriated by Congress for the UNFPA’s work at the urging of a right-wing, anti-abortion interest group. “This misguided decision will cost thousands of women and children’s lives. When we prevent money and services from reaching those in need, women die,” Maloney stated, according to CNSNews.com. The UNFPA states that the US funding would have prevented two million unwanted pregnancies and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths. Bush has recently threatened to back out of the landmark population policy ratified by 179 nations in 1994 if the terms “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” were not removed from the language of the agreement. One of the three primary objectives of the UNFPA is to advance the goals agreed upon at the 1994 conference.
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