UN Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

94-09-07: Briefing by UNFPA's Goodwill Ambassador Jane Fonda


The electronic preparation of this document has been done by the

Population Information Network(POPIN) of the United Nations Population

Division in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme



                        Cairo Conference

                         September 1994

     Dr. Nafis Sadik invited me to speak at this forum today and I am

honored to be here with you. Many of you in this room are population

professionals who were among the first to see that unwanted pregnancies

posed risks and problems for women, as well as for countries trying to

provide a better life for their people. Without your early efforts and

understanding, fewer countries would have articulated population

policies, family planning programs would be far less evolved,and many

more women would have suffered the consequences of unwanted pregnancies.

     Others of you here today have longed been involved in women's

health and development issues. The fact that you have all joined

together here to forge a common agenda, each adding a new perspective,

shedding a new light from a different angle on the issues of population

and development is what makes this conference so significant and so


     We owe you all a debt of thanks for what you've done to prepare

for this conference and especially for your consensus building work; for

making your voices heard and then listening to each others voices. With

the perhaps inevitable but sad tendency the world has to focus on

discord and controversy, not enough has been said about the ground

breaking consensus that marks this conference.

     In addition, I want to thank the Clinton Administration for

returning the United States to its historic leadership role on this

issue. It is fortunate for all of us that Secretary Tim Wirth has the

vision that allows him to see that non-governmental organizations bring

all kinds of new energies, skills and knowledge to the table;that

without the participation and input of women in the field whose lives

are most affected by this issue, international population policies could

never have moved beyond a narrow focus on quotas to address human

rights, women and child health and appreciate the breadth of cultural

differences. This new, inclusive approach to policy-setting is a long

time in coming, and I hope it will be a model for future initiatives of

all kinds.

     In the relatively short period of time that I have been trying to

understand these issues, I have seen the landscape change dramatically.

In fact, it's hard to believe how differently people think about and

talk about population today as compared to even two or three years ago.

     What are some of the things that have been learned: that providing

contraception is critical but not sufficient Why?

     -Because women do not control their sexual or reproductive lives;

     -Because women with no education, no legal status and no

      financial independence are in no position to negotiate issues

      like the planning and spacing of their children, and are often

      at risk of violence from uncooperative spouses;

     -Because in many countries where women have no secure social and

       economic roles apart from motherhood, large families are

       necessary to uphold their status and provide them with

       assistance with work as well as old age security;

     -Because too often there are limited forms of contraception

     available which may not be medically appropriate or personally

     acceptable to a particular woman;

     -Because sometimes a family planning provider's interest in her

     client does not extend beyond reducing fertility and neglects

other aspects of the woman's reproductive health needs as well as the

concern she has for her children's health. Under these circumstances, it

is unlikely that the woman will develop trust in the provider and become

a consistent contraceptive user.

     Fortunately, today there are ample examples of well run,

successful family planning programs that exemplify the principles

espoused in the Cairo Plan of action. Many of these programs have

certain key features which are achievable by mainstream programs. I

think these features have been best and most charmingly described by Dr.

Mahmoud Fathalla, director of ob-gyn at Assiut University, Egypt who

presented them in February at the Population Council's Symposium on

"Family, Gender and Population Policy." He calls them "The Ten

Commandments of Reproductive Health Care: A Signpost For All Clinics."

     "As a woman-friendly service:

     1. We uphold the principle that family planning is a dignified and

voluntary informed choice.

     2. We are open to serve you at times of your convenience, not

ours. Our outreach services will knock at your door. We need your


     3. We excel in counseling. We not only listen to you, we hear you.

     4. We offer you a broad choice of the good "oldies" as well as the

very newest contraceptive technologies. we seek to meet your needs and


     5. We are not in the business of promoting contraceptive methods

for their demographic impact. We do not subscribe to demographic targets

or quotas. Your safety and convenience is our primary concern.

     6. We only add to our inventory methods that our service can

deliver which insure your safety and with full respect for your

voluntary choice.

     7. We encourage and promote men's participation and


     8. In the event you are faced with the possibility of or are

burdened by an unwanted pregnancy, you will find us sympathetic and


     9. We care as much about protecting you from sexually transmitted

diseases as we care about protecting you from unwanted pregnancy.

We will not miss an opportunity to help you with other reproductive

health needs or problems.

     10. Our demographic competitors are running out of business.

We are in business. We are the future."

     I would like to point out that programs offering these features

often do not cost more than other programs, and because they tend to

attract and keep a larger clientele, their fixed costs are spread over

larger numbers making them more cost effective than programs which

neglect these vital elements.

     What else have we learned? We've learned that educating girls,

economic and legal empowerment of women, things which are important in

and of themselves, also have a provable effect on fertility decline.

When a woman is educated, when she is able to earn some money outside

her home, money over which she has control, when she has access to

credit and training, she gains status, wants and needs fewer children,

can negotiate family planning with her partner from a position of

strength and the children she does have will tend to be healthier and

better prepared for the emerging economy. In addition, the improved

health, education and earning capacity of women leads to better

management of natural resources.

     About 50% of the world's food is grown by women. It is estimated

that two - third's of women in developing countries who work, work in

agriculture, mostly unpaid subsistence farming. They hoe, plant, weed,

harvest, store, process, cook and take care of livestock, including

cattle, sheep and goats. They are the ones who walk miles and spend

hours, sometimes days, collecting water, fire wood and fodder. All this

has provided women with profound knowledge about crop diversity, soil

conditions and water quality. They are the ones who are most impacted by

environmental degradation and have the most to gain by protecting the

local ecosystems. Sustainable development begins and ends with women.

 To give this a real voice, I'd like to quote a Hill woman from Nepal. I

found this quote in a pamphlet called "Seeds," dealing with forest

conservation in Nepal.

                 "By law, we villagers are only allowed to collect what

    has fallen on the ground in the forest. The trees are used for

    timber for building for those lucky enough to be sold a permit

    by the forest officers. Women are left with the leaves, branches

    and twigs. Once, it too difficult to find wood on the ground,

    but now there is not even enough leftover to fill one headland,

    unless you walk for miles and miles, and no fodder unless you

    cut the branches.

      Even when I travel a long way into the forest, I still have

      to cut branches illegally to get a large enough headland to cook

      for my family. If I'm caught by a forest guard, he takes my

      cutting tool, or tells me I have to pay a stiff fine, but what can

      I do? As it is now, I must bring my daughter with me to help

      collect fuel and fodder, so she often skips school to help me.

      I would rather that she got a good education so she would have

      a good chance in life, but I have no choice. There are too many

      other chores to complete. I now go to the forest everyday that

      I have no work in the fields or grain to thresh or grind, and one

      headload (about 35 pounds) lasts only a few days. If fuel gets

      even more scarce, I will have to take my daughter out of school

      completely so she can help me with my other tasks."

     In addition to the fact that women produce the food and fodder for

their families, evidence from numerous studies done in developing

countries show that when women are able to earn and control their money,

they spend it in ways that benefit their families' health and welfare.

Men, on the other hand, tend to spend their incomes on entertainment and

consumer goods. In addition, women in developing countries deliver basic

health care to their families and communities.

     Given all this, why is it then that women in these countries are

discriminated against when it comes to education, inheritance, land

ownership, jobs, training and resources; girls receive less health care

and food than boys; women do not fully participate in or benefit from

development policies? Why is it that too often women are not consulted

and listened to when programs are being put in place? Over and over

again, experience shows that when women are involved from the

outset,programs stand a far better chance of succeeding, the lives and

status of women and children are improved. and often this is linked to

fertility decline.

     Too often governments and lending institutions undermine women

with poorly defined economic programs on the one hand, while at the same

time actively trying to engage them in limiting fertility, thus wiping

out with one program what is being attempted with another. There are

numerous examples of development approaches in Africa and other parts of

the world which give priority to men even when women are the primary

producers. For example, when cooperatives are formed, only one member of

the family (which will turn out to be the male) isallowed to

participate, freezing the women out of new input, training and access to

land, making her subsistence work more difficult and increasing her need

for more helpinq hands.

     Another example is the large-scale agricultural intensification

projects which put more demand on women's time and energy without

compensation, reducing her ability to farm sustainably. Just as natural

resources are not infinite, neither is women's energy. Both can only be

stretched so far. By increasing women's need for children to help with

the work, we also undermine women's desire to reduce child numbers. But

in some countries, Zimbabwe for example, there are active efforts to

improve women's access to land and credit, modernize their livelihoods,

and this is reflected not only in economic returns but in high

contraceptive use.

     Disinvestment in women can be avoided, and our approach to aid and

development can be made more coherent, if development plans, social and

economic investment policies and national budgetary guidelines are

reviewed at a high government level by some coordinating body in light

of their fertility as well as their justice implications. Population

policy cannot solely be in the purview of Health Ministries. Likewise,

the policies of the international lending institutions should not

compartmentalize population concerns, separating them from

education,from promotion of livelihood, health and so forth. If

population is important, this concern should be spread throughout the

development portfolio.

     We mustn't permit our development policies to be driven by

politics or special interests or even altruism for that matter. They

should be driven by enlightened self-interest. To quote Janice Jiggins

in her book changing the Borders, "Protecting and strengthening the

capacities of girls and women is the bottom line in the survival of

humankind as a species dependent on its environment. It is thus

essential for human survival that economic theory, policy and practice

in both rich and poor countries begin to measure, value and reward the

services provided by women and by the environment."

     The good news is that there is a slow but steadily growing

appreciation that it makes economic, social and demographic sense to

invest in women. This new direction is being lead by innovative, smaller

institutions such as Women's World Banking, ACCION International, and

Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, who have fostered women's economic

entrepreneurship and independence. Following their lead, the larger

bilateral and multilateral donors are beginning to direct more and more

of their funds towards women. Why is this happening? Because the banks

always hard to impress ... are impressed. They've seen that women can

manage their finances better and that support for women's economic

activities is more likely to benefit the community at large and the

health and education of the next generation. These lending institutions

have begun to recognize that women in developing countries are agents of


     We've begun to learn that, just as we can foster economic growth

and fertility decline by investing in women, we can promote a more

humane and equitable relationship between men and women which, as a

byproduct, encourages voluntary fertility decline. When a father shares

the rearing of and support for his children, he may be more prone to

share the mother's desire to limit family size. But there are countries

which will agree to the Cairo Plan of Action where children still only

have effective claims to their father's resources if the father wishes,

or where the father's name appears on the birth certificate. There are

countries in which the father's name only appears on the birth

certificate if the parents are married. Even countries with "good laws"

do not implement their ideal of shared parental responsibility. There is

much default in enforcing child maintenance policy. We must encourage

men to be emotionally and financially responsible for their children.

Laws, norms of behavior and media images all have vital roles to play.

Let us hope that the young men of today grow up with a sense of

responsibility about their sexuality, about their fertility and about


     Can we afford to properly expand and improve our family planning

programs world-wide? Can we afford to reproduce economic empowerment

programs and education for women? You bet! In fact, we can't afford not

to. It's a question of priorities and of developing a new understanding

of national and global security. If the United States and the former

Soviet Union could spend over 10 trillion dollars during the Cold War to

prepare for a possible threat, we can surely find enough money and

resources to deal with dangers that are actually occurring.

     Cairo will soon be over. The Plan of Action will have to be put

into action. We need to walk our talk," and we particularly need the

help of the world's media to do this. It is true that changing our laws

and institutions can alter human behavior, but to alter people's

consciousness and do it fast, the media will need to play its role.

     We've all experienced the media's power to change things, whether

its through the use of popular soap operas in Mexico, India and the

Philippines which have helped make family planning acceptable to a wide

audience or in the United States with the acceptance of seat belts,

recycling and other life style changes. You don't see movie characters

showing their cool by heading straight for the bar and lighting up at

the beginning of a scene anymore. Like it or not, television and movies

in particular have become powerful sources of education about how to

live and behave and raise families for people who have no formal

education. In addition, people will need to understand what has been

decided here in Cairo, the importance of these problems and the need to

be involved in their solutions.

     All of us In whatever way we can have to help create a critical

mass for family planning and reducing consumption so that if a boy or

girl is asked, "What will you do to help heal the world?", they would

start by saying, "I will live more simply and only have the number of

children I feel I can support and care for." We need to communicate to

people the value that life is sacred, that children have the right to be

wanted and that it's irresponsible to have more children than you can

support. But parents here in the developing countries or in the north

for that matter cannot do this alone, individually. We must have

commitments from our national governments to also invest in women and

children and make them the center of our economic planning.

     In a sense, we're asking ourselves to start doing what comes

unnaturally. Throughout human history, we've been exhorted to go forth

and multiply. All the western religious doctrines have encouraged this.

In part, it's because countries and churches needed bodies to fill the

ranks of their armies as they went forth to fight the infidel. But it

goes back even farther, hundreds of thousands of years to our ancestors,

Homo Erectus, when the human brain evolved to what it is today. At that

time, evolutionary advantage went to those who were most adept at seeing

and reacting to the most immediate danger and screening out the rest. to

those who spread their sperm wide and fast and early. The Homo Erectus,

who sat there pondering the implication of slaughtering all the Woolly

Mammoths, most likely had his head bit off before he could reproduce. As

the biologist E. O. Wilson said, "Prophets never enjoyed a Darwinian


     Our brains may not have evolved since those days, but reality has

changed, and so must our thinking. We are not prisoners of our biology.

We must reconceputualize the way we live in light of limited resources

and a limited capacity to invest in the next generation. Quality, not

quantity, is the path to the future.

     All of us have important and difficult things to do. Change is

always difficult and entails some discomfort and inconvenience.

Population numbers is only part of the equation. The other part is what

kind of consumers we are in the industrialized world and what kind of

consumers we will become in the developing world. We in the highly

consuming countries must change our patterns of consumption, invest in

the forgiving, energy efficient, low waste producing technologies and

share these technologies with the developing countries. We need to learn

that enough is enough, that "more" doesn't necessarily translate


     People in the developing countries, with bilateral and

multilateral support from aid-giving nations, must change their social

investment patterns to support their women and children.

     This is essentially what the Cairo Plan of Action is all about. It

will require a shifting of gears, making some tough adjustments, but if

we make them now, they can be humane and good, not especially jarring.

If we don't, adjustments will be made for us by nature and they will be

brutal and pitiless. If that occurs, we will not be the first species to

have weakened and disappeared, nor the first civilization. History is

littered with civilizations who fell victim to short-term definitions of

self-interests. Let us learn from history.

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