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Planned Families Save Lives

From Nation of Change
by Julio Godoy
19 July 2012

Family Planning Essential for Development

Improving family planning to avoid unwanted pregnancies in developing countries, as well as assuring girls’ access to education, and women’s participation in the economy, are essential components of a sound development policy, according to Western experts and African activists.

During a summit on family planning in London last week numerous economic development experts, government delegates from industrialised and developing countries, and private donors agreed to raise some 4.3 billion dollars by 2020 to allow 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries, particularly in the continent of Africa, to access contraceptives and other family planning materials.

The summit underscored the importance of girls’ and women’s access to contraceptives as both a right and a transformational health and development priority.

Simultaneously, gender activists attending the second African Women’s Economic Summit, which concluded on Jul. 14 in Lagos, Nigeria, urged policy makers, corporate organizations and political leaders to step up measures to promote women’s empowerment and remove barriers impeding their economic development.

“I don’t want my daughters … in the coming years discussing these same issues (of women’s education and economic empowerment),” Cecilia Akintomide, vice president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), co-organiser of the African summit, told the audience in Lagos. “I want to see a change in my lifetime.”

During the meeting in Lagos, Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, emphasized that women’s economic empowerment is no longer simply an option “because investing in women, who constitute half of the continent’s population, is the only way to sustain the growth” recently recorded across the African continent.

“Women are the third largest emerging market in the globe. Women are the third largest source of growth. One of the fastest ways to sustain current growth is to invest in women,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

Participants at the London summit echoed these views, with an emphasis on the health risks associated with unwanted pregnancies.

“Enabling an additional 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries to access and use contraception, something women in the developed world take for granted, will save millions of lives and enable girls and women to determine their own futures,” said Andrew Mitchell, British secretary of state for international development.

Mitchell called the commitments of the summit a “breakthrough for the world’s poorest girls and women, which will transform lives now and for generations to come.”

By 2020, the collective efforts announced in London will allegedly result in 200,000 fewer women dying during pregnancy and childbirth, more than 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, over 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly three million fewer babies dying in their first year of life.

Avoiding unwanted pregnancies also allows girls and women pursue their own education and improve their professional opportunities.

Numerous studies show that the investment of a single dollar in family planning leads to savings of up to six dollars in health, housing, water, and other public services.

Contraceptive use also leads to more education and greater opportunities for girls, helping to end the cycles of poverty that millions of women and their families are trapped in. Up to a quarter of girls in sub-Saharan Africa drop out of school due to unintended pregnancies.

Based on such evidence, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for gender equality, universal education, and improving maternal and child health, setting specific objectives to be met by 2015.

According to the U.N. 2012 MDG report, released Jul. 2, meeting these goals by 2015, while challenging, is possible, “but only if governments do not waiver from their commitments made over a decade ago.”

In the foreword of the report, U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, warned that the current economic crises battering much of the developed world “must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made.”

“Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained,” he urged.

The U.N. report points out that the world has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys. Driven by national and international efforts, many more of the world’s children are enrolled in school at the primary level, especially since 2000.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Jobs and Justice

From Nation of Change
by Andrés Velasco, a former finance minister of Chile, is a visiting professor at Columbia University for 2011-2012.

Jobs for Justice

“Do you feel it trickle down?” ask the protesters occupying Wall Street and parts of financial districts from London to San Francisco. They are not alone in their anxiety. Income inequality is a top concern not only in tent cities across the United States, but also among street protesters in Taipei, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Athens, Madrid, Santiago, and elsewhere.

Inequality almost everywhere, including China, has become so extreme that it must be reduced. Protesters, experts, and center-left politicians agree on this – and on little else. The debate about inequality’s causes is complex and often messy; the debate about how to address it is messier still.

In the rich countries of the global north, the widening gap between rich and poor results from technological change, globalization, and the misdeeds of investment bankers. In the not-so-rich countries of the south, much inequality is the consequence of a more old-fashioned problem: lack of employment opportunities for the poor.

“Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Andrés Velasco, click here.”

In a forthcoming book, University of Chile economist Cristóbal Huneeus and I examine the roots of inequality in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America and come away with three policy prescriptions: jobs, jobs, jobs. In the last quarter-century, Chile managed to consolidate democracy, triple per capita income, and achieve the highest living standards in Latin America, with near-universal coverage in health care, education, and old-age pensions. Yet the gap in the labor incomes of rich and poor has barely budged.

In Chile and elsewhere, discussions of inequality tend to focus on how much people earn. According to national household surveys, a Chilean worker earning the minimum wage takes home $300 a month, while a professional in the top 10% of the income scale typically makes about $2,400 dollars a month. But that eight-fold gap is only the tip of the inequality iceberg.

It also turns out that the poor worker lives in a household where only 0.5 people on average have a job, so that two families are needed for one steady source of income. By contrast, in the upscale professional’s household, nearly two people on average hold down a job.

Add to this several other differences – above all, poorer families’ higher fertility rates – and the sums reveal that the top 10% of households actually make 78 times more (on a per capita basis) than those at the bottom. That is the kind of figure that keeps Chile ranked high globally in terms of inequality, despite the country’s other achievements.

Put differently: not only take-home pay, but also employment opportunities can be unequally distributed. Compound the two problems and you have world-class income disparities. Chile is hardly alone in this category. South Africa, another country that is proud of its exemplary transition to democracy, suffers from the same problem in an even more extreme version. And, within Latin America, Colombia and Brazil, among others, face a similar combination of low employment and high inequality.

The main victims of this state of affairs are women and the young, for whom employment ratios are much lower than for the population as a whole. A typical poor household in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America is headed by a woman with only primary-school education. She has small children, limited access to day care, and few job opportunities.

That is the bad news – and it is very bad news indeed. The good news is that reducing inequality by creating jobs for the poor may prove to be faster than altering the entire structure of wages. Over the medium term, wages depend on productivity, which in turn depends crucially on higher-quality education and training for the poor, which Latin American countries certainly need. Indeed, a heated national debate about how to improve education has seized Chile for much of the past year.

Read entire story at Nation of Change

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