Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

While Experts Talk, Women Lead Way

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

While Experts Talk, Women Lead Way

Article excerpt

When Tim Wirth, the under secretary of state for global affairs, first began to lay the administration's rhetorical groundwork for this week's global population conference in Cairo, the note he sounded seemed inspired.

"Sustainable development cannot be realized without the full engagement and complete empowerment of women," Wirth said in a speech in March. Bypassing the contentious divisions of overpopulation vs. overconsumption, developed vs. developing nations, the rights of women could unite all in strategies for a world whose population has doubled in the last four decades and might triple by the end of the next century.

Unity, of course, is not what has come out in the coverage of Cairo so far. Much has been made of the conflict between the majority of nations represented there and an alliance of the Vatican and Islamic fundamentalists who oppose legal abortion and decry the secular modernism they find in the conference aims.

Too little has been made of the fact that this conflict is, in some measure, irrelevant. While experts bicker over whether the problem is population or economic development, the battle to bring down the world's birth rate has already been joined, and by precisely those people styled by Wirth as the linchpin of the Cairo conference.

The world's women are increasingly moving to bring the birth rate down on a do-it-yourself basis. Not because of deforestation or famine per se, but because it is better for their children. Trying to divide their attention among four, trying to divide a small stock of food among six, many now embrace a standard of morality that emphasizes the quality of life they can provide over the quantity of children they can produce.

Consider Cairo itself, where crowded apartment buildings are being raised ever skyward to accommodate more human beings in a city that can ill afford them. While Islamic orthodoxy has been on the rise in Egypt, so has the use of contraception. The average number of children an Egyptian woman will have has dropped from five in 1980 to 3.9 today.

In Brazil, which has the world's largest Catholic population, two-thirds of married women practice birth control. …

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