Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jane Roberts promised to fight for women’s rights and family planning “all the way, forever” at the Women’s Center Wednesday afternoon, as part of her campaign to make 34 million friends.
Roberts is the founder of the 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund – an organization that pledges to raise money for the UN’s fight to help women around the world plan their families, give birth safely and protect themselves from AIDS. She, along with 34 Million Friends co-founder Lois Abraham, are attempting to raise $34 million, or one dollar per “friend,” to support the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Since 34 Million Friends was founded three years ago, it has raised nearly $2.7 million, Roberts said.
“If the world was taking care of women, women would take care of the world,” Roberts said in her lecture to an audience of about 20 people.
Roberts said she started her organization three years ago after reading about the condition of women and global population problems in the news. After sending several letters to newspapers – six of which published her opinion piece – a reporter from the Boston Globe contacted her for an interview. Roberts said thousands of people responded to the resulting article by sending money to her organization.
According to the United Nations Association of the United States of America web page, Congress approved $34 million in funds for the UNFPA three years ago. However, President Bush declined to release the funds pending a review of the agency’s activities in China.
Roberts said Bush refused to release the funds based on claims that they would indirectly support the practice of forced abortions in China. She said the UNFPA only offers family planning assistance to its clients – including educational programs and condoms – but does not provide abortions.
“It’s playing politics with women’s lives,” Roberts said.
The U.S. is practically alone in its decision not to fund the UNFPA, Roberts said, as 166 countries have already pledged their financial support.
The money she and her organization raise will go toward healthcare clinics and birth assistance kits, which cost $1.25 per package and include sterile soap, a razor to cut the umbilical cord and a string to tie the cord after it is cut. The kits are distributed to areas far away from UNFPA clinics in order to prevent infant mortality and infections within the mothers.
Roberts said one woman dies in childbirth every minute and 10 million babies die each year as a result of complications during birth. While an estimated 40 women per minute seek an unsafe abortion because planning options like condoms are not available, she said the $34 million she is trying to raise would prevent an estimated 800,000 abortions a year.
“These women have to resort to risking their lives to do what they think is right for their family,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she thinks the lack of condoms in poor countries is a result of pressure from the Bush administration to promote “abstinence only” birth control and said the current administration pulls funding away from groups that inform women of the option of abortion.
As a result of the absence of condoms and other family planning programming, the population of the world has expanded beyond what it can support in terms of water and other natural resources, Roberts said. In 1940, the population of the world was three billion people; today it is six billion and in 2050 it is estimated to reach nine billion, she said.
“How in the world are we going to have peace and security when nine billion people are fighting for resources?” Roberts said.
Roberts said she has visited several impoverished countries where women have benefited from UNFPA’s family planning programs and healthcare clinics. In Senegal, she said she met women whose lives were saved by caesarian sections performed in the clinics. She said she also was given a pamphlet in Senegal about children titled, “Little Girls Have as Much Right to Food, Education and Healthcare as Little Boys” – something she said did not necessarily shock her.
Women have limited rights in many of the countries UNFPA tries to help, Roberts said. Pamphlets such as the one she was given help to raise the importance of women’s issues.
“This message needs to be said,” she said. “It’s not part of their culture.”
Roberts said people who want to donate to 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund can do so by visiting www.34millionfriends.org.