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GLOBAL POPULATION MEDIA ANALYSIS

MARCH 1 - 31, 2000

by Ketayoun Darvich-Kodjouri and Kathy Bonk
Communications Consortium Media Center,
1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300,
Washington, DC 20005
202/326-8700


INTERNATIONAL POPULATION TRENDS

President Clinton's March trip to South Asia prompted a number of stories on India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, including coverage of population and development issues in those countries. ABC news reported March 21 on the "nearly one sixth of all humanity" living in India and recent strides in lowering population growth in the state of Kerala, where "female education is a top priority" and "a wide range of free medical services" have contributed to lowered maternal and child mortality.

The March 17 Christian Science Monitor reported that in India, "a country of a billion people, most Indians are more worried about pollution, dirty water," and other daily issues than recent political developments. The March 24 Boston Globe reported on women's empowerment in India, where "growing contact between cities and villages, concerted efforts of Indian development agencies, and the election of women to local councils have resulted in many women not formally schooled empowering themselves economically, politically, and most of all, psychologically."

Several media outlets wrote about a United Nations Population Division report on aging populations and replacement migration. The March 21 Associated Press noted the report's findings that "populations across Europe and Japan and South Korea would decline without continued or increased migration flows." A Washington Post story March 22 stated, "if current trends continue, Japan and most of Europe will undergo a dramatic decline in population over the next 50 years." United Press International reported March 21 that "the new challenges of declining and aging populations will require a comprehensive reassessment of many established policies and programs."

Similarly, the March 14 New York Times reported that Japan is facing a "demographic crisis," and the March 24 Chicago Tribune reported that "Japan is worried that the nation's rapidly aging population and declining birthrate will sap economic growth because there will be fewer workers to support the growing ranks of the elderly."

By contrast, the March 29 Washington Post covered a study by the National Center for Health Statistics that found "the total number of births and the birthrate [in the United States] were up for the first time since 1990." The article noted "the trend is likely to continue" because of a growing teenage population and "large numbers of women will continue to move into the peak childbearing years."

The March 18 Los Angeles Times reported that Thailand's slowing population growth stems from the fact that "Thai governments have believed that economic well-being is impossible without restrained population growth." Thailand is "a model of family planning for Asia," in part because of an innovative education campaign that took "the condom out of the closet...[and] broadened to include rural development, environmental conservation and AIDS awareness."

 

POPULATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The United Nations-designated World Day for Water and the second World Water Forum in The Hague were held in March, and media covered the links between population growth and water shortages. The March 20 Toronto Star reported that "the battle over dwindling water reserves will be won or lost in the megacities of the world," which are "projected to double in number by 2025." Asia Pulse newswire reported March 31 that "with the rapid growth in population, increasing economic development and improvements in the standards of living come an increased demand for water supply" that "puts tremendous pressure on an already threatened environment and natural resource base." A March 13 Agence France Presse story noted "the world faces a worsening crisis over water in the next quarter-century as its population races ahead and water resources remain poorly-managed or abused." According to the March 29 Washington Times, "water is rapidly becoming a crucial-if not the most significant-strategic issue between nations in the Middle East."

The March 12 Seattle Times published an article on "ecological economists" who argue "the soaring living standards of industrialized countries have been made possible by rapidly accelerating consumption of natural resources...drawing down our stocks of natural resources such as our water, trees, soil and clean air." The Associated Press reported March 23 that President Clinton "urged India, one of the world's poorest nations, not to sacrifice the environment for the sake of economic growth" during his trip to South Asia. Agence France Presse reported March 1 on statements by the World Bank that "the 'Green Revolution' of the past half century will founder in the face of the surge in world population over the next two decades."

 

WOMEN AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

The high maternal and child death rate in Tanzania was the subject of a March 16 Knight Ridder News Service story that was carried across the United States. The story noted "traditional beliefs" where "it is commonly believed that prolonged labor is caused by a woman's promiscuity" and where "attempts to educate women about modern birth methods often meet resistance from tribal leaders." A project to teach women about prenatal care, led by CARE International and funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was highlighted in the article.

A March 23 Panafrican News Agency story reported on the continuing practice of female genital cutting (FGC), which "has become such a big issue in Kenya that those who are not circumcised in local communities are considered outcasts." The story noted fatalities and health risks associated with FGC, including "sterility, menstrual irregularities, difficulties during intercourse, urinary track infections and problems during childbirth."

 

COVERAGE OF SEX EDUCATION AND FAMILY PLANNING

Sex education in Mexico was the focus of a lengthy March 9 Chicago Tribune story that reported, "Mexico has softened its stance in recent years on birth control and sex education." Despite criticism "from officials of the Roman Catholic Church and from conservative organizations opposed to promoting condom use and sex education in general," sex education classes have been attracting "a cross-section of Mexican society...[including] students, housewives, laborers and professionals." and currently "some 11 million couples use contraception," according to the Mexican Health Ministry.

Africa News reported March 28 on "the need for youth to get information on reproductive health services" because "sexual activity in Malawian youths starts early, which causes many unplanned pregnancies and unwanted parenthood...65 percent of teenage girls in Malawi are either pregnant or mothers."

China "will kick off a nationwide promotion of emergency contraceptive options," according to a March 10 Xinhua News Agency story. In the Philippines, "the proportion of Filipino women who are using methods of family planning has increased from 46.5 percent in 1998 to 49.3 percent in 1999," the agency reported March 3. In Japan, the director of the Family Planning Federation argued that "women's groups [are] key to promoting contraception," according to a March 13 story in the Japan Weekly Monitor. The story noted that oral contraceptives and the IUD were approved in Japan just last year, after "30 years of media reports 'mistakenly stressing the terrors of the pill's side effects.'"

Reuters reported March 21 that Human Life International has introduced a resolution "urging" shareholders of American Home Products Corp. to "separate the drug company's oral contraceptives business from the rest of its business." The company issued a statement that "acknowledges the strong convictions that some people hold on the subject of birth control," but it believes "such a move would undermine its commitment to women's health care."

 

RELIGIOUS ISSUES

The See Change campaign spearheaded by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) was the subject of several stories in March, including articles March 14 and 15 by the Associated Press, March 14 by InterPress Service, and March 15 in the Washington Times. The Associated Press reported that the campaign, which seeks "a formal review of the Holy See's status, saying its claim to be a 'state' was questionable and it should be treated more like a non-governmental organization," has now "spilled into U.S. politics, where nearly identical resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate warning that any degradation of the Holy See's UN status would damage U.S.-U.N. relations."

The March 13 Independent (London) compared a recent apology on behalf of the Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II-in which he stated that there have been "objective historical errors in ways of acting" by Christians in the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust-to the "anachronistic ban on contraception [which] has done more to subvert the standing of the Church in contemporary eyes than almost anything else."

 

HOLBROOKE AND THE GAG RULE

A cover story in the March 26 New York Times Magazine profiled UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was in "a triumphant mood" during an October interview after the budget agreement between the Clinton administration and Congress to pay UN arrears in exchange for "prohibiting the administration from financing any foreign organization using its own funds to perform or lobby for abortions anywhere in the world." The article quoted Holbrooke as saying "the women have emphasized the 10 percent we didn't get" which he said was "feminist purism."

 

OPINIONS AND EDITORIALS

An op-ed by Ellen Goodman in the March 23 Boston Globe discussed Pakistan's 'honor killings' and issues of violence against women. Noting the Beijing+5 review process being held at the United Nations, she wrote, "There's no way to chronicle the advancement of women without looking at the backward pull of violence."

On International Women's Day, March 8, a Knight Ridder News Service commentary carried in newspapers across the country noted the challenges facing women, including the "half a million women [who] die and 8 million [who] are disabled each year during pregnancy or childbirth," the "millions of women [who] do not have reproductive freedom" and those who face issues of poverty and sexual violence.

President Clinton's visit to South Asia prompted a March 24 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, in which he highlighted India's success at addressing "the important challenges of development and justice." Gujral noted successes in the Indian state of Kerala, where "universal literacy, particularly among women, has achieved remarkable results" and "the rate of population growth has declined...This non-coercive approach to population control is the first item on the nation's agenda."

An op-ed by Thomas L. Friedman in the March 31 New York Times stated that the "I.M.F. and World Bank are neither the problem nor the solution" in the environmental arena, but "the real players are a diverse collection of companies, indigenous peoples, endangered species and local governments." Citing a project by Conservation International, Friedman noted that the greatest power lies with "he who builds the most effective coalition to get these players working together."

The Washington Post published a March 27 op-ed by writer Mark Mathabane on "how the oppression of women has contributed to the spread of the [AIDS] epidemic" in South Africa, his homeland. He argued that the practice of "lobola," under which "men 'purchase' wives through payment of a dowry" has contributed to a system where women are not empowered to negotiate condom use with their husbands. He argued that money for "vaccine research, prevention programs and education campaigns...will be effective only if issues such as the oppression of women are vigorously addressed."

A March 5 letter in The Washington Times by former U.S. Census Director Martha Farnsworth Riche argued that an article on birthrate declines in Japan "ignore[d] a crucial reason for the reluctance of Japanese women to bear children: husbands' expectations that women, no matter what their education or job responsibilities, will do all the work of maintaining a home and caring for everyone it.



The above analysis was written by Ketayoun Darvich-Kodjouri and Kathy Bonk at the Communications Consortium Media Center, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005, 202/326-8700.

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