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Women: The Antigen to the Overpopulation Epidemic
Emily Busch

Imminent environmental concerns plague the thoughts of many. While listening to a group of environmentally conscious students discuss the issues they felt were most pressing, I realized that the hierarchy of concerns varied from person to person. Some expressed concern about water scarcity and the worsening quality of water. Others felt climate change, caused by increased levels of CO2, was a primary matter. Still others maintained that habitat destruction, species extinction, deforestation, or our over fished oceans were the most vital discussion topics. When my turn came to target a specific issue, I uttered a concern that I, and many environmentalists, feel is the root cause for the vast array of environmental predicaments listed by my peers. My answer was overpopulation.

The six billion human beings that inhabit the Earth have drastically altered the planet’s landscapes and functions. Six billion people need a tremendous amount of space and resources in order to survive. With the human population increasing by three thousand five hundred people every twenty minutes, more and more will be needed to accommodate our growing human race (“Population”).
This situation creates a problem that is two-fold. First, there is a finite amount of space and resources available for our use. Secondly, many indicators, such as the depletion of fifteen of the seventy major fisheries, the harvesting of half of the world’s forests, the extinction of twenty seven thousand species of plants and animals every year, and a steady decline in grain production per capita, display that we may be reaching the Earth’s limited carrying capacity with a continuously expanding population (“Population”).

Stabilizing, and then reducing, the Earth’s population growth is a daunting task. Many would not consider a group stereotypically seen as weak and fragile capable of solving such a vital issue. However, the world’s leaders are counting on this often disenfranchised group to curb the population explosion (“Equality”). This essential group is women.

Developing nations make up five billion of the Earth’s six billion inhabitants. It is in the developing nations where population growth is most rampant. It is also in these nations where women traditionally hold the least status and the least control over their lives and bodies. Women in these countries are often illiterate and unemployed. A women’s security and status is dependent upon having children and being married (“Equality”). With no job, no education, and pressure from their husbands, society, and often religion, women are left with little choice but to procreate indefinitely.

Many measures aimed at women have been enacted in order to slow the population growth in developing nations. Government and private companies are extolling the virtues of family planning, which allows couples the opportunity to determine the number and spacing of their offspring (Chiras 171). Family planning counselors, and the literature they provide, disperse information on such topics as contraception, abstinence, and abortion. Special loans and incentives are also offered to those who practice family planning (172). Measures such as these have been responsible for forty to fifty percent of the decline in fertility rates since 1960 (171).

Controlling reproduction is not only dependent upon the use of birth control. Education and employment opportunities have also been shown to drastically decrease the number of children birthed to each mother (“Equality”). Education not only raises the literacy level that will enable young women to read and understand advice on contraception, but the more time and energy devoted to learning is less time and energy available for children (Chiras 175). Women who go through the education process usually postpone marriage longer, and therefore have fewer reproductive years available. Women who marry young with no education either obtain no employment, or they acquire jobs which offer no hindrance to childbearing. Any type of employment, however, has been shown to delay marriage and motherhood. For this reason, the United Nations Fund for Population Activity invests heavily in employment for women and in women’s education (“Equality”).

The overpopulation epidemic does not rest solely on the shoulders of women in third world nations. The developed nations play a tremendous role in the environmental and social impacts caused by overpopulation. While the population growth in developed nations is small comparatively, the amount of resources a citizen of the developed nations consumes is twenty to forty times that of a person in a developing nation (Chiras 173).

Because of the dramatic impact developed nations have on the world and its resources, its citizens must also be mindful of the number of offspring they create. More importantly, citizens of the developed nations must not squander, as we are doing now, the limited resources we share with the rest of the world. Raising the status of women and providing them with education, employment, and family planning is a major part of getting Earth back on its path to sustainability. However, even with great strides in population control, recycling, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, mass transit, and energy efficiency must be of top priority in a world that is finite and overpopulated.

Breakdown by Continent/Region (in millions)

Continent

1999

2025

Asia

3,588

4,785

Africa

778

1,454

Europe

729

701

United States and Canada

304

369

Australasia, S. Pacific

29

41

Latin America, Caribbean

499

690


Country

Population,
1996

Annual
Growth Rate,
1990-95

Total
Fertility Rate,
1990-95

Contraceptive
Prevalence Rate,
1988-92

 

(million)

(percent)

(children per woman)

(percent)

China

1,218

1.1

2.0

83

India

950

1.9

3.8

43

United States

265

1.0*

2.1

74

Indonesia

201

1.6

2.9

50

Brazil

161

1.7

2.9

66

Russia

148

-0.1

1.5

22

Japan

126

-0.3

1.5

64

Germany

82

-0.6

1.3

75

Total

3,151

1.3

--

--

*includes immigration

State of the World 1997 - World Watch Institute
Data from www.overpopulation.org


Chiras, Daniel. Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future. Ed. 5. Sudbury:
Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2001.
“Equality, Equity, and the Empowerment of Women.” Dec 1998. World Overpopulation
Awareness. Ed. Karen Gaia. Communications Consortium. 1 March 2004
<http://www.overpopulation.org>.
“Why Population Matters.” 16 March 2004. World Population Awareness.
Ed. Karen Gaia. 17 March 2004 <http://www.overpopulation.org/>.

Emily Busch is an English major at Santa Monica College. She will be attending UC Berkeley in the Fall of 2004. Emily is a Crew Leader with Sustainable Works and is the Environmental Editor for VOICES.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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