Their names are Jim and Paul, Jeff and Bill and several Daves. They are my colleagues and some my dearest friends. They are my heroes for fighting a fight few wish to discuss, let alone hear about. But for the longest time I have wondered why there were so few women’s voices in the world of educating people about dangers of overpopulation the the over-consumption of resources that follows in its wake.
Much to my delight, I recently have become aware of even more women, mostly in academia, some in media, who are quite vocal on this often-shunned topic. Their fresh voices somehow make me feel less alone. Overpopulation is a matter of understanding how the laws of carrying capacity apply to homo sapiens sapiens too. It shouldn’t matter who is in charge of working on this issue. In a perfect world, the presentation of scientific evidence should demand our attention no matter who is at the podium, yet we all know we live in a world that is divided and subdivided into groups with very unequal power.
Now women did have a chance to work on this existential threat to humanity and all life forms and they collectively blew it. In 1994, at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the most vocal women there hi-jacked the purpose of this important meeting. This was a gathering of leaders from around the globe that was supposed to be focused on slowing population growth through population policies. Instead feminist activists moved it downstream to be about improving the lives of individual women. Their consensus was that enhancing individual rights and health of women would eventually lower fertility and slow population growth. ( I don’t like saying population growth because the numbers already here are alarmingly unsustainable, but that was the language of the time.) The deliberate diversion from what should have been important conversations and proposals for a truly sustainable earth were lost in this earlier version of the me-too movement. So how did their narrative play out? Well women around the world continue to suffer and Egypt’s population is now over 100 million. It was just over 63 million back in 1994. A total failure by any calculation.
Having said that, I still think women who truly understand this issue need to have more leadership roles. If they were more visible, I believe they could bring deeper and different conversations to an issue that obviously needs a new approach.
I recently took a quick survey of ten + US based population NGO’s including: World Population Balance, Negative Population Growth, Californians for Population Stabilization, Population Connection, Population Media Center, Global Footprint Network, I found that 100% are led by men. Only Canada and Australia have population NGO’s led by women. Our movement as it were, has always been plagued with a lack of diversity of both gender and race. To outsiders looking in, instead of seeing people sincerely alarmed at the crisis we are in, they see another group of (white) men telling them what to do with the very personal decisions of their lives.
Perhaps over the years, instead of mostly reaching out to the public to educate them about an issue that seems so obvious to those of us in the know, we should have been reaching out to women leaders and leaders in communities of color. We should have led the conversation with the fact that those who are disenfranchised are the first to feel the adverse effects of overpopulation. They must understand that they have skin in this game.
I really do understand that to many on the outside of this issue, it just keeps looking like a white man’s narrative, and its time for that to change. I am betting that deliberately and compassionately trying to change the complexion and gender of the leaders in this field would create many more overpopulation activists who deeply understand that this is an issue that must concern us all especially those who continue to struggle in this very unequal world.