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<v Bonnie Erbe>Behind the headlines, delegates are meeting in Cairo for the UN Conference on Population and Development. The purpose is to approve a document that will be the blueprint for 20 years of population control and sustainable development. But unlike prior conferences, this year's focus is on women. <v Bonnie Erbe>The figures are staggering. 5.7 billion people on Earth heading toward eight point five billion in 30 years and 10 billion people by the year 2050. Experts say at this rate, the Earth's resources will quickly be depleted. <v Bonnie Erbe>Here at the Cairo conference. Women are playing a major role in formulating population policy. And it's a policy that, for the first time in history is based on the belief that the best way to reduce population growth is to empower women. <v Bonnie Erbe>The question at this conference is how. The Vatican and Muslim fundamentalists created controversy by opposing parts of the conference document on family planning and abortion. But some women here say the controversy is mostly higher.
<v Altaf Bashir>Abortion for saving maternal life, abortion for saving maternal health is allowed in Islam. And secondly, Islam doesn't prevent family planning. It is in Quran that in various verses that family planning is allowed in Islam. <v Nasreen Huq>The Vatican can afford to overlook this problem because they do not have women in their constituency. They are essentially a nation of men who are vowed to celibacy. It is not their problem, but it is a problem for the rest of us and we have to address it. <v Frances Kissling>I think that it is this women's empowerment women's role message that is actually at the root of the Vatican's opposition and the opposition of some conservative Islamic forces to the document, because those are the religious entities that are most opposed to women's rights. <v Bonnie Erbe>But in general, women's rights are not a source of controversy, nor are most other goals of the conference document to end poverty, to educate the masses and to fund programs that reduce overpopulation while improving people's lives.
<v Bonnie Erbe>One empowerment program starts here in the Cairo slums. It takes in the daughters of garbage collectors and teaches them rudimentary health and business skills. They are taught the basics of reading and writing, and they are given a skill: how to weave rugs. <v Bonnie Erbe>The rugs and quilts are made from donated fabric remnants. The girls are taught to sort them and design them into salable items. In the process, they're exposed to a world they never would have known otherwise. A world of knowledge. As they become more educated, they have fewer children because, as project director Laila Kamal explains, the traditional reasons for having children diminish. <v Leila Kamel>Number one, because children die, infants and babies die, because they're immunized, they're not immunized. Number two, because children are a source of income. Number three, because the predominant technological paradigm is very labor intensive. There's no intermediate appropriate technology to help with. They need children, number four, because there's not a Social Security system that ensures a pension.
<v Bonnie Erbe>Without this program, these girls are consigned to a life of unbelievable poverty, where children may be close to all they have. The program appears to be working well to educate them and reduce overpopulation simultaneously. <v Guest>We are six children in my family, but I am not going to have more than two kids. We have seen women have many children here suffer. When the children get sick. They're not able to care for them. They are not able to educate and send all of them to school. But if they had two only be able to provide much better for their children. <v Bonnie Erbe>The heat and buzz words are all on abortion, but the greater goal of many of the participants is empowerment, helping women take charge of their biological and financial futures. Let's stuff- Let's start with the stuff that is getting all the coverage, i.e., the debate over abortion. Irene what is the Vatican hoping to come out of this conference with?
<v Irene Navtividad>I don't know, leadership, maybe. These are one hundred fourteen celibate men who are using abortion as a red herring to deflect attention from a UN document on which there is ninety two percent agreement. And that is precisely what's being articulated over and over, that you need education and economic development of women in order to reduce birth rates. There was a group of about 30 scholars, religious scholars that met a month before this conference, and they issued a document that said No one religion should stifle debate on a very important issue of international development. And what's happening here is that the Vatican, in effect, has slowed down action on something that took three years to develop and was based on the opinion of lots of women from developing nations. So I think this whole thing is spurious. It is a last ditch effort by this male hierarchy and the pope is putting all of his weight behind this opposition. <v Bonnie Erbe>I wonder, is there any compromise language that could satisfy the Vatican? <v Linda Chavez>On abortion? No. <v Bonnie Erbe>Bearing in mind that they didn't sign on board to the last two, the first two and the two prior to that conference.
<v Linda Chavez>Let's put this in perspective. No, there is no compromise language that the pope is going to accept on abortion. This is a moral issue. It is an issue that touches at the heart of Catholic doctrine. He's not going to compromise on that. I think the problem stemmed from at least my sense is that the Vatican was reacting to what they consider to be a campaign by the United States to try and make the right to abortion a right that we see in this document. If you follow the cable traffic that went between the State Department and the PrepCom conference that set up this document and leading up to Cairo, you find that the State Department was pushing the American idea of abortion. Now, this administration says they want to make abortion safe, legal and rare. It sounds a little peculiar when you have 1.6 million-. <v Irene Navtividad>Linda. A lot of women from developing nations are very upset that there's all this talk about US driven document when they felt they had been driving the preparation of this document for three years. <v Bonnie Erbe>Well, my question is this. Why then? Because there was so much emphasis in Cairo, it was seen in the initial stories before the conference actually started. But there was so much emphasis there on empowering women. Why don't we see the Vatican talking about- As a matter
<v Linda Chavez>If you listen to what Bishop Maculuve says, what he said is one of the unfortunate things about all of the emphasis on abortion and the way in which abortion weaves its way through that document is that it takes attention away from some of the other issues, which I think are terribly important. If you do want to empower women, you teach them to read and write, you educate them. It's my view that that's going to do much more in terms of population control than any amount of government funded family planning. People have to make these decisions themselves. <v Julianne Malveaux>Linda, I looked at the document and the first substantive section of the document talks about sustainable development and economic development, which is a priority issue for me. And I think when you look at the role that the World Bank in the US has played in development in some of these countries, one would have liked to see more discussion there. But I think what has happened here, quite frankly, number one is the pope has made himself irrelevant. You saw the woman from Catholics for Free Choice. This has been a discussion in the Catholic Church among women in Catholicism. There has been little empowering that has come from the Catholic religion for women at this point at all. And so I think the pope is making himself irrelevant. I think, secondly, what's happened is if you looked at the population conference that happened 10 years ago, the Bush administration responded-.
<v Lynn Martin>Reagan. <v Irene Navtividad>Reagan. <v Julianne Malveaux>Same thing, responded, sorry Lynn, but literally the same thing, responded by cutting money that was given to the UN population policy group, basically staying out and basically attempting to do a very anti choice thing. So you see some progressive development here. And I think that the responses to the progressive development. <v Lynn Martin>A couple- when I was young, which was one hundred years ago, people actually [inaudible] is the pope Catholic? I mean, you know, sort of- I do want to say, is the pope Catholic, you expected him to say abortion is a great deal. I mean, so I think some of us- we should not expect. On the other hand, this is not a document about religion. And so having said that, I will also tell you, I think two other things that that are more disturbing, not an opposition to abortion, which I would expect I may not agree, but I would expect. But the one is that the church also stands against virtually all forms of birth control that are not natural. I think that is generally not viewed as positive within the document or within even the Catholic community, I think abortion goes that step further.
<v Bonnie Erbe>Another poll out this week showed that 80 percent of American Catholics do not feel bound by church. <v Lynn Martin>I meant particular and the third is, I think that there may have actually been some harm to the Vatican's position within these by uniting with Iran. I think that's been disturbing for many American Catholics and non Catholics alike. <v Bonnie Erbe>One quick last point on the Vatican and then I want to get to the rest of the conference, which is the the US Catholic Charities gets over one hundred million dollars a year from the AID- United States taxpayers dollars that are funneled through Catholic Charities delivered because they have such an extensive network where they can get to the poor people and help them. If more funding, more for family planning and abortion, it would come out of that pot. And one has to wonder whether the real fight because with the with the Vatican giving out money to poor Catholic countries, they would lose clout if they lost some of that money. Is that part of the real fight Linda. <v Linda Chavez>I don't think it has anything to do with the fight. I think that what we're seeing here is a real culture clash. We are seeing values. And as as Lynn says, the Catholic Church is not going to change its position. This pope is certainly not going to change his position either on artificial birth control or on abortion. And you have a different point of view in a different sense in countries like the United States and in some Catholic countries as well. I don't think it's I think it's crazy to expect that the pope is going to take-
<v Lynn Martin>[inaudible] has low birth rate. France has a low birth rate. Spain has a low birth rate in our Catholic countries so-. <v Linda Chavez>Quite frankly. <v Lynn Martin>You know, Obviously, there is a differention there. <v Linda Chavez>Surprising to me is that this administration thought that they could get some compromise when the when President Clinton met with the pope, he came out of that meeting and he said, I think we're moving a little bit closer together. The Vatican immediately issued a statement saying, gee, he must be moving towards us. We're not going to move. <v Linda Chavez>probably he should've just said it was a nice visit. I agree <v Irene Navtividad>When the Catholic Church accuses the United States of cultural imperialism, which is something that you're referring to, I think they could be accused of religious imperialism. They have no right to impose one set of morality over a whole lot of people. They have a right to fight for it. But to stop discussion among one hundred eighty one nation one when one hundred eighty five have already agreed and compromised language I think is wrong. <v Bonnie Erbe>All right. Now let's get to empowerment of women and how it relates to population stabilization and population control. Do you think the best way to achieve stabilization of the population growth rate is to empower women?
<v Linda Chavez>Aside from going into the Malthusian doctrines here, I think everyone agrees. The numbers are quite clear, that if you educate women and you can educate young children, in other words, give choice, opportunity, a chance for change, you do more incredible things in building the bridges and airports that doesn't make bridges and airports not important. It also has to go in context with other things. But there's no argument that this this is a route to go educate children and- <v Julianne Malveaux>Focusing on women's education, though it seems, I think is incredibly important. I'm concerned about some of the economic development issues. I heard a woman doctor from Tanzania talking about the fact that she was attempting couldn't deliver babies because she didn't have clean water. And it seems that some of the infrastructural things that are problematic have been ignored. In addition, the World Bank's structural adjustment policy causes the devaluation of currencies, which puts a heavy burden on rural women. And this is something when you have this sort of Western discussion about education without looking at the economic requirements of women, I think it's almost like a disconnect.
<v Linda Chavez>But education leads to development. And one of the things I thought was terrific about the piece that you did, Bonnie, is that I think all of the attention this week has been on the question of population. Are there too many people in the world? You know very well that I happen to believe there's not necessarily a connection between population and poverty. If you look at some of the most heavily densely populated countries in the world, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, they're also the wealthiest nations in the world. <v Irene Navtividad>Not India, not India. <v Linda Chavez>What I'm saying is that- <v Bonnie Erbe>Rwanda. <v Irene Navtividad>And China. <v Linda Chavez>Rawanda is not- is about a fifth as dense as Taiwan is. Rwanda's problems are not one of population, they're one of tribalism. <v Bonnie Erbe>Having been in Taiwan earlier this year. Let me tell you something, that while some of those people may not be in poverty, you would never want to live. They live five to a room. It's a clean room. They have food and water, five to a room. There's definitely a population problem in Taiwan. <v Linda Chavez>But but but what I'm trying to say is that one of the one of the things that that has been so much of focus this week is this is if it's like cause and effect, you have people and therefore you're going to have poverty. It is not it's not that simple. It's a lot more complex than that. And the question of development, the question of education, these are the ways that you control population. The fact is, even though Taiwan is very crowded, they also have very low population growth, it's an island after all.
<v Bonnie Erbe>you you have gotten into something in other forums about governments controlling the number of children that families have. Outside of China, there's no place that that goes on. There's no place that that was talked about. <v Linda Chavez>it goes on in India, as a matter of fact forced abortion was practiced. <v Bonnie Erbe>What they do in India is bribes, transistor radios for getting yourself sterilized and that kind of thing. But it's not required and that is not being talked about in Cairo. <v Linda Chavez>Bonnie, my problem and you're right, I wrote a column in USA Today about this. My problem is when we think of family planning, what we're talking about, when we talk about choice, we're talking about the couple making the decision not to have children, women making a choice about whether or not to have a baby. When some countries talk about this, they're talking about the government making- <v Julianne Malveaux>They're talking about making certain things available, Linda. And this is something that I think was talked about inappropriately so with Cairo. The issue is making not only contraception, but other things available. Some of this study is not readily available Linda, You just can't distort the facts to that.
To the Contrary
U.N. Conference on Population and Development
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Maryland Public Television
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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"Most of the headlines and stories coming out of the U.N. Conference on Population and Development focused on the battle over abortion. To The Contrary, an all women's news analysis program seen nationwide on PBS, went behind the headlines and found out that the real solution to the problem was empowerment of women. Teach a woman a skill, give her the opportunity to provide for herself and her family, and she won't see having more and more children as the only way to survive. Provide health information and healthcare and she won't need to have many children in hopes that some survive, she won't need children as her social security. We visited a program where the children of garbage collectors, women who live without running water and regular electricity are learning to make marketable products. Through their new found skills, they are also learning to read, write and do math. They also learn social skills and get health information. The products that they make are also environmentally sound. They make bags and rugs out of donated scrap material. "This episode of To The Contrary highlights this program, but because of our format we give our viewers more. Our racially, ethnically and politically diverse group of women opinion makers discuss the issues in more detail. Viewers of To The Contrary get a bigger picture of the problem and how to solve it."--1994 Peabody Awards entry form. The discussion of this episode centers around the role Catholicism plays in abortion, along with a discussion on how different kinds of human development, including poverty and education, may reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
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Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
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Chicago: “To the Contrary; U.N. Conference on Population and Development,” 1994-09-09, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 26, 2022,
MLA: “To the Contrary; U.N. Conference on Population and Development.” 1994-09-09. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 26, 2022. <>.
APA: To the Contrary; U.N. Conference on Population and Development. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from