Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday Focus: The Overpopulation Myth

There is a TED talk floating around which was given by Sheryl WuDunn (see here and here), the co-author of Half the Sky.  She speaks about the work of the Half the Sky Foundation and says that something called, "gender inequity" is the central moral challenge of the 21st century.  This is her first major tenet.  WuDunn illustrates this inequity by talking about the phenomenon of missing girls, putting the number at, "between 60 million and 100 million missing females in the current population."  WuDunn, even though this is her issue, seems to underplay the numbers (more on why this might be in a moment) because Steven Mosher/PRI puts the number at 100 million, which is also the U.N.s number, while author Mara Hvistendahl puts it at 163 million in Asia, the region with the starkest demographic divide.

Whether or not WuDunn is underplaying the numbers, her solution given in the second major tenet is bound to perpetuate the problem:

The second tenet of "Half the Sky" is that, let's put aside the morality of all the right and wrong of it all. And just on a purely practical level, we think that one of the best ways to fight poverty and to fight terrorism is to educate girls and to bring women into the formal labor force. Poverty, for instance. There are three reasons why this is the case. For one, overpopulation is one of the persistent causes of poverty. And you know, when you educate a boy, his family tends to have fewer kids, but only slightly. When you educate a girl, she tends to have significantly fewer kids.

I believe WuDunn may be deliberately underplaying the number of missing girls because it would affect public perception of the above agenda.  That agenda, as a practical matter, requires the widespread availability and practice of abortion.  The case for the link between regular use of artificial birth control and abortion has been made elsewhere so I will not rehearse it here. In order to bring women into the formal labor force and keep them there, you have to depend upon abortion when contraception fails.  Abortion is the birth control back-up plan, so to speak. So, yes, let's put aside the morality of it all, shall we?

[As an interesting aside, I have been criticized elsewhere for linking WuDunn with Mao and calling her a fan of Mao which is odd when you consider that only when the communists were moving women into the formal labor force did Mao coin his now famous phrase, "Women hold up half the sky." And what is a major focus of her agenda?  Moving women into the formal workforce!]

I  believe there are tell-tale signs all the way through this talk that WuDunn doesn't really love these people, she just thinks they need her.  One sign was the way she depersonalizes people in references like this,  "the breast shows no son preference."  Another was that obvious instance where she urged us to put aside morality in favor of her agenda because she knows how to help these people.  But the most egregious instance is her parroting of the overpopulation myth which brings me to the reason for this extended introduction.

Steven Mosher is a widely recognized authority on population issues, particularly in China.  The first American social scientist allowed in China, he witnessed the coercive methods of enforcing the "One Child" policy from the first days of its existence.  Mosher heads up the non profit, Population Research Institute which, "works to end coercive population control, and fight the myth of overpopulation which fuels it." 

Of their special projects, Overpopulation is a Myth is just chock full of catchy videos and the science to back them up.  Other projects aim to Stop Sex-Selective Abortion and Project Real Need which aims at stopping the flow of tax dollars to funding abortion and put that money where it is needed, such as in Malaria prevention measures.

So tour around PRI, get to know their work and check out some of the videos.  You will come away understanding that overpopulation is far from being a "persistent" cause of poverty, it is a myth.  And forget WuDunn's amoral prescription. 

*please also read some additional information in the first comment.


Kamilla said...

Three things to take note of which I left out of the body of the post:

First, when WuDunn talks about gender inequity, what she is reallly talking about is a symptom of the problem. While she may mean the unequal treatment of women, she is here focusing exclusively on the numbers, the missing girl problem. The real problem is the denial of intrinsic human worth which leads people to follow cultural values which give more importance to boys than girls.

The second is her contention that overpopulation is a persistent cause of poverty. Mosher and PRI deal adequately with that myth - here I simply want to note that aid workers across the world will tell you one of the most significant causes of poverty is governmental corruption which prevents the efficient delivery of aid and stiffles economic development.

Third, I gave over the first section of the post to the WuDunn video because WuDunn herself is ethnically Chinese. Mosher did his early work in China. I know which of the two I trust, and it's not the woman who advocates we leave our ethics at the side of the road.

Kunoichi said...

I recall recently reading an article about "missing females" due to abortion. It talked about gender selective abortions in China (due to their one child laws) and India, among other places. It was found that the women in India who chose to abort females were more likely to be higher educated, wealthier and from higher status families. A female abortion doctor in North America interviewed for the article described a patient who came for several abortions because she found out they were female, and her husband and mother-in-law wanted a son. When the patient finally had a son, the doctor though she wouldn't see her again. Instead, the woman returned for yet another abortion after learning her next pregnancy was female, and her husband still wanted more sons.

What a tragedy, on so many levels.