Population party

Is the “Green-Pink” movement too heavy for cocktails?

ALL ACCESS<br>Knowledge about family planning and access to reproductive health services are crucial to the well-being of families in developing countries. As it stands, more than 20 million Nigerians don’t have the education or means to make decisions that will affect the size and health of their families.

Knowledge about family planning and access to reproductive health services are crucial to the well-being of families in developing countries. As it stands, more than 20 million Nigerians don’t have the education or means to make decisions that will affect the size and health of their families.

Photo By Liz Gilbert, courtesy the David and Lucille Packard Foundation

Holding your own:
You don’t have to be an expert on the issues to hold a Green-Pink party. Kits are available to anyone who signs up to host a soirée. For more information, go to www.sierraclub.org/population/greenpink.

Green equals global warming. Pink is female empowerment. They’re both power colors, both super-brands. And it was only a matter of time before they showed up at the same party. A “Green-Pink Party” to be exact.

Designed by the Sierra Club and nonprofit One by One, these gatherings fall somewhere between politically incensed college hangouts and rich women’s foodie parties. Participants invite friends over, eat green and pink foods (we’ll take the suggested cosmopolitans and mojitos), discuss the link between women’s rights and the environment, and hopefully donate $300 to One by One’s efforts to treat obstetric fistula in the developing world.

Oh, and everyone goes home with free green and pink condoms.

The only question is: Are controversial arguments for slowing population growth and horrifying facts about fistula really cocktail-party discussion?

The News & Review first heard about these parties when Sierra Club’s lecture tour “Sex and the Environment” passed through UC Davis. While the title evoked an image of Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw crunching granola and blogging about sustainable orgasms, the lecture, like the premise of a “Green-Pink Party,” couldn’t have been further from it.

“Wipe the word ‘population control’ from your mind because that insinuates that there are people who you don’t want to be [on Earth],” said Cassie Gardner, a conservation organizer for Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program.

Gardner’s job was created to address the connection Sierra Club sees between sex and the environment: If you educate women about their reproductive rights, many will choose to have smaller families, which will slow population growth and subsequently slow resource depletion.

The argument is illustrated in Finding Balance: Forests and Family Planning in Madagascar, one of two DVDs enclosed in the kit. The short film links green and pink camps by telling the story of Madagascar, a country that saw its population double between 1975 and 2000 (sex!). People then cleared forest to feed their families (the environment!), and almost 90 percent of Madagascar’s rain forest is now depleted (what does that spell?!). According to Malagasy women interviewed in the film, it spells a problem that can be solved by increasing family-planning education in the region.

And that kind of talk made UC Davis gender-studies students in Gardner’s audience uncomfortable. At the close of Gardner’s lecture, an ethical debate erupted. The gender-studies students asked: Is it fair to advocate a curb on population growth in developing countries when the United States uses 25 percent of the world’s resources for 5 percent of the world’s population? How can we outsource blame to developing nations?

It’s a debate that has long pitted the term “overpopulation” against another scary buzz word: “population control.” The 1994 “Cairo Consensus” (born from the U.N. Population Fund 1994 International Conference on Population and Development) diffused the debate when 179 countries set basic goals, such as universal access to reproductive health care (STD prevention and family-planning education, among other things), and reducing maternal and infant mortality by 2015.

But even in post-Cairo years, lectures like Gardner’s kick off with a disclaimer.

In response to the gender-studies class, Gardner said, “It’s all about reducing our consumption first, then seeing what we can do on a more global level.”

In an interview with the N&R, Gardner added, “It isn’t about telling people how many children they should have … but we can empower communities to get models of sustainable development that are more just. We can try to look to women around the world as leaders.”

Katharyn McLearan, directorof public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said that the argument against spreading sex education to the developing world is “an inaccurate framing of the issue. … It’s natural for women to want to have their kids years apart, so they can emotionally and financially support each member of their family. Not having those services eliminates the ability for women to set their course in life.” Planned Parenthood offers American women a variety of reproductive health-care services—from counseling to STD testing to prenatal care—through 850 U.S. health centers.

And empowering women is really the “Green-Pink” movement’s core.

The second short film in the “Green-Pink Party Kit,” Love, Labor, Loss, presents information about women with obstetric fistula (a rupture during childbirth that causes women to leak waste) in extremely poor Nigeria. The accompanying fact sheet takes the green-pink connection only so far: Death by reproductive health complications—fistula, among others—is a huge threat to women in the developing world, especially since these women are often the sole providers of food, water and kindling for their children (um, the environment?). So what’s the link again?

Heidi Breeze-Harris, co-founder and executive director of One by One, said that young women become malnourished from walking long distances to provide for their families in resource-scarce areas, which makes their bodies more susceptible to conditions such as fistula. A healthier environment would bring those resources closer to home.

“At the end of the day, you can’t care about one without caring about the other,” said Breeze-Harris of the green-pink union. “While it will be a complex conversation, I appreciate that.”

The party kit encourages guests to discuss the issues presented. Some guests will applaud the “Green-Pink” movement for empowering women around the globe. Some might argue that the movement is a stretch, a branding of two issues that stand side-by-side but don’t always link up. There are those who might argue that the “Green-Pink” movement is dangerous, pointing hypocritical fingers at the developing world. And still others will argue that maybe those drinks were a good idea after all. Phew!