Glenda Simms, Contributor
In her 2012 Budget presentation to the nation, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller addressed the wide range of social challenges that helped to shape the budgetary priorities for the present times. The various measures she highlighted in her speech have provided enough talking points for the truckloads of critics, supporters, economists, political analysts and every other talking head and itinerant belly-acher.
It was noteworthy to record that the prime minister placed emphasis on two important social issues that have historically plagued our society and retarded our progress to an acceptable level of development, in line with First World nations. These two issues related to women who continue to have too many children in the misguided effort of "having out their lot" and the unacceptable high levels of sexual and other violence against the nation's children.
Many of the commentators in the local media circuit saw these two issues as a diversion from the main menu of what is considered a "budgetary smorgasbord".
Contrary to this argument, it must be appreciated by all those who are interested in getting our economy on the right track that population issues and violence are major impediments to any possibility of achieving the frequently articulated 2030 vision of a Jamaica of the future.
Let us be reminded that the prime minister, who has had a long history of ensuring that the human rights of women and girls are guaranteed in the Jamaican society, would be able to recall that two important world gatherings, at Rio in 1992 and Cairo in 1994, clearly established the interconnection between population and sustainable development.
Such an interconnection must be always in the minds of political, economic and institutional leaders as they formulate messages and developmental strategies to ensure solid development. Within this mindset, everyone who is considered influential in any sphere of national life must be always finding ways to invest in young people and in keeping issues of reproductive health and reproductive rights on the front burner.
The United Nations Population Fund has informed all member states of the UN that the world population has now surpassed the seven-billion mark and is expected to exceed nine billion by mid-century.
This multiplying of the global population is happening when billions of persons continue to live in extreme poverty and experience the negative impact of their lifestyles on the social, political and geographical environment.
In other words, we cannot continue to think that women are destined to have out their lot when our societies are incapable of equitably distributing the resources that are needed to ensure that every child is born into humane and relatively decent living conditions.
It was in 1994 that 179 countries met in Cairo and formulated a comprehensive 20-year plan popularly referred to as the ICPD. This was the master plan to strategise around the interlinking dynamics of the world's population. The thousands of participants at this international gathering came to a clear understanding that population and development are truly interdependent. Jamaica was very well represented in Cairo, and several members of the delegation negotiated the language to which the global community should be committed.
This commitment included the following:
These services are considered to be the basic foundation for the eradication of poverty, the strengthening of communities and families, and the building of a solid foundation for social, economic moral and political development.
It is against this background that all Jamaicans should take the cue from our prime minister and tell women that this idea of having out their lot and producing children who they cannot feed, clothe or house is a suicidal journey.
Women need to advocate for proper reproductive health care as a fundamental human right. Women must have access to all the modalities that empower them to determine that they were not designed to be 'baby machines'.
The nation state must live up to all the commitments enshrined in the international conventions and treaties which it has ratified on behalf of women and children. Within this framework, women must take responsibility for their reproduction and learn from now on that they cannot 'have out their lot' and expect the State to take care of their children.
An empowered woman is a woman in control of her body!
Glenda Simms, PhD, is a gender expert and consultant. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.